West Wilson never thought he’d be spending the summer in a house in the Hamptons, let alone as part of a reality television show. The unemployed former football player from Missouri was about to run out of money following a three-week boys’ trip when he got a call that would change his life.

“My severance ended that weekend,” Mr. Wilson, 27, recalled. “I came home and it was like the most depressing Monday of all time.”

Mr. Wilson decided to check his voice mail to see if there was something — anything — in there to cheer him up. To his shock, a Bravo producer had left a message. She was interested in possibly casting him on Season 8 of “Summer House,” an unscripted show that follows the lives of a group of New York media workers, influencers and entrepreneurs who share a house in the Hamptons — the last few seasons have been filmed at a mansion in Water Mill — each summer.

Though he had never seen “Summer House” and wasn’t a fan of reality TV (except for the occasional “Bachelor” binge), Mr. Wilson had an intuition that it might be right for him. “I just had something in me that was like, just see what this is and call back,” he said. He had recently met a “Summer House” cast member named Lindsay Hubbard at the bar of Lamia’s Fish Market in the East Village. Mr. Wilson was so unprepared to be cast that he didn’t initially make the connection between having met Ms. Hubbard and receiving the call from Bravo.

“I was like, ‘Oh I actually know someone on that show’ and they were like, ‘That’s how we found you, you idiot,’” Mr. Wilson said.

Over the last few years, producers had experimented with adding new male cast members to “Summer House,” but nobody seemed to fit with the main cast enough to stick around for more than a season or two. Affable and self-aware, Mr. Wilson was not an obvious choice for a show that thrives on drama. Yet over the course of this season, the finale of which will air on Bravo on May 30, Mr. Wilson has become a social media darling, almost universally beloved by both his housemates and the audience.

As the comedian, actor and Bravo fan Joel Kim Booster put it: “Haven’t liked a straight white guy this much since friggin Bernie Sanders.”

For Mr. Booster, who has been watching “Summer House” since the beginning, Mr. Wilson has pulled off a kind of magic trick. “Obviously, we know he likes attention, because he has signed up to do this show — but somehow his performance on the show has convinced me that he actually doesn’t,” Mr. Booster said in an interview. “Unlike all of the other narcissists that he is surrounded by, he is the exception to the rule, he is the one being sort of genuine and real.”

In March, Courtney Frain and Mary Mahoney, the co-hosts of the popular reality TV podcast “Two Judgey Girls,” ran an online contest in which listeners could vote for the hottest man on Bravo, which they cheekily called “March Manness.” Despite the fact that he hadn’t even appeared on a full season of a Bravo show yet, Mr. Wilson won second place. (The winner, Craig Conover, is the longtime star of “Southern Charm” and the boyfriend of another “Summer House” cast member, Paige DeSorbo.)

“There’s something about him that’s infectious,” said Ms. Frain, a fan who has also hung out with Mr. Wilson in person. “You feel like you’ve known him forever.”

Ms. Mahoney said what’s refreshing about Mr. Wilson is that, unlike other men cast on Bravo, he doesn’t seem to be hiding anything. “He’s truly his authentic self,” she said.

Mr. Wilson’s castmates also took to him almost immediately. “He’s a smart, funny, driven guy who enjoys providing comedic relief, but is also self-aware, owns his flaws and doesn’t take himself too seriously,” Kyle Cooke, 41, who’s been on “Summer House” since it premiered in 2017, wrote in an email.

“West is a one-of-a-kind special human,” said Jesse Solomon, 30, another newcomer this season who quickly became close with Mr. Wilson. “He is one of the funniest and quick-witted guys I’ve ever met.”

But Bravo stars and their fans are mercurial, as quick to put a new cast member on a pedestal as they are to tear them down. For now, Mr. Wilson is enjoying all of the adulation. But can he keep the good vibes going?

Westling Conrad Wilson grew up in Columbia, Mo., with his younger brother, Henry, and parents, Elizabeth, an OB-GYN, and Bruce, a former world history teacher turned cattle rancher. (“But he votes Democratic,” Mr. Wilson added.)

After graduating from high school in 2013, Mr. Wilson attended Montana State University, where he played football and studied marketing. “From the first time I met him, you could tell he was very, very comfortable in just about any setting, almost like a chameleon,” said his former football coach Jeff Choate, who now works as the head football coach at the University of Nevada, Reno. “He thrives on other people’s energy and really kind of draws people into him.”

At Montana State, Mr. Wilson worked as a promoter at one of Bozeman’s most popular local hangouts, the Rockin R Bar. “He’d have free drink coupons, and he’d just go around and put together promotions,” Mr. Choate said. “And so, you know, on a Friday or Saturday night, when it wasn’t in season and they were having a good time at Rockin R, West was always kind of the ringleader.”

After graduation, Mr. Wilson took a job as a social and video producer at Bleacher Report, a sports news website. He moved to Las Vegas to help launch the brand’s sports betting operation, and worked from an office in Caesar’s Palace. “I’m an optimist with locations, but living there was odd,” Mr. Wilson said. “I would drive in, park in the garage and then take the elevator with someone who was 60 years old dressed like a Spartan.”

Bleacher Report agreed to transfer him to the New York office just as the pandemic hit. He spent a few months working remotely from his parents’ house in Columbia before eventually moving to the city full-time in July 2020. Right before Christmas of 2022, Mr. Wilson was laid off from Bleacher Report. He received six months’ severance, but was having a difficult time landing a new job in the shrinking journalism industry. He spent some time traveling (he’s been to all 50 states), but cash reserves and time were running out. The Bravo role came at just the right time.

After the initial calls with Bravo, Mr. Wilson had a series of interviews and conversations with production, where he said he asked as many questions of the network as they did of him.

Mr. Wilson was very clear that he would not agree to be typecast as “another white guy who gets pigeonholed into being some douchey, fratty, dumb, racist Missouri guy,” he said. “Because I know that I’m not.”

The producers agreed that he should just be himself, and with no other professional prospects on the horizon, he agreed to join the cast.

“My daughter was like, ‘West is on ‘Summer House’! And I’m like, what the hell is ‘Summer House’?” Mr. Choate said. “But then I saw it and I’m like, oh yeah, this makes total sense.”

Mr. Wilson is charismatic. His goofy personality — and stylish but casual wardrobe — make him seem like the leading man in an indie rom-com written by a woman (see: Clairo T-shirt, backward baseball hat, gold signet pinkie ring). He’s handsome in an approachable way, which is perhaps why Bravo fans have connected with him: He seems like a regular guy they too could date.

As fans keep reminding him, he’s also not the typical tall, lean, dark and handsome guy you usually see on TV. Mr. Wilson is 5-foot-11, but somehow appears shorter onscreen. (Mr. Solomon said that when the two first met, he thought, “this guy is way taller than he looks on Instagram.”) He also has a broad football player’s build, which has made him into an unwitting body positivity icon online.

“I’ve had a couple of guys DM me who claim to not be good looking or in shape and they’re like, you know, ‘I feel so seen by you,’” Mr. Wilson said, laughing.

He said he also has received messages from women saying that his popularity on the show proves that personality matters more than looks, a puzzling statement to make to a cornfed all-American jock with impeccable street style. Mr. Wilson always assumed he was at least “sort of handsome,” but now he’s wondering if it was always his sense of humor and easy confidence that landed him dates. He’s trying to not let all of the social media comments go to his head — or hurt his feelings.

“If the overweight man felt seen by me, like if that’s my role, then let’s do it I guess,” he said. “I’m here for it.”

Perhaps Mr. Wilson’s most impressive feat on the show was almost immediately winning over the charmingly standoffish longtime female cast members, including Paige DeSorbo, Amanda Batula and Ciara Miller, a nurse and model whose budding romance with Mr. Wilson is one of this season’s primary story lines. In the parasocial world of the Bravo universe, perhaps no other couple is being rooted for more enthusiastically than Mr. Wilson and Ms. Miller. (Mr. Wilson refused to comment on the current status of his relationship with Ms. Miller, as the show hadn’t finished airing before the interview.)

In August 2023, toward the end of filming Season 8, Mr. Wilson, who now lives in Hell’s Kitchen, was hired as a sports video producer at Complex. He’s brought his rising star status to that network’s social media, recently interviewing Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and posting videos of his outfits in front of the Complex logo. Unlike most reality stars, he’s not interested in giving up his day job to become a full-time influencer.

“I’m proud to lead with an actual career,” Mr. Wilson said. “I don’t want to ever have to say, like, I’m an influencer. That’s my worst nightmare. I do care about actually contributing to something that’s not just my own Instagram or TV,” he added.

With so much positive buzz around his first season, Bravo watchers are curious to see how Mr. Wilson handles all the attention.

“I feel like the real question is: What will this summer be like for him?” said Ms. Mahoney of “Two Judgey Girls.” “Everyone is rooting for him. And usually if you have a good first season, it goes to your head and you get an ego. But I’m hopeful that it won’t change him.”





By Jessica Roy

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