As Above, So Below: Social Class in Bravo’s Reality TV Show Below Deck

Who knew that a show about rich people chartering private super yachts could be so relatable? 

The title card for Below Deck features the name of the show with an anchor between the two words, with a beach as a backdrop

With two recent Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Picture Editing For An Unstructured Reality Program and for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, Bravo’s Below Deck is one of the most popular reality TV shows today. The premise follows a young crew (below deck) who work a luxurious private yacht for a whole charter season. Each episode brings new rich charter guests, extreme passenger demands and is filled with romantic drama, copious drinking and sexy deckhands. 

The cast of Below Deck stands in a line in uniform on a deck
Below Deck Cast Season 8, Photo Credit: Bravo

In addition to the eight seasons of the original program, the show even spawned two spin-offs—Below Deck Mediterranean and Below Deck Sailing Yacht—that have some cast cross over and can also be seen on Bravo. Basically you can have as much Below Deck as you might want. Oh and Eddie Lucas (the extremely dreamy fan favorite bosun) leaves the show and returns in Season 8—so don’t worry if you start to panic after the Season 3 ending!

So what makes this show so appealing? 

Well we love themed party spectacles, outrageous interpersonal conflict, on screen love affairs and scantily clad tan bodies scrubbing decks and serving gourmet food. But there is much more to Below Deck than just the parade of insults, squabbles between the stewardesses and Captain Lee threatening to send staff on a one way ticket home if they screw up.

Captain Lee smiles with his top row of teeth showing
Captain Lee

Below Deck is an exploration of socioeconomic class and allows the viewers to experience moving in and out of social stratum. The staff down below are relatable. Many of us have had to work in hospitality and service jobs to make ends meet. We have had to be on our feet for 12 hours with hardly any breaks and have been sleep deprived and desperate for a day off. We have had to suck it up and smile when the customer or client was NOT right, but we had to pretend they were in order to keep our jobs. We can relate to having to go above and beyond just for that little bit of an extra tip.

Kate Chastain looking to the side
Kate Chastain, Photo Credit: Bravo

We can relate to having service jobs where customers are entitled, mean and needlessly picky. One such charter guest calls Kate Chastain (the unparalleled Chief Stew in Seasons 2-7), “bitchy” and Below Deck gives us the catharsis of watching as she meticulously folds a blanket into the shape of a penis to leave on his bed. The ultimate F U! How many times have we wanted to fold a metaphorical penis on a customer’s bed who was insulting or rude? Also how did Kate know just how to fold the most perfect penis blanket? (Side note, since leaving Below Deck Kate now hosts two of her own behind the scenes gossip shows: Bravo’s Chat Room and Below Deck Galley Talk. Kate pictured above is basically a goddess and it is impossible not to love her.

penis shaped blanket
Infamous Penis Blanket

As below, so above; Below Deck promises opportunity to go above deck and imagine the possibility of glamour, fortune and fame. It gives the viewer an opportunity to dream about what it would be like to be the primary charter guest and to charter our own boat; what water sports we we do, what foods we would request on our Preference Sheets, what tip we would leave for the below deck crew. It allows us to dip into the romanticism and freedom that comes with traveling to the most beautiful places on earth (British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Thailand). At the same time it reminds us of the ridiculousness that can come with the world of the elite; wealthy people acting like children, unnecessary extravagance and trainwreck alcoholism. 

The show lets us go above and below at the same time and moving through these parallel processes is powerful. Weaving in and out of socioeconomic experience through this reality show gives us access between worlds and demystifies the glamorous life. For most viewers we will never have the luxuries the charter guests can afford, and Below Deck makes us feel better about that. 

Whether you are gratuitously shotgunning expensive red wine to celebrate a 50th birthday party, intoxicatedly falling around a lackluster foam party, or grotesquely eating sushi off of a nude model, Below Deck reminds us that being rich as hell is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that is comforting! The manufactured and ludicrous aspects of this lifestyle are highlighted and it somehow evens out the playing field. 

below deck cast look off the side of the yacht
Below Deck Season 2 Cast

No matter if you have ever been on a boat of any size, if you love or feel indifferent to breathtaking water and beaches, or if you give a damn about lifestyles of the rich and famous, Below Deck will warm your heart. So grab your walkie talkies, an Espresso Martini or Painkiller, and get ready for maritime adventures the likes of which you have never seen before. 

Written by Emily Marinelli

Emily Marinelli is a psychotherapist and Graduate Professor in Counseling Psychology in California. She hosts the Twin Peaks Tattoo Podcast, where she interviews folks on their Twin Peaks ink and what it means to them. She also teaches a class on depth psychology and Twin Peaks. When not immersed in Twin Peaks (which is rare) she enjoys 90's teen dramas, sketch comedy, queer YA and tap dancing.


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