IIt was a given that the Australian spin-off of the American maritime reality show Below Deck would offer some local flair. But when Channel Seven news footage from 2019 appeared halfway through the first episode of Below Deck Down Under, I was surprised and definitely on board.
Nine years ago, Bravo Below released Deck, a reality show about the crew working on luxury yachts that caters to charter guests’ every whim in an attempt to achieve the elusive big tip. The show is a treasure trove of reality TV subgenres: it’s a travel show, it’s a cooking show, it’s the youthful clutter of early Vanderpump Rules (crew) and the narcissistic wealth and freedom of injury of The Real Housewives (guests). It is class politics, service industry hierarchies, tourism and melodrama. And it’s all on a boat!
Below Deck has launched a fleet of spin-offs: Below Deck Mediterranean, Below Deck Sailing Yacht and now, Below Deck Down Under, recorded on the shores of Queensland and following the crew on the superyacht Thalassa. It’s all a bit Downton Abbey: downstairs is the crew’s matchbox-sized living quarters, kitchen and crew mess; upstairs on the deck is the glamorous dining room, jacuzzi and luxurious guest suites. After each charter, the crew let off steam on crazy evenings, with this season recorded on Airlie Beach.
The formula is standard across the franchise, with each spin-off featuring some familiar faces and a mostly rotating crew each season (or even during the season). The central unchanging force is the series’ captain, and this time we get captain Jason Chambers with his broad Australian accent and laid-back “I’m more of a big brother than a captain”.
In an attempt to separate Captain Jason from the rest, he is introduced as a hands-on hottie who has a lot of control over Thalassa as it charters the days of Pentecost. So when old news photos of a 45.6 meter long yacht, he was captain, were shown crashing into a marina, I was overjoyed. No one was injured and Captain Jason saved the day. But for me, it was a perfect moment for an Australian spin-off of a popular American show: is there anything we love more than watching a slow-motion crash? And now we get one at our own marina.
In over 260 episodes of the Below Deck series, there have been countless personal and professional crashes involving crew, captains and customers. (And only a few as literal as Jason’s.) Captain Jason kicks off the season and endures another mechanical failure, this time one that means Thalassa can’t even leave the dock. While the captain tries to solve the problem, it is up to the band of international yachts on board to keep the guests entertained and happy.
The crew is what makes or breaks under tires, regardless of location or spin-off. How they respond to charter guests, and each other, is where the drama thrives. Most of the Down Under crew are green, but Below Deck With alum (and fan favorite) Aesha Scott is back. The main pot is undoubtedly the shining star of Below Deck Down Under, with its Kiwi sense of humor, optimism and no-shit talking that gives the series the vibe it longed for with Captain Jason. Walk into her foil: American chef Ryan McKeown, whose self-proclaimed arrogance collides with Aesha’s service-first approach, already brewing a flammable level of conflict.
But it’s not the only personality clash set up. On the first crew night, while the alcohol is flowing and the hot tub is used by those who normally clean, bosun Jamie gets an outburst after discovering that one of the female crew members already has a boyfriend. “I was just told [that] every girl on that fucking boat obviously has a boyfriend, ”he says, adding that he is“ not interested ”in anyone else on the boat. It’s uncomfortable to look at.
Similarly, it’s hard to see deckhand Benny being awarded an “you can do better” award by the captain in front of his colleagues, wearing a disco ball helmet as a kind of humiliation. The captain and crew say it’s all in good fun, but it’s hard not to see this shattering leadership style under the guise of jocular larrikinism as a classic taste of Australian pressured workplace culture.
We have not yet seen any really disgusting or demanding guests, but the setup for “crash” is strong. Like a superyacht going into a marina, there are no stops under the Deck Down Under now.