Sutton Stracke Is the Real Detective of Beverly Hills: ‘I Can’t Fake It. I Just Can’t.’
The “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star dishes on grilling Erika Jayne over her fraud scandal, her Dorinda fandom, and why place cards “can be dangerous.”
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” insists Sutton Stracke. “I’ve never had an inkling to be famous or anything like that. That wasn’t why I wanted to do it at all.”
Stracke is telling me about her decision to join the cast of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a show that follows (supposedly) wealthy women as they shop, argue, host dinner parties, drink cocktails, go on “girls trips,” get glammed up, and argue some more. After appearing on the show last year as a “friend of” (a supporting role), the Southern debutante turned Beverly Hills socialite turned boutique owner was promoted to “Housewife” in the latest season. (For those who don’t speak Bravo, this basically means she now appears in the opening credits—with a “tagline,” clutching a highly-coveted diamond in her hands—and has a bigger share of the drama.)
This season, drama has followed Stracke everywhere. The show has become part-reality show, part-true crime series, with the highly-publicized downfall of Tom and Erika Girdardi (also known as performer Erika Jayne) unfolding in front of the cameras. Tom—a legal titan whose work helped inspire the film Erin Brockovich—stands accused of embezzling millions of dollars he won for his clients to fund the couple’s lavish lifestyle, which includes private jets and a $40,000-a-month shopping budget for his wife. The long list of people he’s allegedly stolen from include burn victims, plane crash victims, and orphans.
Erika filed for divorce from Tom shortly before these allegations made headlines. She strongly denies any knowledge of her estranged husband’s business dealings, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating otherwise. She’s also been accused of faking her divorce to hide assets, which she also denies. Her story of how the marriage unraveled is long, complex and sometimes hard to make sense of, featuring alleged car crashes, adultery and middle-of-the-night robberies.
Enter: Detective Sutton Stracke.
The narrative arc of the season suddenly changed when the Los Angeles Times published a bombshell report about Girardi’s legal woes. The article accused him of running his law firm “like a Ponzi scheme” for decades. It also alleged that his law firm loaned at least $20 million to the companies his wife uses to run her music career—money that remains unaccounted for.
The cast’s discussion of the article bulldozed through the increasingly shaky “fourth wall” that separates reality stars from their audience. It also led to fascinating conversations about how much wealthy, married women really know about their finances. Stracke, who had recently divorced a wealthy man, was the only cast member to read the LA Times exposé in full. She quickly sprung into detective mode, drawing attention to several key differences between what the LA Times reported and Erika’s story. Boldly, she asked (then answered) “the 20 million-dollar question”: Where did all the money go? Her answer: “They spent it!”
Fans watching at home were asking the same questions. Stracke’s investigative flair—worthy of an Agatha Christie novel—was exactly what they wanted to see. When we speak via Zoom, she tells me that her “honesty” might be why viewers warmed to her on the show.
“I can’t fake it. I just can’t,” she says. “Sometimes that is an Achilles heel for me; if you ask me a question, I’m probably going to tell you the truth, and that can get me into trouble!” (She’s right, but more on that later).
I’m curious why someone like Stracke would join a franchise like the Real Housewives, if it wasn’t for the fame. She now exists in a strange space where, like many reality stars and influencers, she’s a superstar in the eyes of the show’s fans, but pretty much unknown to everyone else. It doesn’t look like she needs the money, either: her 16-year marriage to wealthy businessman Thibeault “Christian” Stracke ended in 2016, and she still owns property in New York City, Georgia, and Beverly Hills. This season, we saw her buy a new Bentley, renovate a new home, and flaunt some eye-wateringly expensive vintage Cartier jewelry.
As a self-described “elegant” Southern girl who was raised in Augusta, Georgia, Stracke doesn’t fit the standard Real Housewives of Beverly Hills mould. Most of the women who have appeared on the show are former or current(-ish) actresses, child stars, aspiring performers or TV hosts, or were once married to Hollywood royalty. Her dry sense of humor and directness sometimes puts her at odds with the sea of air kisses and over-the-top compliments that we often see at Beverly Hills soirées.
Stracke says it was the “beauty” of the show—how it portrayed the fashion and culture of Beverly Hills—that pulled her toward it. Plus a bit of “insanity.” Various forms of art have been central in her life for decades: after graduating college with a degree in political science, Stracke became a dancer and award-winning choreographer, which took her to New York City. In 2000, she married her now ex-husband. The couple had three children together and lived in London before settling in Beverly Hills and eventually divorcing. She has been on the board of countless organizations like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
I tell her that she’s got an avid fanbase of gay men in London, her former home, where I’m sitting on the other end of a Zoom call. “Oh really? I loved living in London!” she laughs. “It’s funny, because everyone’s like, ‘You know the English don’t like Americans and you’re gonna have a hard time when you get there.’ But I got there and I was like, ‘I don’t know about y’all, but they love me? They think I’m funny.’” There’s a flicker of that honesty.
Stracke is in her element when answering the traditional “Housewives questions”:
Did she watch the show before she joined? “Of course, but I wasn’t a die-hard fan.”
What other franchises does she watch? “I love Potomac, Atlanta, and New York City.”
Which one will she watch next? “Definitely Salt Lake City. It’s Meredith [Marks], she’s playing detective on that one, right?”
Will she ever appear on Ultimate Girls Trip (aka “all stars”)? “I’m going to watch Kyle [Richards] first, I’ll see how that goes for her…”
And who is her favorite Real Housewife? “Dorinda Medley, I'm obsessed with her! I love her. Every time I go to New York I let her know that I’m coming and we keep missing each other. But I think we’ve got a date in October for cocktails.”
But there are some of Bravo’s customs she’ll never embrace. The hours spent in “glam” (hair and makeup) is one. “My team know I hate sitting in that chair for too long,” she says. “I get sick of that real quick! I’ve got things to do.” Another is dating on camera, because “it’s embarrassing enough to go on a date as is!” Her ex-boyfriend Michael Mahoney broke up with her earlier this year, which I only discovered by—slightly mortifyingly—asking how the relationship was going. (Oops!) Since then, she’s been using Bumble, Hinge, and Match instead, swapping horror stories with her gay assistant.
Stracke tells me that entering the world of reality TV was “a complete shock” at first. Here, basic manners and social norms are often thrown out the door—quite literally, in the case of former NYC Housewife Aviva Drescher, who once threw her prosthetic leg across a cocktail party. It’s a far cry from events like the Met Gala, which Stracke has been attending for decades.
A scene from her first season on the show highlights this culture clash. The cast were filming a dinner party at the home of Kyle Richards (the aunt of Paris Hilton, who has appeared in every season of RHOBH). At the table, Sutton began to stress out about the lack of place cards, because she didn’t know where to sit. “I remember we walked into her dining room, and the seating was very strange: the men all sat on one side and we were segregated, so that the women could talk,” she says. “That’s when I realized that it wasn’t quite normal.”
Stracke’s co-stars have embraced some of her old-school quirks, though. “We now have place cards everywhere! So that’s good. I think I brought the art of place cards to the show,” she says. “But remember: place cards can be bittersweet, because in this group, they’re also dangerous. They’re very dangerous.”
The “danger” she alludes to feels like a reference to the many explosive dinner parties we’ve seen on the show over the years, where the ladies sit down together and go to war across an immaculately set table. This tradition dates back to the very first season, when vape-puffing, cocktail-swigging psychic Allison DuBois faced off with Kyle Richards and “The Morally Corrupt” Faye Resnick in an episode entitled “The Dinner Party From Hell.”
Eleven years later, the show aired “The Dinner Party From Hell: Part 2.” At this party, hosted by Kathy Hilton (mother of Paris), Stracke’s opinions on Girardi’s legal scandal took center stage. The confrontation that we saw next, across dishes of caviar and a table set with $950 Baccarat candleholders, didn’t disappoint: Erika threatened to sue Stracke for suggesting she had lied (a statement Stracke stands by). Several cast members shouted at Stracke across the table, telling her to “be honest!” repeatedly. (Although, in hindsight, it looks like she was being more transparent than most of them).
When we spoke on Zoom, Stracke had just filmed the “reunion” show a few days earlier. (On the slim chance that anyone who doesn’t watch Housewives is still reading, this is when the cast meet up in glamorous gowns and dissect the season that has just aired, mediated by executive producer Andy Cohen).
This year’s Beverly Hills reunion will be aired across four episodes for the first time—a testament to the drama on display. Stracke is relieved that it’s over and done with. “Let me tell you, you get that dress off, take your makeup off, and it feels good,” she says. I ask if it’s strange filming a fight with a friend, then rewatching it months later, only to meet up to talk about it on-camera months after that. “For me, it’s OK, because watching it back I wish I had spoken out more,” she says. “I’m watching and thinking, ‘Sutton, you should have said something in that moment!’”
One of those moments might be when Stracke’s closest ally on the show, Garcelle Beauvais, was similarly pressured to “be honest!” by the rest of the cast. Beauvais is the first Black woman to feature on the Beverly Hills franchise and, at times, it has seemed like she and Stracke have been treated unfairly for refusing to gloss over things. But the pair tend to stay out of each other’s battles. “I think Garcelle is quite capable of defending herself, and I think she thinks the same of me,” Stracke says. “But we both have said to each other: ‘I wish I had had your back more in certain instances.’ She’s a very dear friend.”
I ask how it felt going into the reunion with such strong fan support, particularly of her decision to question parts of Erika’s story. Over the course of the season, it looked as though some of the cast were scared of saying what they really thought about the unfolding scandal for fear of backlash from fans, or Erika herself. Stracke took a risk by speaking out, so does she feel vindicated now?
“It was interesting, because I was just asking the questions I wanted to ask. I had no idea that people were going to be asking the exact same questions,” she says. “It was nice to read people backing me up on certain things. But there was also some negativity. You have to take the good and the bad, and not listen to too much of either one of them.”
This is typical of the diplomatic way Stracke speaks about her co-stars. Despite her honest approach on the show (even if some of her castmates have insisted otherwise), it seems like she’s very keen to avoid talking badly about any of them, especially the women with whom she has exchanged tense words on-camera, like Erika and Kyle. There are times in our conversation where it would have been easy for her to throw jabs at Lisa Rinna, for example, because she’s currently unpopular with fans and the pair sort of fell out via Instagram the night before, over who invited who to one of Elton John’s parties. (They’ve since texted and it seems to have blown over now).
RHOBH newbie Crystal Kung Minkoff is another person Stracke sparred with this season, but speaks warmly of now. Their conflict generated some truly iconic moments, like Stracke’s bizarre use of an “anxiety-reducing face roller” to stop herself from crying (a range of Stracke-branded rollers might be on the way, she hints). The crescendo came when an emotional Stracke responded to Minkoff’s accusation of jealousy by screaming, “Jealous? Of what? Your ugly leather pants!” (A quote which automatically entered the Housewives Hall of Fame).
The conflict lost its humor at one point, though. On a cast trip to Lake Tahoe, Stracke interrupted Minkoff, who is Chinese, when she was describing her experience of racist jokes about Asian people. Interjecting, she told Minkoff that being stereotyped as a “redneck” from the South is just as bad. Stracke apologized for making this false equivalence on Instagram. Minkoff publicly accepted her apology and the pair have since reconciled.
In the Bravo universe, race controversies have resulted in people being fired or entire shows like the Real Housewives of Dallas being put on “indefinite hiatus.” But here, the issue was constructively resolved. “I love that I had the opportunity to be able to share that with the viewers,” Stracke says. “I think the biggest lesson for all of us is to listen to others. There’s stories out there that we all need to be listening to. And it’s such a gift that I was given to learn from that situation.”
Stracke’s warmth toward her co-stars indicates that—in her eyes—what happens on the show, stays on the show. She now says she’s “done playing detective” when it comes to Erika’s legal troubles, because she has “asked what I wanted to ask.” As much as they’ve argued, and as outspoken as she’s been this season, it seems like she has enough respect for the women of Beverly Hills not to throw shade at them to me. (Even if I sort of wanted her to, I won’t lie).
We end our conversation with two questions. The first looks back: After such a tumultuous season, is she glad she took the plunge into the world of reality TV? “I am. If I hadn’t done the show, I don’t know if I would have found that inner confidence to build myself back up after my divorce,” she says.
And is she ready to pick up a diamond again next year, if Bravo asks her back? “Of course! Through the highs and lows, it all evens out in the end. It’s just so interesting and flavorful.”