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Stained pillow, guest antics push me over the reality edge

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I can’t watch “Below Deck” anymore. I figured it was part of my job to know what’s going on in the yachting industry and stay abreast of the conversation and criticism surrounding the show. I even enjoyed it for a while, when the drama centered around crew and work.

But now the drama has spilled over to the guests, and nothing good can come of that. The show stretched the meaning of “reality” in the two episodes that revolved around the chief stew’s phallic towel fold on the master bed. There is no way a stew would do such a thing on a charter yacht, and there’s no way a charter client would accept such a thing — unless it was agreed to ahead of time.

The producers and cast can say what they want — and they swear there is no script — but this viewer will never believe there wasn’t some interference going on to create those series of events. And to have the client keep us all guessing as to the level of his offense until the last moment is nothing if not scripted.

(He wasn’t offended, it turned out, and gave the crew the biggest tip of the season. Did he forget that dinner was two hours late, despite his specific requirement that it be on time? Whatever.)

But there’s no way to dismiss the milky white stain on the decorative pillow that occurred in episode six. That’s not funny; it’s gross and I’m embarrassed, not only for the crew who are implicated in the stain, but for the stew who made up the bed and left it there for everyone to see. Really? Who would do that? Not a stew on any yacht, not even a rookie — unless it was agreed to ahead of time.

I’m disappointed more than anything, I guess. I liked the idea of the show so that the rest of the world could get an idea about yachting, exposing this industry to potential new crew, new charter clients and even new owners.

Yes, the crew were bumbling and testy at times, but it is TV after all. They also worked pretty hard to deliver those charters. A lot of that we don’t get to see on TV. As the crew has told us, there was something like 30,000 hours of video from about a dozen cameras. That was whittled down into 10 or 11 44-minute segments. We can’t get it all — just the drama.

“That was the hardest six weeks I’ve ever worked on a boat,” stew Amy Johnson told us at our last screening in early September. She’s worked in the interior for five years. “We went above and beyond to blow it out. A lot of our work did not show up on the show.”

I wasn’t always opposed to the show. I know Capt. Lee personally, and know him to be a professional, and a nice man. Maybe that’s why I took a more understanding view of the show than I might have otherwise. That’s my friend on TV.

So when the criticism started, I defended him, and the show. He didn’t sign up for the first season. He was the captain on the yacht that Bravo chartered. What was he to do, quit? So he ran the yacht with the “crew” the show put aboard, as best he could, all the while trying to keep the charter client — Bravo — happy.

But I’m now done trying to explain to the critics why this show is not as bad as it seems. After episode six, I’m not sure it isn’t so bad for the industry and the professionals who work in it. (And the previews for episode seven look to be even more distasteful.)

Now I’m just sorry the whole thing happened. I’m sorry for the yacht owners out there who have to wonder if this really goes on, and I’m sorry for the crew whose next charter client thinks it’s OK to ask them to pole dance because they saw it on TV.

We can’t undo it, and we can’t stop it. Bravo will air the remaining five shows, so we have another month of cringing to look forward to. But maybe we can prevent it from continuing. What would happen if we don’t participate, if no experienced crew showed up for the next casting call, if no casted crew participated in the drama? Maybe then the viewers and the cameras would just go away.

Maybe this sort of behavior happens in yachting. Maybe not on your boat, certainly not all in one season, but it has been known to happen. But even if something like a suspiciously stained pillow does get displayed on a guest bed, I don’t have to like it. And I don’t have to watch.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com.

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