WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — If you want to know who serves the best ranch dressing in Los Angeles or how to survive on a reality show, you ask Stassi Schroeder.
Reality television is how Schroeder, 30, has made a name for herself, as one of the stars of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” now in its seventh season. But ranch dressing is an unironic passion, so much so that she devoted a section of her new book, “Next Level Basic,” to listing the best iterations of the condiment that she has encountered. (The ranch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is, as far as she’s concerned, good enough to eat with a spoon.)
Ranch dressing and reality TV have more in common than Schroeder’s connoisseurship: the dressing and the genre are frequently maligned as “basic,” an ever-evolving term that suggests something is unexceptional, frivolous and tragically mainstream. These are guilty pleasures. But with the April 16 release of her advice book, the author has a clear message: stop feeling guilty.
“If you’re basic and you have basic tendencies, that is your authentic self. You don’t need to hide that,” Schroeder said over a ranch-dressed taco salad at The Belmont, a restaurant she praises in the book.
In “Next Level Basic” and her podcast, “Straight Up With Stassi,” before it, Schroeder aims to connect with her audience over things the culture at large has dismissed as unimportant and uncool. If you’d rather watch “90-Day Fiancé” than “True Detective,” who cares? She doles out advice, often about sex and dating, from the perspective of someone who, admittedly, has had many toxic relationships implode on television.
“It’s advice that you maybe shouldn’t follow,” Schroeder said. “I’m just saying, ‘This is what I do, this is what I have done, this is what I would do, but I might be totally wrong.’” She added: “I’ve gotten it wrong so many times, and people can relate to that.”
From the very premiere of “Vanderpump Rules” — a spinoff of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” focused on the staff at Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant, SUR, and the rest of her West Hollywood dining empire — Schroeder emerged as a breakout star: unsparingly honest (sometimes to a fault), with a seemingly endless supply of caustic put-downs and quotable one-liners.
Over the years, however, she has softened, trading diva behavior for more emotional maturity. She has survived terrible breakups, including with a chronically philandering co-star, Jax Taylor, and temporary estrangements from castmates Kristen Doute and Katie Maloney. Throughout, Schroeder has emerged as a voice of reason for her more troubled friends to turn to, albeit one tinged with her trademark sarcasm and cynicism.
“I don’t know that I necessarily have a lot of wisdom,” she said, “but I’m trying, I guess, just to be the best, most woke version of myself.”
For fans of the series, and of Schroeder in particular, this has been a satisfying narrative to witness. Real personal growth is largely a reality-show anomaly, especially when so many stars are rewarded for perpetuating the same drunken, wine-throwing behavior that got them noticed in the first place.
Schroeder assures it wasn’t planned. “When I look from Season 1 all the way to now, I’m like, ‘wow, if I would have come up with that and planned that out, I could have been JK Rowling,’” she said. “I’m proud of my story arc. I really wish that I came up with it.”
When Schroeder’s boyfriend, Beau Clark, joined “Vanderpump Rules” on a recurring basis this season, she advised spontaneity as well, saying: “Be you, don’t feel like you need to make something happen.”
Clark said, “I didn’t even know what that meant at the time.”
He had not watched any of the series except for the pilot, screened after they first met. He was taken aback by how Schroeder came across, calling her “awful but in a really good television way.” The Stassi he was getting to know was a far cry from the Stassi on early episodes of “Vanderpump Rules,” who hazed Scheana Marie Jancan, a new employee at SUR.
“As a joke sometimes when she’s bratty, I’m like, ‘OK, you’re being Season 1 Stassi right now,’” he said.
But while Schroeder is willing to acknowledge her missteps (people are much more forgiving when you admit badly screwing up, she advises), she does feel like viewers got the wrong impression of her early on. She spent the first season of the show lashing out at her then-boyfriend over a rumor he’d gotten a woman pregnant in Las Vegas. There were tears, insults and endless accusations. Yes, she was being paranoid, but also — as he finally confessed — she was right.
“It blows my mind when people are like, ‘Stassi’s the villain,’” she said. “Please tell me what I’ve done to get that label.”
Like the Kardashians, whom she cites as inspiration, Schroeder displays both business savvy and a deep understanding of unscripted drama.
She acquired this in part with appearances on “The Amazing Race” in 2005 (with her family, which is from New Orleans) and the now-forgotten mean girl reality competition “Queen Bees” in 2008. She is also a devoted viewer of the genre. Clark said there are times she will pause a conversation during filming because she knows a plane flying overhead will disrupt the sound.
“She did have this experience already, so she could guide Katie and I through Season 1,” said Doute, her once-estranged castmate who has returned to best-friend status. “Stassi wasn’t afraid of the camera.”
With the release of her book, Schroeder is hoping to guide a much wider audience. She’s worried she might sound self-righteous when she talks about authenticity as a movement, but unapologetically embracing the things you love seems to her a worthy cause.
“I might not be that great at anything specific, but I think I am good at being honest,” Schroeder said. “If you’re trying to pretend to be something that you’re not or if you’re overthinking things, you can see it.”
She articulated the crux of her advice succinctly: “The less you overthink it, the better.”