‘Below Deck’ is an American reality television series that debuted originally on Bravo channel in July 2013, but has since become one of Netflix’s most popular programs in the US. The show chronicles the lives of crew members living and working on a superyacht, documenting their personal struggles and daily duties as they cater to the needs of demanding passengers renting the yacht during the chartering season.
Filming takes place in various locations, depending greatly on the desired locations the passengers wish to visit, and with every season the crew occupies a different yacht. The first season followed the crew as they embarked on a five-week charter on the Caribbean Sea, heading to Sint Maarten Island on a 50-meter yacht named ‘Cuor di Leone’, which the producers renamed to ‘Honor’ for the duration of the first season.
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Due to the show’s popular reception and high demand from viewers, with the first season reaching 1.4 million viewers, Bravo renewed the series indefinitely. ‘Below Deck’ aired its eighth season in November 2020, and in March of 2019, the producers announced the filming of a new spin-off series, ‘Below Deck Sailing Yacht’, set to premiere months ahead of the latest season.
During the past eight years ‘Below Deck’ has graced television screens, it’s supplied viewers with more than a hundred episodes of luxurious entertainment, beautiful scenery, and footage of a dream life that would make anyone envious, but, surprisingly, a lot of drama also unfolded on deck.
Initially, the idea seemed vague at first since the life of superyacht crew members may not seem all that interesting, but after the first season, the producers clearly knew they had gold on their hands. Living in tight spaces, working a stressful job, and managing demanding, rich passengers seems like the perfect recipe for disastrous drama and intrigue.
However, viewers can’t help but wonder if ‘Below Deck’ might merely be nothing more than creative reality. Of course, with so many reality shows honey coating the drama, the viewers’ scepticism is understandable.
As it turns out, with a little digging below deck, there seems to be a horde of hidden trivia and treasures the cameras hide. From hidden secrets to off-camera crews, it seems the deeper one dives into ‘Below Deck’, the more surprises there are to find. Fortunately, these mysteries might not sink the boat for ‘Below Deck’ just yet.
What The Viewers Don’t See
It might surprise viewers, especially the dedicated fanatics who believe that they know all there is to know about ‘Below Deck’, that the cameras don’t show them everything. On every yacht, there is a secret room the viewers, and some of the passengers, never get to see, plus with every trip, some events don’t make it on film.
The reason for this is nothing secretive or because the producers intentionally want to hide it, but it merely happens for both practical reasons and by coincidence. The secret room, hidden from the audience and the passengers, is nothing more than the production control room. It plays an important role in the creation of every episode, but it holds little entertainment value, and as such, the producers keep the small room out of sight.
The room is host to one of three production teams dedicated to observing the ship, actively searching for any intrigue and drama to unfold. This usually means listening in on mics and keeping a keen eye on spy cams, and if something interesting catches their attention, they alert the cameramen to what unfolds. Despite their dedication, certain events happen which the cameras weren’t able to capture.
According to Kelley Johnson, a deckhand who appeared in seasons two to four, several occasions of potentially problematic circumstances happened which the crew didn’t film. This includes one occasion where the yacht’s anchor hooked an underwater power cable.
Luckily the yacht crew managed to free the anchor without causing a black-out on the nearby islands, but this was only one of many incidents.
The Ghost Crew
Aside from hiding a secret room from the viewers, the producers also hire secret crewmen who work as a ghost team, and rarely, if ever, appear on camera. The reason for this is simply because of practical need. These positions mainly include the posts of first mate and engineer, vital occupations on any sea vessel needed to survive the dangers of sailing abroad.
Viewers may remember Aleks Taldykin from the first season and Don Abenante from season three, who were among the only ghost crew members seen on camera.
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Don originally appeared as a deckhand, but he was, in fact, a trained nautical engineer. Because the show hired him for alternative reasons, which he didn’t keep quiet about, he abandoned ship after only a couple of episodes.
The chief reason why the producers hire ghost crews is that certain crewmen are actually required to remain focused on their responsibilities. Since any distractions, such as appearing on camera, could hold potential dangers that might leave the yacht stranded in the middle of the ocean, these specific positions need to be filled by competent crewmen.
However, many fans suggested that it might be interesting if the producers hired a dedicated engineer as part of the cast.
As mentioned, certain incidents failed to gain air time, but the reason for this stems from the fact that the greater part of the production crew does not stay on the boat.
The production team may have a dedicated room, usually a small space situated out of sight, but space on a 50-meter yacht is simply too limited to host everyone.
The primary concern details that there should be enough room reserved for the chief yacht crew, and of course for all the guests. Instead, the production crew works in three shifts, specifically morning, afternoon and night, and when off-shift, the crews stay in local hotel rooms on the various islands the show visits.
This means that for three times a day, a new crew ships on board the yacht, regardless of the weather conditions and whether or not the yacht is out at sea. During the shift changes, anything can happen, and because of this, somethings might slip past the crew.
Nobody ever said that show business is a breeze, and the crews working on ‘Below Deck’ certainly don’t have it all too easy.
Is It Real?
Getting to the question on everyone’s lips – is ‘Below Deck’ true reality television?
The answer, according to one of the producers, Cortland Cox, is in short, yes. What viewers see is the truth, firstly because neither the production team nor the yacht crew knows anything about the passengers.
Thus, any difficulties and excessive demands caused by the guests, are not scripted, but since they are aware of the cameras, no one can say for certain that they don’t fake it. At least, the guests’ behaviour isn’t influenced by the production team. However, certain reports have suggested that several rude guests were actually incredibly generous, and provided the crew with a substantial tip.
As for the antics of the crew, according to Courtland’s interview conducted by ‘The Daily Dish’, the producers simply sit back and allow all the drama and intrigue to unfold. As Cox explained, they could never be creative enough to come up with anything the crew does, but if they were, they would be producing even more reality shows.
However, most of the crew’s whimsical behaviour is reserved for when the cameras aren’t filming. Since production tends to be very expensive, filming only happens during six of the eight weeks the yacht typically spends out at sea.
When the camera crew departs, the cast really let their hair down. Unfortunately, the viewers don’t get to see all of the crew’s mischief.
Despite claiming that the producers hardly influence the drama that happens on deck, they nonetheless make attempts at ensuring the drama develops. Their means are most simple, but they do try their best to enforce the only pre-filming rule, and the producers claim that their only motivation is to create authenticity.
This rule imposed on the cast members details that they may not meet or hook-up before stepping on deck, which allows them to form relationships only when the filming starts.
This keeps the events stemming from the stressful environment more authentic, and prevents the cast from reaching mutual terms that could relieve tension between each other.
It also forces the crew to learn how to work together on the fly, creating more potential for conflict. However, despite their attempts, the producers could not keep Chef Adam Glick and deckhand Malia White separated beforehand. The two met during their certification and formed a romantic relationship, but things worked out for the producers after Malia formed another relationship with a fellow deckhand.
Another means by which the producers keep things fresh is by hiring new cast members ever so often. The only constant face who appears in every season so far is the skipper, Captain Lee Rosbach. With every new crew, the potential for new drama increases.
Some Cast Members Lied On Their Resumes
Working out on the sea holds potential dangers, especially for inexperienced sailors who are unaware of all the hazards of the sea, and as such, the producers have to scrutinise every resume of a potential yacht crew member they wish to hire.
However, by some means, two completely inexperienced members managed to slip through the screening process. The first notable person was Raquel ‘Rocky’ Dakota, who appeared in the third season as 3rd stewardess. Despite claiming on her resume that she had previous experience working on yachts, Rocky complained about everything, and it seemed that she never belonged out at sea.
To make matters worse, she climbed onto the yacht’s radar tower to take an Instagram selfie, which not only endangered herself but if she damaged any of the sensitive equipment in the process the ship would have been stranded.
She also claimed to have attended cooking school, but during one episode she served oysters with the wrong sauce, which made everyone, including the chief stewardess, Kate Chastain, believe she lied on her resume.
Then there was the most incompetent deckhand to yet appear on the show, Andrew Sturby, who served during the second season. Not only could he not tie a single knot, but he also made the rookie mistake of leaving the porthole of his cabin open, which caused irreparable salt damage.
As a result of his failures, skipper Rosbach fired him after the fourth episode, and since his appearance, Andrew confessed to lying on his resume.
Calculating The Cost
The typical cost of chartering a yacht similar to the ones shown on ‘Below Deck’ range between $100,000 to $200,000 per week, making it the kind of retreat only the wealthiest people can afford.
Sailing out at sea for eight weeks could easily cost the passengers $1.6 million, but luckily, for those who hire the vessel and crew of the shows, they get an exclusive discount.
Normally, the guests on ‘Below Deck’ only have to cover half the cost, with the producers chipping in on the remaining expenses. To ensure that the crew receives adequate compensation for all their hard work, the producers request that the guests tip the crew anything between 10% to 20% of the total cost, but unfortunately this isn’t mandatory, and at times the crew don’t receive anything.
To be fair, the producers provide the cast members with compensation, but they limit it to a normal salary. This is mostly because the producers want to keep the crew as authentic as possible, and if they become too wealthy from appearing on the show, the producers fear it would affect their performance. Nonetheless, it certainly pays to be part of a cruise yacht crew.
Rules On Deck
Before building any interest in joining the crew of a superyacht, lured by the adventure, luxury, and substantial compensation, keep in mind that every yacht enforces strict rules. For the cast of ‘Below Deck’, this is no different. Aside from all the safety obligations crew members have to abide by, there is also a sobriety rule that is enforced at all times.
Under no circumstances are the crew members allowed to consume alcohol or be under the influence of narcotics, legal or illegal, not even when their shifts end. Since they have to stay prepared for any kind of emergency and have to prevent unnecessary accidents, the crew members need to be as alert as possible, and if ever discovered that a crewmate did not stay within the law, they will be immediately relieved of their duties.
No exceptions would be made, and no excuses accepted. Two such occasions happened on the show, one involving a crew member and another involving guests.
During both incidents, Captain Lee took drastic measures, kicking both the crew member and the guests off of his boat, and involving the authorities.
A Near Fail
The initial creation of ‘Below Deck’ very nearly never happened, and on top of that, everyone’s favourite skipper almost didn’t make the cut. When production of the first season began, the producers faced a big problem, which almost resulted in the cancellation of the entire project.
At first, they couldn’t find a boat to film on, since most owners were concerned that the producers would hire incompetent crews who could ultimately destroy their yachts. Luckily, the owner of the first vessel used for the show, allowed them to use his yacht or the show may never have happened.
Then, to add to the difficulty, the producers struggled to find a suitable captain to sail their boat.
— Below Deck Sailing Yacht (@BelowDeckSailng) February 8, 2021
Initially they hired Aleks, the first mate during the first season, but the owner of the yacht didn’t like their decision, considering that, although a handsome captain, he might be too inexperienced. The producers then asked Rosbach to take the lead, but Captain Lee didn’t like that at first. Thankfully, Lee got used to the idea, and now he enjoys every part of it, except when certain guests become a little overbearing.
Exploiting Critical Danger
Viewers, much like Captain Lee, would easily recall the near-death accident that happened during season six, which involved Ashton Pienaar, one of the new deckhands hired for that season. Thankfully, Pienaar survived the ordeal after nearly drowning when his foot got caught on a rope towing a support boat.
However, the incident enraged fans and viewers, who became upset about the fact that Ashton didn’t receive immediate help following the incident, and had to swim to safety.
Chris’ grin on his first day on #BelowDeckSailing has us smiling ear to ear. 😊
As Captain Lee explained, who said the incident shook him since it was the first time he had a man overboard, the situation forced them to act the way they did, simply because they were out at sea, and the conditions were unsuitable for an immediate response.
What made the incident even worse was the fact that the producers exploited the accident to gain more viewers. In the run-up to the specific episode, the producers teased viewers with promotional footage of the accident. Their strategy worked, as more than three million viewers tuned in to watch the episode.
Although it worked out for the best, it nonetheless suggests that production companies care little for the well-being of the cast, and are more concerned about turning a profit.
Despite a few shocking revelations, we hope you keep enjoying the latest instalments of ‘Below Deck’, and if you are a dedicated fan who simply can’t get enough, be sure to check out the latest spin-off for more drama and intrigue.