"I almost think I would love just to spend the rest of my life here," Jackie Siegel says at the end of The Queen of Versailles, Lauren Greenfield’s 2012 documentary about her and her husband, David. The film chronicled the Siegel’s attempt to build the largest single family home in America, one that was derailed by the 2008 recession, and that acted as a garish, exaggerated stand-in for the dashed dreams of many Americans at the time. In this scene, Jackie isn’t speaking of her uncompleted, hypothetical dream home, but her current residence, another mansion on the water in Florida. And now, a decade later, as chronicled in the new Discovery+ show The Queen of Versailles Reigns Again, Jackie finds herself still living in that property, still attempting to complete her almost 20 years in the works, 90,000 square feet, allegedly $100 million mega-mega-Windermere, Florida mansion, which she helpfully notes for comparison’s sake is the same size as a Super Wal-Mart.
The Queen of Versailles received several awards and glowing reviews for its delicately and expertly told story of class in America as seen through the Siegel’s fantasy of building a home inspired by the original Palace of Versailles, itself the standard-bearer of opulence. Produced by Ample Entertainment, the six-episode sequel of sorts is predicated on the idea that Jackie must finish the long-languishing project within a year, in time to host a 2021 New Year’s Eve party. The Queen of Versailles Reigns Again picks up roughly where we left off—at least when it comes to the construction of the eponymous structure, on which it appears very little has been done. David, who made his money in timeshares through his company Westgate Resorts, has regained control of the business and the house he was depicted trying not to lose. Now in his mid-80s, he is suffering from health problems, and so it is up to Jackie, and their now adult children, to take the reins on the completion of the home, if such a classification is even enough to account for what they are attempting.
In the interim years since the documentary’s searing look at what wealth and family really means popularized their story, the couple has stayed in the spotlight, often within the general genre’s folds, appearing on shows like Below Deck, Flipping Out, and Celebrity Wife Swap. The new series comes after at least one prior attempt at a reality show, an unsuccessful lawsuit against The Queen of Versailles’ production company for defamation, though the court did grant the Siegel's the life rights to star in the show they seem to have long dreamed of. (It seems that David was the aggressor in these suits; as of a couple years ago, Greenfield appeared to maintain a good relationship with Jackie, though a request for comment to the filmmaker went unanswered by press time.)
For viewers who are familiar, the show provokes unflattering comparisons to the original film. In a heavily-handed accidental metaphor, the facade of the building, which we’re told was installed improperly years ago but was the only part of the house the family thought had been completed, is falling off. The team behind Versailles is a motley crew—the latest architect, builder, and interior designer all have a slightly wary look to them, as if they know you are wondering why they agreed to do this project in the first place and they’re not sure how to answer. ("We knew when we signed up for this there’s going to be problems everywhere," is the most Bob, the builder, will reveal on that front.) Jackie explains that they have had 25 designers and contractors over the years, and claims convincingly that her husband even attempted to "cut corners" and take matters into his own hands. It is stated, somewhat obviously, that "This is not a brand new house," and we see that, as, among other issues, multiple leaks spring up in the plumbing in the cavernous rooms. Unlike most home renovation shows, where problems crop up and then are quickly fixed, there’s clearly no plan here other than certainty that if the family believes it, they can achieve it, regardless of the fact that the entire premise of the house seems doomed from the start. "It blows my mind that we’re facing problems like this," says the couple’s son, David Jr. "I probably wouldn’t hire our parents to build my house."
The family’s protestations that they understand the importance of a dollar, and seeming awareness of the ridiculousness of this whole thing but unwillingness to probe it, is much less nuanced in this format.
Jackie, whether prompted by the producers to hit home talking points or simply deep in her own mantras, likes to repeat herself, often stating how long she’s been dreaming about the house and various parts of it—her desire for flamingos (she learns they’re protected, so she settles for toucans), the family’s own personal Benihana (which must be scrapped when they learn the venting will become a nightmare), the ballroom floor (must be shipped in from around the world and with the pandemic, shipping delays are myriad)—and her disappointment should they not come to fruition. It’s hard to tell whether the viewer is being set up to buy into the idea that, ignoring all these difficulties, the constantly changing whims of the owners, and the project’s entire history, this home will be done within the desired time frame, or if we’re being pulled along to stare at how over-the-top the trappings of their failure will be. At one point, after standing on her new heated marble floors, Jackie suggests that the whole 50,000 square foot ballroom be done to match, to which David Jr. replies, "I don’t understand why you can’t just wear slippers."
Where original Queen of Versailles tempered the experience of merely gawking at excess with a broader look at the people in the family’s orbit and a probing questions situating them as part of a larger consumer culture that Greenfield has long been exploring, Reigns Again relies on classic reality television winks to the audience, such as chyrons on the screen revealing how much each purchase costs. And there is plenty to stare at: an oversized recreation of Van Gogh’s "Starry Night" in the historic pub; the family’s decision to repaint a century-old antique London phone booth a brand new red; or the 16’x9’ television in the living room, which we’re told is the biggest in any residential home in America.
It takes until the end of the season to get to the humanity that made the Siegels more than caricatures. In 2015, their daughter Victoria died of a drug overdose, and the pair have since started a charity dedicated to preventing addiction. In a scene that emotionally meditates on what space can mean to us, Jackie visits Victoria’s bedroom, revealing she’s barely touched anything in it, and won’t let the maids clean it—that she is, on some level, "waiting for her to come home."
But those moments are few and far between, and the family’s protestations that they understand the importance of a dollar, and seeming awareness of the ridiculousness of this whole thing but unwillingness to probe it, is much less nuanced in this format. "Even with all the money in the world, my kids know this can all go away," Jackie says, unnecessarily reminding the audience that, "It was almost taken from us 10 years ago." The comments echo back to her words from the documentary during the recession: "I told them they might actually have to go to college now. They might actually have to make money. So they’re realizing, there might not be money there for them. So I said, start thinking about what you might want to be." If the house is the family’s love language, it is a flimsy one at that, and even in his weakened state, David’s specter is as dim as it ever was compared to likable Jackie. In one scene that is eerily reminiscent of the documentary, she is seen preparing a celebration dinner for his return home from the hospital, only to go to his room and find that he is not feeling up to it.
In the finale—which began streaming Wednesday—the family has a dinner party on New Year’s Eve in the few rooms that have been rushed to completion, the still-concrete entrance hall floor mopped, sheetrock open to reveal the wiring behind, fake planters and a red carpet rolled out in front with the facade carefully lit. David, described by Jackie as "the most critical person in the world," has nothing but praise for the house (that is, after asking when the flooring will arrive), and Jackie describes the moment as "one of the most happiest days of my life."
"It’s gorgeous, it’s got a lot of class. I’ve been to houses all over California—they’re kind of gaudy," David says. "And we’re not gaudy?" Jackie asks, laughing.
If Versailles is supposed to be the representation of the American dream, the Siegel’s fixation on it making history and creating a place that generations to come will live in are the fully realized fevered fantasy of it, given that it’s unclear if their own children even want to reside there. If the point of home renovation reality television is the reveal at the end you’d like to experience yourself, and the point of high-end real estate reality shows is to gawk at the best of the best you’ll never have, The Queen of Versailles Reigns Again commits to neither. Considering why the family continues to half-heartedly dedicate themselves to this cartoonish idea of home is ultimately more fascinating than watching them do it.
"We finished 4,000 square feet this year—only 86,000 to go!" Jackie says in the finale, before a teaser sets up for all the mess that is likely to come in potential future seasons. You see, she has a new goal: to host a New Year’s Eve 2022 at the house, and finally move next year, on David’s birthday.
Top image courtesy of Discovery+
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