The opening of this week’s episode, after Kiko’s grease-soaked Vegas dinner from last week, tells you everything you need to know. Kiko offers to leave at the end of the charter, and Sandy just nods with a terse “mmhmm.” At the end of the day, he could do a six-course meal for 12, he could do a full tapas menu, but he couldn’t do vegan and he couldn’t do Vegas–themed finger food, and that’s what proved our rustic lover chef wasn’t cut out for the Wellington.
If you thought I’d be sad about Kiko’s leaving — which I am, but more so mad and we’ll get to that in a second — you should see Kiko. After telling Hannah what happened, he goes to his bunk for the night and just bawls. And it breaks me because, as if it hasn’t been clear the whole time, this man cares about his food! Hannah cries too, and so does Jess; meanwhile, the rest of the crew gets ready to entertain for the Vegas party, where Alex becomes a Chippendales dancer with Sharpied-on abs and Malia does a handstand. It’s cut between shots of Hannah quietly cleaning up and Kiko sobbing, and it feels a bit bizarre. I watch this show for entertainment and escape, but right now, I just feel like shit. I’ve said it before, but I mean it now more than ever: poor Kiko.
Clearly, I was too quick to defend Captain Sandy just a few episodes ago. When she shows up in the kitchen the next morning to breathe down the neck of the chef she has effectively fired, acting as though nothing has happened, that’s it for me. She tries to talk to Kiko, and he’s not having it. Later into the morning, he decides he can’t do it, so he leaves out fruits and charcuterie, packs his knives, and goes back to bed. When Sandy hears about this, she gets Kiko out of his bunk for a quick meeting to tell him — the man she has fired — that she needs him to finish the charter. Which, yes, the charter does need to be finished, and the boat does need a chef. But it’s audacious of Sandy to ask the man she has fired to keep working for her a minute longer than he needs to. Kiko could have pulled a Leon and left mid-charter. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had — at least he didn’t start a fire in his kitchen! But Kiko remains one of the better people we’ve seen on this franchise, and he decides he’ll stick it out, cook some food, and try to finish on a high note. And Sandy better not walk into that kitchen again until there’s a new chef to micromanage.
Later that morning, Sandy calls Hannah to her office for a short talk. Hannah had a 4 a.m. panic attack — probably due to the stress of that dinner and the thought of losing her rock on this boat — and Malia helped her during it but mentioned it to Sandy afterward. Whether she should have or not is beside the point because Sandy calls Hannah in to try to tell her she can talk to her, but Hannah understandably doesn’t want to. How can you trust the boss you’ve already had a rocky relationship with who just let go of the best person in your department? For her part, Sandy seems truly oblivious to how torn up her crew is about this and is trying to carry on as normal, brushing off Kiko’s firing as A Thing That Happens. But at the end of the day, Kiko was a capable chef when it counted. And sure, he couldn’t do a few silly things, but for the most part, he made great, impressive food! He was better than Mila on any day and even better than Adam on a good day — but after the shitstorm of Mila last season, Sandy seems only ready to settle for the best, with her finger resting on the trigger and ready to fire someone anytime.
Anyway. It’s the real couple’s turns to be chaperones, so Jess and Rob take the guests to Valldemossa, a village we hear next to nothing about (except that “Fredrick Choppin” spent time there, as Jess tells the guests). Not that it matters where they are, because the news here is that, during their lunch away from the guests, Rob slips in a casual “I love you” to Jess. After what, three weeks on this crew? Jess is shaken up and doesn’t say it back, which Rob says he’s okay with. But clearly he’s not, because once they’re back on the boat, he takes a “bathroom break” while he’s supposed to be on Jet Ski watch so he can regroup with Jess. I’m honestly unsure where they stand after all that, but they seem fine and like they’re just going to move on. Jess even says in a confessional that she would’ve said “I love you” back, but she has “fear” and doesn’t “trust” Rob. Jess would be great on The Bachelor. And when Rob eventually comes back, Malia is rightfully mad because, well, they had a rescue the other day, and the water isn’t much better today. This relationship is starting to take over their work, Rob’s especially, which only makes it more annoying to me.
Kiko cooks a pretty damn good last meal: grilled sea bass, spinach mash, and some kind of beef, with poached pears and ice cream (My favorite! Who told him?) for dessert. The guests love it — so much so that they ask Kiko to come out so they can applaud him. Aw! And speaking of love, one of the guests proposes to his girlfriend for her upcoming birthday, and she says yes and I melt. It’s good to know something good came out of this charter.
The list of good things to come out of this charter will not include the rap Malia wrote and “performed” for the guests’ neon-bright ’90s hip-hop party. It includes such gems as “Alex here with the poker face / If he gets close to Bugs, spray him with mace.” The guests absolutely eat it up because they’re here to have the time of their lives. And between this and last night, I have to hand it to Malia, who’s so great and up for anything when it comes to the guests! No wonder she and Bugsy are friends. (I do long to hear the rap that one Colin Macy-O’Toole would have written for such an occasion.)
The next morning, it’s all about Kiko’s impending exit and the six beers he’s going to have afterward. He cooks breakfast and decides he’s not staying for the tip meeting, so he says good-bye to everyone — including Hannah, his new forever friend, whom he says he loves and he means it. Hannah is a wreck afterward, and I don’t know the last time Hannah felt this close to someone on her crew. Meanwhile, Captain Sandy catches wind that Malia’s boyfriend, Tom, who is, conveniently, a yacht chef with no permanent work right now, is visiting after this charter. She asks Malia if she’s okay with sending along Tom’s CV, and, well, you already know where this is going.
And that’s where this show starts to get less fun. As I said before, it’s counterproductive to the goal of the show when you have multiple departures in a season, and we’re now averaging one every five episodes. But while last season used Ben’s eventual entry to the boat for entertainment value, that hasn’t played out as well this season — I’m still waiting for a Bugsy-Hannah blowup that feels like it’ll never come. Of course, it’s no fun to bring a stranger onto the boat halfway through the season, either. But at this point, the show seems to be stacking the deck in favor of crew shake-ups (once guaranteed drama starters) yet tipping its hand too much when it comes to replacements and ultimately losing the hand. Kiko was a capable chef who slipped up, and I think he could have finished the season. But Sandy didn’t, and we got one of the sadder Below Deck episodes I’ve ever seen.
• How ready is Sandy to fire people? She once fired her own nephew from a boat after hiring him, she tells us in a confessional.
• Alex is, somehow, 23 years old.
• Last episode featured the least of Pete we’ve seen yet this season. But this episode, he has a small solo mission: to get pizza for the crew so Kiko won’t have to cook. I’ll allow it.