Below Deck executive producers Mark Cronin and Courtland Cox spill the biggest behind-the-scenes secrets of the series.
Over the course of watching one episode of Below Deck, there are usually no less than 17 questions that enter our minds: How does one become a crew member (definitely asking for a friend)? Who pays for the charter? How do you even film a whole TV show on a yacht?
Well, Below Deck fans, we finally have the answers to these burning questions and so much more.
The Daily Dish got the behind-the-scenes scoop from executive producers Mark Cronin and Courtland Cox, who have worked on Below Deck and the first expansion of the series, Below Deck Mediterranean, since their premieres in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Cronin and Cox gave us an inside look at what has gone into the seven seasons and more than 100 episodes of Below Deck so far as we prepare to welcome the newest addition, Below Deck Sailing Yacht, premiering Monday, February 3 at 9/8c.
Let these Below Deck producers take you on a journey through the show’s most shocking moments, unforgettable charter guests, and what's next for the series.
It Was Difficult to Find Crew Members at First
We can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be a part of the Below Deck crew these days, but when the Honor’s yachties were being assembled for Season 1 of the show, people were hesitant to climb aboard, according to Cox. “Initially, it was very hard to get yacht crew members to commit to doing the show because it was an unknown entity. People didn’t know what Below Deck was," he explained, adding that some yachties didn't know if it would "jeopardize their future employment potential."
Since then, people with all levels of experience have been a part of the Below Deck crew over the years. “We have people that have worked in yachting for multiple seasons that have experience on big boats and small boats and with celebrity clientele and with very wealthy owners and have been all over the world,” Cox said. “These are real yachties. These are people whose careers depend on this.”
One of the main reasons Below Deck has been able to attract so many people in yachting is because they want to give their loved ones a glimpse into what they do for a living. “The vast majority of people that do the show, they always say, ‘I want to do the show because I want my friends and family to understand what my job is,'” Cox said. “And they’re like, ‘If I go on Below Deck, I will have a tangible, visible thing for my family and friends to understand what my job is.'”
Below Deck has even been “a constant learning experience” for Cox in that regard. “There’s always something interesting, there’s always an amazing story or an amazing technique or a shortcut here or there that’s fascinating to the people that are watching the show, fascinating to us, fascinating to the yachties,” he said. “That’s one of the big appeals of the show is I’m always learning something. The audience is learning something. I never assume that I know all there is to know about the world of yachting or what it takes to be a yachtie. I’m constantly learning from people that do the show, and I’m grateful for that, honestly.”
How Production Prepares the Crew for the Charter Season
Cox said that he has a talk with the crew on the boat as they prepare to set sail for the charter season. “I say to them all, ‘Things are gonna happen on a charter yacht, on this boat, and you’re gonna look at us and say, you guys as production are doing that to us, aren’t you?’” Cox recalled. “And I say, ‘The thing you have to realize is we’re never doing that; it’s really happening, and put us out of the whole equation of things because as you all know, things that happen on boats are so crazy and so unpredictable and so unimaginable that you just have to embrace it.'”
These Are the Moments That Made Producers’ Jaws Drop
There’s never a shortage of jaw-dropping moments on Below Deck, but asking producers to name just one is quite the challenge. “A million things come to mind,” Cox told The Daily Dish.
For starters, Cox said that he had no idea what was going on at first when Ashton Pienaar went overboard in Season 6. “As a producer, I’m in the control room watching, and I can only see what the cameras are shooting, so I see that moment, I see the rope starting around Ashton’s ankle and then I see him go in the water, and then three seconds later, I see a camera being set down on the deck of the boat. And, as a producer, I’m yelling at my camera operators. I’m saying, ‘Why are we not shooting? What’s happening?’” Cox recalled. “And it’s not until well after the fact that I realize that our camera operator had set his camera down to untie the line to let Ashton free from the rope that he’s entangled in."
Cox said that he will also never get over the Season 1 moment Kat Held snuck off the yacht after Captain Lee Rosbach ordered her not to go out, which the captain watched play out for himself through the boat’s security cameras. “That’s one of those moments where it’s like, it’s so perfect the way that it happens as Lee’s watching it and laughing at Kat walking off the boat. You couldn’t script that any better than what actually happened in that real moment,” Cox said. “As a producer, watching those things really happen on the boat, those are the things that, in the midst of a crazy production when you’re tired, you see those moments and you’re like, that is completely amazing and magical.”
"You see those moments and you’re like, that is completely amazing and magical.”
There was even a moment from the current installment of Below Deck, Season 7, that made it to the list for Cox, when Kevin Dobson made that penis cake for the last charter of the season. “Kevin is terrified by the reaction to that, he falls into a depression,” Cox said. “You cannot write those moments.”
It’s moments like these that always keep things interesting for those who work on Below Deck. “That’s the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to the show,” Cox said. “Every season, there are five or six moments like that that so completely engage me and so suck me in that I’m like, this is why Below Deck is an amazing show that you can’t do anywhere else.”
Producers Were Shocked When This Crew Member Quit
Not every crew member makes it to the end of the season, but Cox said he couldn’t believe it when Don Abenante decided to quit after Captain Lee reprimanded him for swimming with Rocky Dakota in Season 3. “That was a shocking, incredible, unforeseen departure where we all were like, ‘Wait, did that really just happen?’” Cox said. “That was shocking and amazing.”
Rocky jumping off the boat and diving into the water that same season was also a pretty epic — and literal — exit. “That’s probably the top departure in all of Below Deck history even though she came back to the show,” Cox recalled.
But when it comes to crew members who have been fired, Cox said that producers usually aren’t all that shocked when Captain Lee hands them a plane ticket home. “The firings are not really surprising ‘cause you see them coming for a while,” Cox said. “Sometimes sad. Sometimes not sad. Sometimes overdue.”
Yes, Guests Really Do Pay for the Charters
Below Deck charters cost a pretty penny, and they are paid for by the charter guests, including that wad of cash they hand over for the crew’s tip. “They spend their real money to be on the show," Cronin explained. "And then the tip they leave, they decide what it is."
Most of the charter guests have chartered yachts in the past or have been really eager to do so, according to Cox. “They’re not people that are coming on because they feel like this is a good chance for them to get on TV. This is a great experience for them to charter a very large yacht with a very experienced and fun crew and have an amazing three-day charter in an amazing location,” he said. “I want them to enjoy their charter and not be afraid to ask for things if they want. And I think that at the end of their charters, like, every charter guest we’ve had has said this has been an amazing experience.”
What Viewers Get Wrong About the Show
Cox said that some Below Deck fans have a major misconception about the series. “[What] the viewers get wrong most is how real the show really is. Our job is to sort of stay in the background and turn cameras on what’s really happening,” he said. “I think people are so jaded by reality TV, they think that everything is thought ahead five steps or eight steps, and we are really genuinely filming what’s happening on a working charter yacht with people that are working on the yacht.”
Let’s be real, no one could ever predict all the crazy things that go down on Below Deck. “I wish that I had the imagination and creativity to come up with the things that actually happen on the show because the things that happen on the show I could never in a million years come up with, could never imagine them,” Cox said. “I think that’s why fans respond to the show the way they do because it’s very authentic.”
This Is What Producers Think of "Difficult" Charter Guests
As we all know from watching Below Deck, some of the charter guests are more pleasant than others when they board the yacht. While the crew is usually not too thrilled to be serving guests like this, they’re always fun for the producers — and the audience — to watch. “They make for great entertainment,” Cox said, adding that in the yachting world outside of the show, “Guests are difficult and so I love that.”
However, Below Deck would be nothing without its outrageous charter guests, including one of Cox’s all-time favorites, Steve Bradley, who appeared in Seasons 3 and 6. “Steve is 1 million percent Steve. Like, if I could bottle the essence of Steve and inject that into my veins, I would totally do that because he is authentically, 1,000 percent living his life,” Cox said. “He finds joy in everything and he has a great time, and when you listen to the yacht crew when Steve was chartering the yacht, they all say, ‘I want to be Steve when I’m 60 or 65,’ because he is just fully engaged in his joy and bliss. So, I love those kinds of guests.”
"You look at them as a producer and go, ‘I want to live that life,' those are the guests I love seeing.”
Of course, Dean Slover, who chartered the yacht in Seasons 2, 3, and 4, has also been memorable for Cox. “I love Dean Slover. Dean’s been on three charters because Dean always comes with his amazing bevy of these beautiful men that come on the boat and they’re in skimpy bathing suits and they look incredible and I’m like, I want to be all those guys. They look incredible,” Cox said. “Again, somebody that just fully embraces the joy of it. So, I mean, I think the guests that come on and have an amazing time, and you look at them as a producer and go, ‘I want to live that life,’ those are the guests I love seeing.”
Producers “Weren’t Happy” When They Found out Adam and Malia Knew Each Other on Below Deck Med
Producers were just as shocked as you were to find out that Adam Glick and Malia White had already met prior to the start of Season 2 of Below Deck Med. “Well, we weren’t happy about it. We were like, ‘What? This is terrible. We didn’t know this.’ We didn’t understand what their conversations meant,” Cronin recalled. “But this always happens on Below Deck. If you find out something late, you can go back and look at what you have in the footage and find those moments.”
Cronin cited Rocky and Eddie Lucas’ hookups in the laundry room in Season 3 as another example of this. “We didn’t know it initially, and then we found out late. But once we found out, we went back in the footage and we found all those little moments,” Cronin said. "We will always get the story.”
Why Below Deck Left the Caribbean — and Where It May Be Heading Next
Below Deck cruised around the Caribbean for five seasons before it relocated to other parts of the world, including Tahiti in Season 6 and Thailand in Season 7.
Cox explained the reason for the move. “Unfortunately, the Caribbean, after we shot our last season in Saint Martin, had a terrible hurricane that went through there and tragically destroyed a lot of the infrastructure, a lot of the housing, everything in the Caribbean was pretty much wiped out. And so we had this very difficult decision to make of do we go back to the Caribbean?” Cox explained. “Ultimately, we decided that it was better for us to step away for a season or two, let the region recover, let people get things up and running before we come back.”
However, Cox said he hopes the show will be back in the Caribbean again one day. “Hopefully, we will be returning to the Caribbean very soon,” he said. “I’m happy to get back there, but also it was great to be able to go away and see different things and see exotic locations and different cultures.”
How the Series Has Changed the Most After More Than 100 Episodes
After seven seasons of the show so far, Below Deck has gotten bigger — a lot bigger. “We had a very small filming and production crew in Season 1. We didn’t really know what the scope of the show was going to be," Cox said. “We very quickly realized the yachties that are working on these boats, they’re not going to bed at 10 o’clock; they’re going to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning. When our cameras pulled out of there at 10 p.m., there was still four hours’ worth of magic and mayhem and all that was happening. We very quickly realized we have to actually bring in more crews and film longer. Going from, like, an 11-hour filming day to now what is essentially a 19 or 20-hour filming day, that’s one of the bigger changes.”
"We’re capturing, I think, 125 percent more footage than we did in the first three seasons on Below Deck."
These days, the film crew captures “an amazing amount of footage,” according to Cox. “We have surveillance cameras we didn’t have before. We have handheld cameras,” he said. “So production-wise, we’re capturing, I think, 125 percent more footage than we did in the first three seasons on Below Deck.”
And Below Deck continues to change. “We’re always learning, and for me, it’s very important. I never want to assume that the way we did things last season is the right way to do things. I know that the audience, the Bravo audience, especially, the Below Deck audience, they’re a very savvy audience. They want things to be different, and so for us, it’s about, are we capturing things that are compelling, and what are the things that we didn’t capture last time that the audience wants to see, and how can we capture that? It’s always trying to stay one step ahead and anticipate what the audience wants to see, but still keeping with the authenticity of that world,” Cox said. “It’s a fine balance of not interfering in what’s happening but capturing things in a way that’s compelling and keeps the audience engaged. So, that’s our challenge, and I actually love the challenge. I love being able to have to stay ahead of it. I love not being able to rest on the laurels of how we did things in the past.”