Grab the reflective shades you really should have thrown out after that bachelorette party, and trade your Prosecco for — I’m sorry — rum and Diet Coke, because Below Deck is back, with a boatload of guests that are so drunk they’re drooling on their zebra lapels. This season taped in Tahiti, and returning characters Captain Lee and chief stew Kate haven’t changed a bit. Captain Lee is still fond of sayings about putting straight pins up his ass, and Kate is still fond of personalizing her uniform with an authoritative cardigan. Joining them are a crew who likes to go out of their way to exercise — their bodies and their attitudes!
Chandler is the bosun and, like every bosun on every season of this show, won’t perform the job up to the standard the captain expects. This one is all “I’m relaxed! No rules!” Except running a boat is all about rules, otherwise, as Captain Lee reminds us repeatedly, he will crash into a reef and they’ll all die. Or the drunk guests will fall off their jet skis into the reef and also die.
We’re treated to our first ever male steward, Josiah, who spends hours on his hair and went to butler school and has a photo of himself in a moss-green mandarin collar to prove it. His counterpart is Caroline, who majored in psychology, which causes Kate to presume — accurately — that she’ll be crazy. Chef Adrian is a resplendent find who wears his hair in a bob, eats raw cacao, and does upward dogs at random. He wrote in his casting packet that his “passion is to heal through the creative art of cooking.” He boards the boat wearing a baggy old T-shirt he probably fished out of a bin at Goodwill, but, like, in a cool “I’m a man with long hair” way.
The deck crew includes Rhylee, who, like every other female deckhand on this show, relishes physical labor because she’s Not Like Other Girls. The daughter of a trucker, she just came off a fishing boat in Alaska. “I spit, I burp, and I have a temper,” she says. I like how these women deckhands are so determined to distance themselves from cliché lady stuff because they are terrified of being stereotypes, yet just end up as male stereotypes instead.
Deckhand Ross is a dad from New Zealand who’s been a bosun before and will remind us of it every chance he gets. He’s the token foreign cast member who’s a native English speaker but subtitled anyway, which is more a commentary on the wine-drunk mom audience watching this show than anyone else. He shares a room with Ashton, a human lollipop and former stripper with a flawlessly beefy physique who likes to pump iron shirtless when he’s not wiping charter-guest vomit off of jet skis.
The boat they will all drive each other crazy on is 180 feet long, which Captain Lee makes known is a beast compared to what he drove last season. Even more beastly is the décor. Sometimes in the Caribbean, they get a modern boat versus something that looks like a parody of a French chateau. But no, not this time. This vessel is all bad art prints and tassels — opium den meets museum gift shop.
After the crew has mingled in their regular clothes, it’s time to throw on their uniforms, this time consisting of printed bottoms that look like they came from the Delia’s catalogue, and gather for the first crew meeting. Lee says last year was a disaster and this crew better do a better job because the boat is huge, the reefs are abundant, and this whole operation is a death trap. He introduces the three engineers who will actually prevent them from crashing and dying, and they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.
Chandler and his team break off to review both actual chains and chains of command, which Chandler is too cool to care about. He notes that Rhylee isn’t a true yachtie like him and the people he’s used to working with, and he’ll have to really keep an eye on her. She asks if the “bosun locker” is only for the bosun, and Chandler thinks this is because she doesn’t know stuff about fancy boats, but it’s probably really because she’s going to need a sexy secret place to bang Ashton.
Kate and Adrian have an encounter in the kitchen, and we learn that he did four years of French culinary training in Paris. “Now I consider myself a free love artist,” he says. Kate observes a spherical light among his supplies, and he explains he likes to serve desserts on it so that when people eat, the light starts “shooting out at them.” “This is how I woo women,” he adds. Presuming he is single, could this be why? What woman is wooed by having a light shone up her nose after she’s gotten to the bottom of her ganache?
Next it’s time for the first preference sheet meeting, where we learn the first primary is repeat offender and Captain Lee’s BFF Steve Bradley, who’s coming aboard to celebrate his fiancée’s birthday and their two-year anniversary. He’s known in the Below Deck guest canon as the one with the foam party gone awry. How does one get the job of being a primary on this show? Because, as if being on once wasn’t great enough, they often get to come back. Dear Bravo, I have said this before but I will say it again: I volunteer as tribute. I will drink all the vodka. I will demand annoying diet food and strange gum. I will wear zebra! Better yet, I will wear whatever Kasey wore on the reunion of Below Deck Med — to breakfast!
Steve’s requests include a picnic on a black-sand beach and servers dressed as Cupid. “Is a heart-shaped birthday cake any problem for you?” Captain Lee asks Resident Free Spirit. Little does Lee know at this point, but this is a bun-wearing man who trades in foam garnishes, so of course it’s not a problem for him.
Kate tells her team the primary has a lot of requests but is so drunk all the time that it doesn’t matter how well they do. After the guests arrive, Kate shows the primary his “master stateroom.” “I even have a desk in case I wanna work,” he says. “NOT!” He claims to have a home with 17 bathrooms and refers to his room as “my stateroom.”
Adrian is at work in the kitchen hollowing out pineapple halves and plating quinoa with a square metal mold. “So pretty!” Kate says. Adrian responds, “It’s like a delicate woman.” Kate is quickly subjected to more awkwardness when she bumps into the primary and he asks for another “Captain and diet” before adding, “We’re a little cold in here. My nipples are sticking out … did you notice that?” I don’t know what’s more gross — being prompted to notice his nipples or his drink order.
At dinnertime, Adrian is proving his Serious Chef cred by using a hand blender and words like “deconstruct” to describe his surf ‘n’ turf. He serves shrimp bisque garnished with a coconut Thai foam. It seems like a waste to pull out edible foam for guests that show up to dinner wearing crowns and slurring their words to the point of needing subtitles. Maybe this is why so many other chefs got away with serving salad with grilled chicken on top of it — they figured all these guests are drunk, so why even try?
Down in the kitchen, Josiah and Caroline have a fight, which I assume is meant to set up a season-long rivalry. Adrian tells Kate the air-conditioner is blowing on him while Caroline calls, “Kate! Kate!” “SHHH!” says Josiah, who says he doesn’t want Kate to be disturbed when she’s talking to the chef. Caroline is furious that she’s been shushed. Also furious this episode is Captain Lee after Useless Chandler lets the super-drunk primary ride a jet ski without a life jacket.
Coming up this season: someone has an hour in their cabin — or else! Captain Lee gets so mad he needs a minute! And – words that I am pretty sure have never been uttered on Below Deck – MAN OVERBOARD.