First, let’s address the elephant in the primary suite: Yes, Below Deck is a lot like quarantine. It’s a bunch of people stuck together in close quarters for a prolonged time. (Not to mention, the rich guests get to relax and have a vacation while the crew has to work.) Sure, the guests are only there for a few days, and the crew gets to go out and party between charters. But it’s enough to wonder: Why the hell would I want to watch a bunch of people stuck on a boat while I’m stuck in my own home?
So let’s look at it a different way. A pandemic keeps rapidly changing the world around us, while we have to be isolated from that world for our own safety. Don’t you want to enjoy something familiar, a show with an unwavering formula for success? Welcome aboard the Wellington.
So we’re on a new boat, but with Captain Sandy and chief stew Hannah back in their positions, it’s shaping up to be another season of the same Below Deck: Mediterranean we know and love. Last season left Hannah and Sandy contemplating Hannah’s future in yachting as a chief stew who enjoys pouring drinks for the almost-superrich, but not making Pinterest-perfect tables. But tables be damned, Hannah is back — and I’m glad to see her. With Kate Chastain not returning to Captain Lee’s Below Deck crew next season, Hannah is this franchise’s biggest constant, and a fine Bravolebrity at that.
Malia, season two’s eventual lead deckhand, is also back. She’s gotten another promotion: She’ll be this season’s bosun, the first woman to hold the title on any Below Deck show (and it’s only the franchise’s 13th season!). That shouldn’t be news, but it is, especially after the boys of Captain Lee’s crew last season devolved into outright sexism. Malia has spent the last few years racking up yachting certifications and experience, and she’s vowing to leave her fights and boatmances of season two behind.
She’ll have quite a deck crew to straighten out. There’s Pete, one (1) self-proclaimed “total unit” who’s worked on deck crew for ten years, even as a captain. There’s Alex, who is from Boston. And there’s Rob, a quiet Brit who left modeling for yachting two years ago and learned there’s more to life than being pretty. He is, for the record, still pretty (although I miss season three and four’s resident pretty boy/all-around sweetheart Colin).
Hannah’s interior crew, meanwhile, feels oddly familiar. There’s Lara, her Italian second stew who’s worked in yachts for seven years (even as chief stew), who she worries will challenge her authority like Bugsy in season two. Hey, if she wants to decorate tables, maybe she deserves the job! Then there’s Jessica, who’s worked in yachting but also sold cars, called bingo games, and waitressed at Hooters, among other odd jobs. This show has had many Jessicas, and I love them so.
There’s also Kiko, who enters Captain Sandy’s cursed galley as chef. After last season saw the Sirocco cycle through three chefs — unqualified steak-licker Mila, third stew Anastasia, and fan favorite Ben — Sandy is extra wary. But Kiko used to cook for Vladimir Putin’s son, so he knows how to please the D-list crowd that frequents these boats.
As the provisions come in, the boys waste no time flirting with the girls. Rob has his eye on Jess, while Pete wants to “be that Italian Stallion” with Lara. Work microaggressions aside, at least someone’s a fan of Lara, who’s already gotten on Hannah’s bad side before the first charter. At the stew meeting, Hannah explains that the crew will need to impress the guests (or rather, Captain Sandy) with table-décor creativity — at which Lara fake-stabs her heart, because creativity isn’t really her thing. Hannah says she shouldn’t have done that in front of her; Lara says Hannah doesn’t have a sense of humor. Multiple things can be true!
The two get into another disagreement after provisions, when Hannah radios Lara to ask about some misplaced beer. Lara comes to clear things up in person, telling Hannah she thought she asked, “Did you see the beer?” when Hannah claims she asked, “Did the beer come?” “You can read it both ways,” our uncreative second stew explains. She also tells us that sometimes, people think she’s being a jerk when she’s actually being calm. I can’t wait to start telling my roommates that.
Our first primary is Chris Harris, an entrepreneur who opens nightclubs and tech firms and makes his daughter, Jess, run them. It’s Jess’s 29th birthday and chartering a yacht seems like an adequate present for all that work. We join them on a tour of the Wellington, which is 30 feet longer than Sirocco and has infinite seating options. Then we’re off, cruising off the coast of Mallorca, a Spanish island. I’d make fun of Pete for not knowing that Spain had islands, but honestly, I didn’t either.
As they get settled, Chris and one of his friends ask Jessica for spicy margaritas, which she may or may not know how to make. In the galley, she asks Hannah if she should add marg mix to her eight-second pour of tequila. Hannah appreciates Jessica’s attitude because, well, she can’t be mad at both of her stews. The men enjoy their strong pre-lunch margs, while Jessica says in a confessional, “Either I killed it or I killed them.” A great attitude indeed.
Kiko is making moqueca, a seafood stew from his home country of Brazil, for his first meal aboard. It’s a sweet gesture, but we’re in Spain! And it’s late anyway. After the guests devour the food, Sandy comes out to ask about it, and Chris says the fish was gooey. What does that even mean? Sandy goes back to the kitchen and tries some of Kiko’s shrimp, which she assures him is delicious. Good, because Kiko is already scared of getting fired, despite already proving infinitely more competent than Mila.
That afternoon, Pete offhandedly calls Malia “sweetheart” for a second time (that we see) and she’s rightfully annoyed in her confessionals. The show’s setting up this sexism to be a plotline this season, also showing the deckhands’ confusion about who was bosun and a conversation between the boys about how they like when a woman tells them what to do. Bleh. It doesn’t feel forced or surprising to me, just disappointing — especially after watching Malia run point on getting this monster of a boat out of the dock while Pete left the bow early. She can do the job!
Before dinner, Hannah tells Lara that Jessica (whom Hannah has now armed with cocktail cheat sheets) will be on service while she’ll be on cabins. Hannah reminds Lara that she and Jessica said they wanted to rotate responsibilities, while a flashback reminded us that Hannah told them they’d be rotating. Hannah hasn’t demoted Lara, she reasons, she’s just switched her with Jessica. But if Jessica is third stew, doesn’t that mean …? Anyway. The crew changes into their (now-collarless!) blacks and the stews survey their Michael’s-grade table decorations. They shape pebbles into indiscernible shapes and call it good.
Kiko has made a truffle risotto and a filet mignon with a port wine reduction, which makes this vegetarian’s mouth water. Everyone loves it except for Chris, who claims that his steak is dry. I’m starting to question Chris’s tastes. But Sandy comes back out and offers him another steak, which he takes and enjoys. She also tastes Kiko’s steak and, once again, tells him it’s delicious. I get that Mila was horrific, but I hope Sandy stops micromanaging poor Kiko. He’s clearly a fine chef and doesn’t need to be walking on eggshells on day one of the first charter.
Meanwhile, it looks like Hannah will have to micromanage Lara, who hasn’t returned from her own dinner break to clear the table. Hannah wants Lara to acknowledge her when she asks her to do something, but Lara says she doesn’t have time to argue. After Hannah’s season four interior worked like a well-oiled machine with Aesha and Anastasia (minus June’s seven-episode saga), I’m excited to see Lara starting drama not even 24 hours into the first charter.
That’s where episode one leaves us, but not without teasing the rest of the season. Here’s what’s in store: Jessica will be glad that Rob wants her for her mind, Pete will call his stewardess crush Lana and keep calling Malia “sweetie,” Sandy might fire someone, the boat might actually catch fire, and Jessica will learn where the pantry is. I’ll take it all with Jessica’s strongest margarita, please.
In addition to being this season’s eye candy, Rob tells jokes — but he won’t tell the one about the peanut butter, because he doesn’t want to spread it.
When Jessica and Rob take a cigarette break together the night before the first charter, she tells Rob their babies will have blue eyes. They could get some parenting advice from 27-year-old Pete, the proud father of an 8-year-old son.
Hannah and Malia share a bunk, and I’m excited to keep hearing them complain to each other about their crews. We also find out they both now have boyfriends, meaning Malia is really out of the boatmance picture this season and Hannah doesn’t have to worry about dying alone.