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Steve is at first a careless, rich and spoiled teenager – or so it seems. Beneath the posturing he struggles with the knowledge that he was adopted, his strained relationship with his critical father, Rush, and a lack of substantial relationships with his mother and friends. Once Steve meets Brandon, like Kelly, he quickly takes to the stable Walsh family and his friendship with Brandon provides him with a stability he had hitherto not known.
Brandon stands by Steve through his crises and, at times, immature schemes that sometimes involve illegal activities. Steve also develops a close bond over time with his ex-girlfriend, Kelly, and the two become almost like each other's familiy. After college Steve grows into a more responsible person, an accomplished adult, while still maintaining his zaniness and enthusiasm. He also starts a family and marries Janet Sosna.
Steve starts attending high school in 1989 and pretty immediately starts a relationship with Kelly Taylor. They enjoy being together, care for one another and start sleeping together, which is Steve's first time. They are together for a year and somewhere midway through their relationship, Kelly's best friend, Tiffany, starts making a move on Steve, who rejects her. Kelly is hurt and ends her friendship with Tiffany, but Steve and Kelly stay together. Kelly breaks up with Steve at the end of their freshmen year, after he told people that they slept together, which leaves him heartbroken, although he would never admit that to her.
Still devastated at their break-up 3 months later, Steve alternates between being mean to Kelly and talking dung about her, and trying to get her back. He meets new face in town, Brandon Walsh, at a party at senior Marianne Moore's house and they begin a friendship. Steve gets plastered and ends up being driven home in his drunken stupor by Freshman David Silver who doesn't have a license. Silver doesn't park Steve's car and it rolls out of Steve's driveway and crashes. He finds this out the following morning and goes on a hunt for the culprit, but David manages to talk his way out of repercussions. It's school-party-at-the-beach season and Steve, along with most other Beverly and West Beverly students, treks to Secos State Beach. The weather turns out dim and Steve is continually hounded by freshman gnat David Silver, whom Steve tries to be nice to on orders from his mother who thinks David's father is a producer. Steve tries to spar with Kelly, but her disinterest upsets him. Steve is later dismayed to learn that David's father isn't a producer. When Kelly and Tiffany start speaking again, Steve runs into them out shopping and tries to bother Kelly by quasi-flirting with Tiffany and alluding to the time she tried to seduce him while he was with Kelly.
Steve gives in to the sad part of having grown up a privileged rich kid in Beverly Hills, blaming not getting on the basketball team on alleged ringers from outside the district — who "just happen" to be black. Although Brandon tells Steve off, he doesn't suffer any consequences for his racist behaviour, other than not making the aforementioned team due to his lack of skill. Continually taking the low road, Steve buys his way to good grades in American History class, even offering the illicit tests to Brandon. Always up for a good time and attention, Steve decides to try out for school DJ, but, after doing okay up front, freezes when he realises the scope of the crowd watching. He is bailed out by David Silver, who ends up getting the gig much to Steve's dismay. During Grudge Week, Steve hangs out with Dylan and Brandon, the former with whom Steve shares his joy at the girls participating that they can flirt with. He also enjoys asking Brandon about his chances with an "older woman" Brandon is interested in, and teases Brandon about a Freshman girl who has a crush on Brandon.
When West Beverly is due to have a guest lecturer give a seminar on sex, Steve kids around with Brenda, pointing out how their Professor acts comically whenever he has to teach sex education class. Steve learns that their guest lecturer is a woman and seizes an opportunity to pick her up from the airport in his Professor's stead. Steve feigns being a teacher himself to impress Stacy Sloan and even asks her out, but she politely declines. At the seminar, Steve brags to Dylan and Brandon that he's 'been at' the lecturer's hotel room, but is immediately quieted as Stacy gives her talk on having contracted AIDS, dispelling misconceptions about the disease and talking about the maturity of responsibility regarding sex. Afterwards, Mr. Kravitz talks with Stacy and she points to Steve, who reacts with a charming 'it-wasn't-me' grin. Steve comes up to her and apologises for being so forward in asking her out, but Stacy says she didn't mind and just wants to know that he took in what she had to impart.
Despite showing this softer side, Steve is still immature and does some stupid things. When the sophomore parties start happening, Steve is the self-appointed drinks expert and, when Brandon doesn't want alcohol, Steve makes 'virgins' that he still puts alcohol in. Although Brandon gets angry with Steve, Brenda persuades him not to leave angry and just 'go with the flow' of drinking and partying, and Steve suffers no consequences. As Steve's pattern is, he could have done something this extreme and dumb because, well, one; he's a teenager, but, also, two: he is very insecure and needs a close friend although he'd never admit it, but also wants someone like Brandon to be his 'partner-in-crime' to provide affirmation for Steve that he's good enough. At the same party, at Donna's, Steve and Kelly start flirting and end up having sex at the party. As Steve has wanted to reunite with Kelly all semester, he takes this as a step in that direction, but Kelly is regretful and doesn't want to restart anything. When the twins throw a party, Steve tries to pour Kelly drinks, suggesting that he thinks he still has a shot in a party atmosphere. He seems unaware that this comes off as predatory and Kelly publicly and directly rejects his advances, offended. When Brandon starts dating a senior who has a son, Steve visits while Brandon is babysitting and flirts with Kelly as they both play with the baby. Steve helps Brandon babysit and they sing "La Cucaracha" to try and calm the baby.
Steve and Brandon try to get into a club to meet girls, but are rejected because they're minors. Two girls spotting the guys in Steve's Corvette approach and join the guys for a night of fun. They drive around and make out, but Steve's date insists on trying to drive his car. She pretends to be a terrible driver and grind the gears, much to Steve's dismay, but then suddenly calls out to her friend who promptly jumps in the Corvette and they take off, leaving Steve and Brandon stranded in a parking lot. Steve wants to wait for them to come back, but Brandon gets irritated and yells at Steve that they're obviously not coming back. They fight and Steve starts crying thinking he's lost the car and worried what his Dad will say. Brandon feels bad and comforts him, promising that they'll find the car. They report the theft to the police and luckily, the girls had been arrested for speeding. The girls pretend that they didn't steal the car and, despite knowing they're lying, Steve sees an opportunity to make out some more, despite Brandon's resignation. When Brandon and Brenda's Dad gets fashion designer Chick Schneider as a client, they invite all their friends to the house to wear his newest designs and get free clothes.
As the long weekend for President's Day arrives, Steve, Kelly and Donna make plans to go to Palm Springs. David, wanting an in with Steve and Kelly, offers to house the gang in his grandparents Palm Springs Mansion, to which Steve reluctantly agrees, considering the upside of free, fancy lodging. When they arrive, they're all a bit annoyed at having to bring David along, especially Steve who feels his reputation suffers from association. When they get to the mansion, they're shocked to find that David's grandparents are home. Steve is annoyed and wants to leave as David tries desperately to get them to stay, until the grandparents offers to host a party and invite teens from the neighbourhood. The place is a scene as the grandparents apparently know a lot of people, but David's date arrives with two friends who zoom in on Steve, who is not interested. He shakes them off and, despite all the pretty girls at the party, goes to talk to Kelly. Leaving his usual bravado behind, Steve earnestly tells Kelly he thinks they were great together and floats the idea of them reuniting. They have a private talk in the evening, but Kelly gently rejects his proposal and Steve is heartbroken, but seems proud that he put himself out there. Steve helps Brandon campaign when he decides to run for Student Body President, but Brandon finds Steve's image-conscious strategies unappealing.
When the SATs roll around, Steve is the only one unfazed as he's gone to expensive SAT courses, while everyone else is fretting and going crazy over the test. Andrea is especially freaked out and Steve offers that they can study together, much to Andrea's surprise as she considers herself on the outside and Steve is one of the 'cool, rich, popular' kids. Andrea comes over to Steve's house and his relaxed manner and direct approach helps her calm down. Steve starts flirting with Andrea, who at first thinks he's joking, but then he kisses her and, after a beat, Andrea grabs him and they make out. She suddenly realises what's happening and she halts the proceedings, haphazardly gathers her things, thanks Steve for his help and abruptly leaves. Steve laughs to himself at having gotten Andrea so discombobulated, seemingly having enjoyed their kiss. The next day at school they're both late and arrive outside the door at the same time, comically finishing each other's sentences as they concur how they wouldn't work at all as a couple. The teacher opens the door and asks if 'the two lovebirds' would like to actually attend the class, to which both Steve and Andrea hurriedly and embarrassed enter the class. Steve and Brandon help Jim Walsh coach a little league team, where the parents are stage parents, overindulging and babying their kids. Steve takes the same approach of the environment he knows, while Brandon has to make Steve see how damaging it is to the youngsters.
When the Spring Dance rolls around, Steve sets his sights on asking popular senior Darla Diller, but he is turned down as Darla says she doesn't "do Vettes". Afterwards, Steve asks Kelly, but is hurt when he meets her at the Peach Pit as she's just asked out Brandon, who is aware of Steve's lingering feelings for Kelly and uncomfortable with the situation. Steve is upset that he'll be going solo as the only one in the gang, but Kelly tells him to ask Donna, who doesn't have a date either. Steve isn't exactly thrilled by the idea, but goes ahead with it, emphasising that it's a group outing. Donna shows up in a big, impractically fluffy dress and Steve is bemused at her being his date, ultimately being very rude to her. Steve also brings a flask and gets increasingly drunk throughout the night. It transpires that it's not so much Donna that's got him lashing out as he later reveals to Brandon that it's his birthday. Brandon didn't know and asks why Steve didn't tell anyone so they could have celebrated. Steve reveals that the only person he told is Kelly, which is why he's this upset at her not even acknowledging it. Brandon gets Kelly, who's enjoying her place on her throne as 'Spring Princess' and tells her what's going on. Kelly agrees to talk to Steve and finds him in the hall. She apologises, but Steve, hurt and drunk, lashes out at Kelly and calls her a b**ch, making her cry. She insults him and leaves. Steve realises he's in the wrong, sobers up a bit and apologises to Kelly, who forgives him. She also points out that he owes Donna an apology and Steve promptly talks to Donna, apologising for his rudeness. The evening ends on a positive note as the group celebrate the night together.
When the Walshes are set to move back to Minneapolis, Steve is particularly hurt and lashes out at Brandon, feeling as though Brandon isn't trying hard enough to stay. Brandon doesn't understand Steve's anger with him until Brenda explains it. Steve, who already feels rejected by his neglectful parents, quickly feels rejected by Brandon, the only real friend Steve ever made. Brandon asks Steve to meet up on the beach and tries to mend fences, succeeding. Steve, along with the other friends, attends the Walshes' surprise farewell party at the Peach Pit and is ecstatic to learn that they're staying after all, sharing his relief with Dylan.
Steve spends the summer at the Beverly Hills Beach Club playing volleyball and gets his friend Brandon the info to apply for a job there. When Brenda breaks up with Dylan, Steve responds to Kelly's inquiries about Dylan that he must be ecstatic to be single again. Steve also tries to get some romance brewing, specifically attempting to woo a 15-year-old girl who turns out to prefer David Silver, much to Steve's horror. Steve is also set on catching the grunion run, an elusive California staple summer event. The gang end up on the beach at night finally witnessing the grunion. When Kelly takes an interest in fellow West Beverly volleyball player, Kyle Conners, Steve gets incredibly jealous and expresses his jealousy as hostility towards Kelly. When they play a game, Steve hits the ball hard at Kelly and mouths off to her, leading Kyle to defend her by tackling Steve and yelling at him.
Steve starts college eager to join the fraternity his father was in, Kappa Epsilon Gamma house, both because it's what his father expects, but also because he feels it's the only way to truly feel like he is a part of the school. While Steve is worried that Brandon has no interest in the frat, he does get accepted and starts living in the house of constant partying. This takes a toll on his relationship with Celeste, who feels like Steve has lost interest in her, which is further compounded by his flirtatious nature.
Adapting to the bro-douchey KEG behaviour, Steve cheats on Celeste and sleeps with a girl, who accuses him of date-rape after he breaks things off with her. This is a horrible ordeal for them both, and Steve first believes that the sex was consensual. Steve receives support from Kelly who clears his name by telling the story of how Steve saved her from sexual assault in high school. He is relieved, but concerned that he hurt Laura's feelings and talks to her, apologising for his behaviour and comes to understand that the situation was more complex than that when Laura tells him she didn't say no, but not emphatically yes either. Steve comes clean to a heartbroken Celeste, who leaves him for good.
At Christmas his junior year of high school, Steve sets out to find his birth parents, only to discover that his biological mother had passed away years before.
When looking for Karen, Steve tracks her down to Al's diner only for him to divulge that Karen has passed away. Shortly Al reveals that he is her father, and for the first time ever, Steve meets his grandparent. Together, Steve and Al visit Karen's grave and Steve asks to keep in touch with his newfound grandfather.
A former star of a hit family series, Samantha is very much at the center of attention at the Sanders Mansion, where she lives with her son. She is a single mother, as Rush is rarely around until Steve is an adult and although she's mostly focused on image and her life of glamour, she later proves to Steve that she loves him and has his best interest at heart.
It was revealed years after Steve searched for Karen that Steve's adoption was true of only one parent, as Rush is indeed his biological father. With this information in the open, Steve and Rush finally began settling their differences for good. Rush would later help Steve start up a publication with Brandon.
Steve expressed interest in many women throughout the course of the series, much like his friend Brandon, but would end up having serious relationships with a select few. These bonds would help to develop his character with regard to consequence, monogamy, and responsibility.
- Main article: Steve and Kelly
Steve and Kelly dated for about a year their freshman year of high school, but Steve bragged about sleeping with Kelly, which caused her to break up with him. It is also implied that Steve's generally conceited, careless attitude at the time was what led Kelly to leave him. After an acrimonious split, the two spend a lot of time together due to their respective friendships with the Walsh twins, and eventually their meanness toward one another fades into friendly bickering. This is also a result of Kelly apologising to Steve for not being a better friend to him, when he realised he was adopted, as Kelly was the only person he told. Eventually, they grow closer and become great friends, to the point where Steve wants to start something up, but the timing is off as Kelly at this point is with Brandon. Despite this, the two would remain close friends well into their adult lives.
Steve won the affections of Celeste Lundy while competing on a dating game show, and began seeing her soon afterward. Though he cherished the relationship, Steve lost Celeste following an irresponsible moment in which he became unfaithful. However, the two regained a portion of their friendship while spending time together at a carnival.
- Main article: Clare and Steve
Steve would later begin a long-term involvement with the semi-snobbish Clare Arnold. While largely playful at first, both would gradually reveal more mature and sensitive sides through their dedication and love for one another. In contrast to his high school relationship with Kelly, Steve displayed more restraint during arguments with Clare; he was generally less cocky and more interested in compromise. This would often help to reinforce the genuine affection that existed between the two. At the end of their relationship, Clare reluctantly left Steve and Beverly Hills to spend time with her distraught father.
Steve finally met 'the one' in Janet Sosna, an emotionally guarded woman who worked on the Beverly Beat publication and initially wanted a merely sexual relationship with him. In time, however, the pair would come to realize and acknowledge their true feelings, and developed a deeper bond that resulted in marriage and the birth of their daughter, Madeline. Thus, Steve concluded the series as a loving husband and father.
- Steve's parents divorced when he was 5.
- Steve also made brief guest appearances in first episodes of Melrose Place, accompanying his friend Kelly Taylor to Los Angeles (while joined by Donna Martin and David Silver).
- I Watched Every ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ Thanksgiving Episode, and All I Got Was This Unexpected Appreciation for Steve Sanders (FLAVORWIRE • NOVEMBER 2014)