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Reality show real, and not so real

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Lucy Chabot Reed and Dorie Cox


Despite all the concern this past year, it doesn’t appear as though yachting’s reality television show “Below Deck” has attracted too many crazy people to the yachting industry.


The Triton and Crew Unlimited hosted a panel discussion prior to this season’s premiere in mid-August and invited two stars from the show, two industry coaches and two placement agents to discuss the show and and its impact on the industry.


And it’s not as bad as some might think.


“I have talked with parents who are like ‘really?’ but no, we have not had a big influx,” said Sue Price, office manager and senior placement agent at Crew Unlimited.


Price was part of a panel discussion along with Crew Unlimited owner Ami Ira, interior coach and Triton columnist Alene Keenan, career coach and Triton columnist Rob Gannon, and “Below Deck” stars Capt. Lee Rosbach and Chef Ben Robinson.


“For someone who has never seen yachting, they will either go ‘yeah!’ or ‘no freakin’ way’,” said Gannon, who spent 20 years as a captain and who now offers yacht crew career and life coaching. “Everyone won’t flock to it; people have fallen to both sides.”


The reality show has a large following, including more than 1.8 million viewers who watched the season one finale after just six episodes. Season two kicked off with four of the same crew from last season, and five new ones, giving viewers a little of the old, a little of the unexpected.


But the actual show is less of an issue for the industry as a whole as is the idea of the show. Many yachties continue to voice their objections through social media, accusing the show of representing yachting in a negative light.


Instead, several veterans say, the show has reached young people that might not otherwise know about yachting, and they love it.


“At MPT, some people have contacted us from places like North Dakota,” said Keenan, a chief stew in yachting more than 20 years who also coaches interior teams and teaches young crew at MPT. “The showing is huge. But people think we live in the big part of the boat.”


As for negative comments, the cast members say they got a bit before the show aired last year, but not many this year.


“I’ve never had any thrown my way,” Robinson said. “And if they come, I’m prepared for it. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone in the show.”


While average viewers might wonder how much is real, yachties want to know how much is staged.


According to Rosbach and Robinson, there is no script. About 10 cameras film everything from the moment the first person wakes up in the morning until the last person goes down at night. The cameramen have shot about 30,000 hours or film, and it gets edited down to about 10 hours of on-air episodes. But at the end of the day, it’s not the crew who chooses what gets aired and what doesn’t.


“It’s all real,” Rosbach said. “It’s just up to the editor what he shows.”


Do you think it really represents what happens on a charter vessel?


“Yeah, I think it does,” he said. “We had the same pressures, the same tight schedule, the same 18-hour days as anyone else on charter. Tempers flare, it’s very real.”


“It’s just worse,” Robinson said.


And by worse, Robinson said he meant more dramatic. All that charter activity is condensed into a one or two hours.


There are several unrealistic parts of the show, however. First is that hiring and firing decisions aren’t up to the captain, but producers. Because it’s TV, the crew/cast are deeply vetted, given background checks and psychological tests. While Rosbach said he can fire someone, that would leave the crew short-handed. It would take weeks to find a replacement.


Another unrealistic part is that inexperienced crew likely wouldn’t work on a 154-foot charter yacht.


“No, no, no, no, no,” said Ira, a former charter stew, when we asked if a charter yacht was an appropriate first job for green crew. “Absolutely not. First they must learn the ropes, the rules, the products they have to use. They have to learn all that before a guest pays.”


And perhaps the most unrealistic part of the show is the continuous run of horrible charter guests.


“It is not consistently a mess,” said Price, who also was a charter stew. “I hate when people see guests as horrible as these because most of us in the industry know they [charter guests] are not horrible. Charter guests, in my experience, are lovely people. You might get one bad charter in a whole season, but definitely not six in a row.”


“It’s TV ,” Rosbach reminded the audience, which numbered about 50. “It’s mindless entertainment. It’s meant to put a smile on your face. It’s not meant to be a documentary.”


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

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