They've skyrocketed to unexpected reality fame—but how has six years on a hit television show affected their bank accounts?

By Shay Spence
February 20, 2019 05:36 PM

Since Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules first premiered in 2013, the cast of waiters and bartenders at Lisa Vanderpump‘s West Hollywood restaurant SUR have skyrocketed to unexpected reality TV fame—but how has six years on a hit television show affected their bank accounts?

PEOPLE caught up with the cast for the latest issue, on newsstands Friday, as they talked about how their lives have changed since joining the show. “For so long, we lived paycheck to paycheck, tip out to tip out, taking an acting job for two or three hundred dollars,” adds Ariana Madix, a bartender who joined the cast in season two. “There was a long time where I couldn’t afford health insurance, and I lived out of my car for a short period.”

Now Madix and boyfriend Tom Sandoval, also a bartender on the show, are buying a house together with a pool in Los Angeles.

Landon Nordeman

It’s a story that many of the cast members have in common. “I got health insurance three years ago, I got a credit card three years ago,” says Kristen Doute, who has been on the show since season one. “Stassi [Schroeder] and I used to split 5-dollar foot longs from Subway.”

“People have to to understand how broke [I was],” adds Brittany Cartwright, who hails from Kentucky but moved to Los Angeles to date cast member Jax Taylor. (The two are now engaged.) “I would take out loans just to pay Jax rent.”

Instead of living off tips and taking extra shifts just to get employee meals, the cast is now enjoying the perks of being reality stars in the social media age, making money off of Instagram sponsorships in addition to their Bravo paychecks. “There used to be a stigma attached to reality TV that it would kill your career,” says Katie Maloney-Schwartz, an original cast member. “It’s much different now.”

Landon Nordeman

They’re also creating brands of their own, with Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz partnering with Vanderpump for the eponymous TomTom cocktail bar around the corner from SUR, and the women of the cast recently launching their own Witches of WeHo wine. “Lisa’s been building her kingdom for years,” says Sandoval. “I feel like we’re just starting to build ours.”

For more behind-the-scenes scoop on Vanderpump Rules and exclusive recipes from SUR (including the famous goat cheese balls!), pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Beyond the extra money, the cast says being on reality television has both positive and negative emotional consequences. “Having private, intimate moments—especially in your relationship, which you want to protect and keep sacred—out there for discussion and judgement, it’s hard,” says Maloney-Schwartz, who had a publicly rocky road to marriage with husband Tom Schwartz. “But it’s a choice we made.”

“I think I’m a better person for doing this show and being forced to confront [my] demons,” adds Doute. “It’s a forced therapy session.”

Either way, it’s a lucrative lifestyle they don’t intend on giving up any time soon. “We all still have a lot of miles left in us,” says Madix. “Are we going to be working at a restaurant forever? No. But if the show can grow with us, then we can make it work.”