While Bravo is touting the five local stars of Married to Medicine Houston, which premieres with back-to-back episodes Friday night on the cable channel, the show's secret weapon may be an outspoken fixture on the city's charity social circuit and her reality TV-savvy daughter.
Producers brought in Cindi Harwood Rose, the wife of noted Houston cosmetic surgeon Franklin Rose and a tireless fundraiser for The Holly Rose Ribbon Foundation, and Erica Rose, the breakout star of The Bachelor Season 9 and numerous other reality shows, to get the series off to a spicy start. The mother/daughter duo is featured prominently in the first episode as they create conflict in the time-honored traditions of reality TV.
As "special guest star," Cindi Rose says producers compare her role on the Houston reality series to that of Heather Locklear, who rescued a floundering soap opera called Melrose Place and made it one of TV's biggest hits in the '90s.
"I have the best contract," Cindi says, without officially revealing the dollar amount for her recurring role in MTMH. (She splurged on an orange Hermés handbag with some of the earnings.) "They wanted one person who is known in society for the idea that the other girls are starting out their lives and are trying to get established whether marriage, career, the community. They wanted me to help different people get established in the community."
"They couldn't do a medical show in Houston and not have my parents. It wouldn't make sense," Erica chimes in.
While Bravo publicists listened in on CultureMap phone interviews with four of the MTMH principals — cosmetic surgeon Erika Sato, nursing student Rachel Suliburk, audiologist Elly Pourasef, and dental surgeon Ashandra Batiste, Rose invited a reporter to a lunch at her opulent Hunters Creek home, where she prepared a home-cooked meal accompanied with Veuve Cliquot bubbly to discuss the series without any worries about censorship. And as anyone who knows Cindi Rose knows, she likes to speak her mind.
Like many reality stars, Cindi isn't sure how she will portrayed on the series (she and the other Houston cast members will get their first viewing of the first episode at a party at VrSi tonight), but — as most TV watchers suspect — she says the action is largely choreographed.
"They told me to do things. They crawl on the ground; the producers pop up and you're shocked. You don't see them. And they (whisper), 'Say something about Rachel's dress.' I would never say something about the way someone dresses because if they came to my house in jeans and a ripped T-shirt I would be happy they came," she reveals.
"In the beginning I tried to do it my way, which was the nice way. I tried to say it politely. But then I realized not to do what they tell me. Anything they tell me to do I'll actually do the opposite."
In the first episode, which features a party at her parents' home, Erica says she choreographed a confrontation between Suliburk, who with long blonde hair and big breasts is the cast member who most fits the Texas stereotype, and Houston stylist Leslie Tyler Fink, who offers to give the east Texas native a makeover. Even now, more than a year after filming, there seems to be no love lost between the Roses and Suliburk over that encounter.
"I always had a bad feeling about Rachel. She was always following my mom and wanted to be like her. Even the producers told me that. She was a wannabe socialite," Erica says.
In our phone conversation, Suliburk didn't seem too pleased about her confrontation with the Roses. "How good of a relationship can you have when somebody does something like that to you?" she said. "I was trying to genuinely help (Cindi) out with her charity and she took the opportunity to basically humiliate me, make fun of where I come from."
"You have to put in perspective," Cindi responds. "Are they being really rude or are they trying to get ratings? Everyone, I think, worked on ratings, but Rachel, I think she crossed the line."
Suliburk says it was her husband, Ben Taub trauma surgeon James Suliburk, who encouraged her to be on MTMH because he had previously been on the reality series Houston Medical in 2002 when he was a resident at Memorial Hermann–Texas Medical Center and enjoyed the experience. "It was honestly him more than me who wanted to do the show," she says. "Everybody gets confused about that. They see me, the social butterfly with blonde hair, and say, 'Of course she'd want to be on TV.' No, it was actually my husband."
Light on Houston
Though cast members have their differences, they all agree that the series shows Houston in a more positive light. "That's why I went on to it, to let the world know how great our medical center is and our city is. We're diverse and international," Cindi says. "And we may fight, but we'll make up."
She also admits she agreed to do the series because she hopes it enhances her business as a renowned silhouette artist. She is embarking on a 19-city U.S. tour of leading department stores to showcase her talents. She also co-produced a documentary, Silhouette Secrets, that is on the film festival circuit.
Houston's diverse cultures are highlighted throughout the series, particularly in numerous segments featuring cardiologist Monica Patel, who is of Indian descent, and Pourasef, who is Persian-American. "It is very much ingrained in this city to be part of other people's culture," Pourasef says. "It's not only Greeks who go to Greek things or Persians who go to Persian things. It's really nice because that's how I grew up and I guess I didn't realize that other cities don't work that way."
Pourasef says that she couldn't have imagined going through the experience without her sister, Pegah, who is a supporting cast member. "It was an emotional roller coaster of feelings. There's no fake feelings. Everything is real. You are literally sometimes emotionally drained," she says.
Cindi Rose says she bonded with Patel over a "Bollywood Blitz" party they pulled together in three days to benefit two charities aimed at halting sex trafficking. The fundraiser, which CultureMap covered in March 2015, raised $40,000 and will likely be seen in a future MTMH episode. "I had a lot of magic with Monica and you will see it," Cindi says. "Elly I knew before the show and Erika Sato I met through my daughter because they were friends."
Sato, who comes across as the "serious one" in the series, says she has only one regret about the filming — that she wasn't more free-spirited. She was studying for the rigorous American Board of Plastic Surgery oral examinations at the time, which cramped her style a bit. Even so, being in the series "really took me out of my safe zone," she explains.
"I've always worked toward a goal of being a surgeon, which meant a lot of studying and a lot of discipline. I didn't really strive to take a lot of chances on things. And I think this really was stepping out there for me. And it was really fun."
Reaction from those in her profession has been mixed, she admits. "Actual medical doctors are either really excited for me or really disappointed in me," she says. "I've gotten lots of Facebook messages from women in medicine, other MDs, who say it is embarrassing to us after all the work we have done. Then I had a Facebook group of women medical doctors who said they are really excited and are cheering me on. It's kind of black and white."
Filming was demanding, Batiste admits, since it took place for nearly one full year, but it wasn't overwhelming. "It was pretty intense for the amount of time you put into it that I wasn't expecting," she says. "But since it was reality, it was part of my life. It wasn't adding things to my schedule that weren't there."