Is this what it feels like to be excited to watch Below Deck? After the mess that was Mediterranean season five, I’m wary of giving this franchise another chance so quickly — I know Captain Lee definitely wouldn’t. But there are so many reasons I actually want to watch this season (aside, of course, from a paycheck). For starters: What the hell is this show going to do without Kate Chastain? If we’re going to credit Below Deck’s rise over the past half-decade to one person, it’s the clever, snarky, down-to-business chief stew. I really can’t blame her for leaving after the testosterone-fueled mess that was last season, as much as I will miss her iconic commentary throughout this one. (She’s doing just fine, by the way, with a cushy new gig on Bravo’s Chat Room.) Going into Below Deck season eight, she leaves three big stripes for someone to fill. It feels only right to open this by raising our wine glasses to Kate Chastain, doesn’t it?
Also, of course, there’s the pandemic of it all. This season of Below Deck played out as COVID-19 shut down the world, which it reminds us by flashing “February 11, 2020” on the screen toward the beginning of this episode. Pretty ominous, no? Do we actually want to watch the crew’s stress build over the course of the season as they learn about COVID? Wasn’t going through it once ourselves enough?? But unlike other Bravo shows promising (well, threatening) to tackle the pandemic, The Real Housewives of Orange County and Southern Charm among them, the stakes are higher on Below Deck. At one point, the pandemic pretty much shut down the international leisure-travel industry. How is it going to affect the crew of My Seanna?
Oh, and speaking of the crew! They’re arriving. Below Deck OG Eddie Lucas is back as bosun after ending season three in a bit of disgrace. He spent the season fighting with his girlfriend, cheating on her with third stew Rocky Dakota, and hiding their boatmance from the crew until the finale. (To be fair, it’s been five years. He told me in an interview, “Since then, I’ve hopefully learned a lot, and I’ve hopefully grown.”) The producers spare us those details in his entrance, because Eddie has a bigger problem right now: Captain Lee isn’t on the boat. His mug is sitting empty and unattended in the bridge, so you know something’s up. Eddie calls and finds out Lee is in the hospital after a fall that morning and might have broken a few ribs. Clearly he ends up fine, because the trailer shows him on charter this season (and maybe even kicking off guests!), but it’s still kind of stressful!
Then our new chief stew, Francesca, is coming onboard, talking about how much of a perfectionist she is and her high expectations. She feels like she’s going to be similar to Bugsy from last season of Med as chief stew: hardworking, getting her job done, not a reality star. Eddie explains Lee’s situation to Francesca and then it’s a whirlwind of crew. Avery is a hard worker with great experience who is pretty much a shoo-in for lead deckhand. Elizabeth is a woo-woo spiritual person but also seems down to work. James is a hot English boy, and he knows it, because he’s flirting with Francesca as soon as he gets onboard. Izzy has zero filter, and I look forward to chronicling her one-liners. And if the blond surfer hair and floral shirt don’t tell you all you need to know about Shane, he’s a recent UC Berkeley graduate who is trying yachting so he doesn’t have to get a big tech job. We’re really getting every yachty trope this season, aren’t we? The casting directors outdid themselves.
Let’s talk about My Seanna real quick: It has not changed since we last saw it in season six, meaning the furnishings and hardwood finishes look straight out of your grandmother’s home, and there’s carpet everywhere. On a boat?? In that terribly dated sky lounge, Francesca is meeting with her stews, Elizabeth and Izzy, although she hasn’t assigned them second and third? I don’t know who would be in which role. Then Shane crashes their meeting, for some reason, meaning he isn’t with the rest of the deckhands as they get ready to wash the boat. I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of this from Shane.
As the crew gets working, Rachel steps onboard! She’s that chef whom Lee spoke so highly of on Watch What Happens Live last month, and she’s already been through it, getting her purse stolen before she even got to the boat. Then provisions are here (including a large box of condoms), and soon enough, so is Captain Lee! Turns out he didn’t break any ribs or need surgery; he just hurts when he moves and breathes. All things considered, a win? His meeting with the crew basically amounts to: Don’t do any of the dumbassery that the crew did last year. He’s not afraid to fire people, he assures them (as if us Stud of the Sea devotees need to be told). Then he’s having a separate meeting with Francesca, telling her about his high expectations and how his pants weren’t ironed the right way and telling us how much he misses Kate. Aw!
On the morning of February 12 (because that’s how the passage of time works, for those of us who may have forgotten), Shane is doing yoga on the bow to get into the “flow state,” which will apparently help him scrub the boat and move Jet Skis. Captain Lee’s response when he sees it: “What the fuck?” That’s also his internal response when Izzy brings his breakfast — coffee with Coffee Mate and a bowl of Cheerios — 32 minutes after he asked for it. She asks him to tell her “if it’s not made the way you like it,” and he should tell her on the spot that he doesn’t like his breakfast 25 minutes late, but he saves it for later.
Our first primary guest is Charley, an icon among charter guests who chartered Valor in season five and this very boat in season six. He even remembers the bathroom where his friend passed out! He is also noticeably surprised to see Francesca and not, you know, Kate Chastain, and who can blame him? He also tells James and Shane (who is cute but not hot — you get me) that they have beautiful eyes, and, again, who can blame him? Charley himself, though, is back with a new boyfriend, Carlos, who is also cayuuute. Below Deck: coming through for those of us who haven’t been on a date in over eight months.
Charley and his group of girls and gays order espresso martinis, and they take forever because Izzy is making the espresso shots. “Like, I could’ve gone to Starbucks: Antigua,” one of his friends says. (Did I mention we’re in Antigua? We’re in Antigua! I wish we were really in Antigua.) Then Rachel comes through with the snacks, thank God, including tempeh, which fills my cold vegetarian heart. A chef who can cook vegan? On a Below Deck yacht?? Francesca has more important work to do, so she hands off mixing to Izzy, who has to be taught how to make an espresso martini and is slow as ever once she is making them. I’d say she should go back and make herself an espresso shot, but that would take way too long. On the deck, Charley and his friends are tired of waiting, so he’s taking orders and heading inside and commandeering the bar from Izzy because he wants his drinks that damn bad. “You go get the sunscreen for Ashley. I’ll make the drinks,” he tells Izzy, and it’s iconic for him and embarrassing for her. But what better way to learn than a first charter full of difficult homosexuals?
So Izzy gets Francesca and then complains to us about the “extra as fuck” guests and chief stew. Like, have you seen the show? Francesca talks Charley away from the bar, and he gives her a warning delivered like a delicious bit of shade: “Let’s call today ‘learning curve.’ Let’s call tomorrow ‘get it right.’” Then we find out Elizabeth can make cocktails, so she makes cocktails, she does. And there’s Shane, coming in and switching out the bar’s plastic straws for paper straws (which he packed!), because, in his words, “If we destroy our Earth, then where are the humans gonna go? The moon? Yeah, right!” Yes, we need to fix the planet, but this man is picking the wrong battles: You’re working on a charter yacht! The straws are not the thing about all this that’s destroying the planet!
Rachel has made a divine lunch spread that should make these guests forget all about their late drinks: fresh lobster, steak, roasted sweet potatoes, and an avocado dressing with white balsamic reduction that Charley just raves about. Rachel says she sees food as science, and I just know I’m going to love her.
After lunch, it’s off to the Jet Skis. The guests are making Eddie and Lee nervous by pushing each other in the water and getting too close to the boat, or something like that. But the real drama is unfolding in the bridge, where Avery has gone to tell Captain Lee he needs to leave. Not even one episode in! His grandmother has been sick, he explains, and she might not make it through the night, and he wants to be with his family. Lee understands, because how could you not, so Avery says his good-byes and takes the tender back ashore. Poor Eddie, who just lost his most capable deckhand by a mile! “It’s like I haven’t been fucked enough on this trip!” Lee says. He has no idea what’s coming.
In store this season: Copious alcohol, more difficult homosexuals, Rachel serves sushi off a woman’s naked body, James flirts with Francesca … and Elizabeth, Izzy extolls the virtues of her vibrator, Shane definitely gets fired, Rachel maybe walks off, and Lee ends a skinny-dipping guest’s charter. Oh yeah, and COVID, as if I needed to remind you.
• According to Elizabeth, Francesca has “good vibes.”
• James, wearing shorts hiked up to his waist: “I honestly think this is the longest time I’ve gone without a wank since I was, like, 14.” Eddie: [pause] [thumbs up] [clears throat] “Okay.”
• My favorite Charley moment is, of course, when he had the love of my Below Deck–watching life, Josiah Carter, wear a gold Speedo suit.
• Time for a little wild speculation! So Eddie told me in our interview that “there was some really drastic changes that happened” at the end of the season, COVID-wise. He also remembered flying back from the season on St. Patrick’s Day, or March 17, which seems tight for a season that began on February 11. Restrictions on ports and international flights seemed to have slowed down the yachting industry by mid-March. I’d bet that the pandemic shut this season down a bit early.