It was a given that the Australian spin-off of US maritime reality show Below Deck would feature some local flair. But when Channel Seven news footage from 2019 popped up halfway through the first episode of Below Deck Down Under, I was surprised and absolutely on board.
Nine years ago Bravo released Below Deck, a reality show about the crew working on luxury yachts, catering to the charter guests’ every whim in an effort to attain the elusive big tip. The show is a treasure chest of reality TV subgenres: it’s a travel show, it’s a cooking show, it’s the youthful mess of early Vanderpump Rules (crew) and the narcissistic wealth and schadenfreude of The Real Housewives (guests). It’s 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 Queensland’s shores and following the crew of superyacht Thalassa. It’s all a bit Downton Abbey: downstairs are the crew’s matchbox-sized living quarters, kitchen and crew mess; upstairs on deck is the glamorous dining room, jacuzzi and luxury guest suites. After each charter, the crew let off steam on crazy nights out, with this season filmed 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 Aussie accent and laid-back “I’m more of a big brother than a captain” attitude.
In an effort to distinguish Captain Jason from the rest, he’s introduced as a hands-on hottie, very much in control of Thalassa as it charters the Whitsundays. So when old news footage of a 45.6-metre yacht he was captaining was shown crashing into a marina, I was overjoyed. No one was hurt and Captain Jason saved the day. But to me, it was a perfect moment for a Australian spin-off of a popular US 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 franchise, there have been countless personal and professional crashes involving crew, captains and clients. (And only a couple as literal as Jason’s.) Kicking the season off, Captain Jason endures another mechanical failure, this time one that means Thalassa can’t even leave the dock. While the captain tries to sort the issue, it’s up to the band of international yachties on board to keep guests entertained and happy.
The crew is what makes or breaks Below Deck, no matter the 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 Med alum (and fan favourite) Aesha Scott is back. The chief stew is undoubtedly the shining star of Below Deck Down Under, with her Kiwi sense of humour, optimism and no-shit talking giving the series the vibe it was longing for with Captain Jason. Enter her foil: American chef Ryan McKeown, whose self-professed arrogance clashes Aesha’s service-first approach, already brewing a combustible level of conflict.
But that’s not the only personality clash set up. On the first crew night out, while the alcohol is flowing and the hot tub being used by those who normally clean it, bosun Jamie has an outburst after discovering one of the female crew members already has a boyfriend. “I’ve just been told [that] every girl on the fucking boat has a boyfriend, apparently,” he says, adding that he is “not interested” in anyone else on the boat. It is uncomfortable to watch.
Similarly, it is hard to see deckhand Benny being given a “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 is all in good fun, but it’s hard not to see this busting someone’s balls style of management under the guise of jocular larrikinism as a classic taste of Aussie punch-down workplace culture.
We’re yet to see any truly heinous or demanding guests, but the setup for “crashes” is strong. Like a superyacht careering into a marina, there’s no stopping Below Deck Down Under now.