It's Time to Give Into the Superior Upstairs, Downstairs Drama: Bravo's Below Deck

It's Time to Give Into the Superior Upstairs, Downstairs Drama: Bravo's Below Deck
Screenshot:Below Deck/Bravo (Fair Use)

Despite being a woman with mostly questionable judgment, I have impeccable taste in reality television. Give me all your smut, especially when your smut is delivered through a less-than-vague classist commentary, what Bravo mastermind Andy Cohen has called “an Upstairs, Downstairs reality show… like Downton Abbey on a private yacht.”

Save the “yacht,” and I could be talking about Vanderpump Rules. And for many years, Vanderplump was the best show on television not only because it was filled with drunk handsomes with an affinity for fucking each other, but because those drunk handsomes were neither rich nor famous—yet they behaved like they were both. Eventually, of course, those stars became legitimately rich and famous (and stupid) and the fun was done.

Below Deck will never have that problem because no cast-member hangs around long enough to become so jaded. That’s why Below Deck is the best reality show on television, and it is the perfect thing to binge while you’re stuck socially distancing inside, dreaming of traveling to gorgeous vistas on a vessel that costs around $300 million.

For the uninitiated: Below Deck (and its sister shows, Below Deck Mediterranean and Below Deck Sailing Yacht) centers around the lives of seasonal staff from all over the world—most commonly South Africa, Australia, and Fort Lauderdale—aboard yachts in the places where yachts frequent—the Caribbean, Tahiti, Thailand, various countries on the Mediterranean—as they serve a series of guests on charter. No client stays longer than a few days and some only rent the boat for a weekend (it is abhorrently expensive, as the viewer is reminded of in each episode.)

Each season introduces a new cast of clueless captains, interior and exterior crew in the form of stewardesses and deckhands responsible for cleaning the outside of the boat, docking and anchoring the vessel, setting up jet skis and various other laborious water toys. Some staffers become fan favorites and reappear in various seasons, but for the most part, there is a healthy amount of changeover, ensuring that not one Below Deck personality gets the Vanderpump treatment. Whatever the case, the structure eliminates what could otherwise be a very monotonous program: new talent means new drama and new hookups. New guests mean new vessels to provide constant validation of feelings of animosity towards the super-rich. And everyone loves to feel validated.

Of course, Below Deck is not without its failings—I strongly recommend skipping Below Deck season 7, which was an absolute nightmare with dude deckhands turning the boat into a juvenile girl vs boys war, as if their inappropriate behavior was only “locker room talk.” Later, the men tried to absolve themselves without actually taking responsibility for their actions during a cringe-y reunion episode, one which Bravo was rightly criticized for mishandling. The series’ attempt at course correction is a current season of Below Deck Mediterranean in which every department is run by women, but only time will tell if the pivot will stick. At the very least, it’s a very entertaining season, and if you begin at the beginning, there’s something to look forward to. What else do you have going on?

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