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In Season 6 of Below Deck, no one got to know Ashton Pienaar quite like Laura Betancourt. The yachties quickly struck up a romance after Laura joined the M/Y Seanna crew while the charter season was already in progress and even disembarked the yacht together when the season came to an end.
Ashton and Laura did spend some time together in Tahiti, along with some members of the Below Deck crew, after the charter season ended. However, Laura revealed during an interview exclusively for Bravo Insider members that neither she nor Ashton were really hoping to pursue a relationship at that time.
"I’m extremely independent, and I wouldn’t and didn’t plan on getting into a relationship with Ashton at any time. I mean, just because you enjoy your time together with someone doesn’t mean that you have to make it official. That’s just my take on things," Laura explained during a chat via FaceTime from her parents' home just north of Toronto on May 20. "In yachting, especially, things could be a certain way when you’re on board, but then on land it’s completely different. And my prerogative wasn’t to get into a relationship that year. We just finished filming, and I had all these great goals and dreams, and my travels were gonna take me all over the world and back again. A boyfriend did not fit into that at all. I don’t think either of us was expecting a relationship out of that."
Ashton and Laura remained friends, even documenting their reunion in the Bahamas in July 2019 on Instagram. Laura said that she still keeps in touch with Ashton today and talks to him "every once in a while."
She also continued to watch Ashton in Season 7 of Below Deck, in which he came under fire for his behavior with the crew, particularly Kate Chastain and Rhylee Gerber, and was accused of being "misogynistic." "It was honestly kind of painful sometimes to watch," Laura said of the most recent season of Below Deck. "It’s a little unfortunate."
Laura said that she hopes Ashton will take the opportunity to reflect and grow from the experience. "Sometimes things like that have to happen to us to learn from. Lessons can be hard or they can be soft. Sometimes we need a snap back into reality. And everybody does. No one’s perfect," she said. "So, a lot of these people are super quick to judge who they see on TV, and it’s like, well, look in the mirror, How would you act if you were on TV under these circumstances? Probably not any better [laughs]. So, let’s all remember we’re all just human."
Still, what Laura saw of Ashton in Season 7 of Below Deck didn't change her opinion of her former flame. "I wasn’t very close to him when they were [filming], in Thailand. We spoke a bit here and there, but it wasn’t like we were catching up regularly," Laura shared. "So, I don’t know what he was going through at the time, obviously, maybe something hard. I’m gonna give everyone the benefit of the doubt. When they’re going through something hard, they’re gonna react in a certain way, right? So, I just tried to play devil’s advocate there and not try to think, 'Oh, he’s changed,' or anything like that. I was like, 'OK, I wonder what he’s going through to act that way?'"
Laura said she reached out to Ashton after she noticed he was receiving criticism from fans on social media, and he told her that he finally understood what she had gone through after getting negative feedback of her own online amid her conflict with Kate in Season 6. "He seemed to take it really maturely and to feel badly about his actions. That’s the idea that I received. That’s what I got from it," Laura shared. "So, I mean, I think that he felt really bad about everything. And regretful."
Watching Below Deck Season 7 was definitely puzzling for Laura at times. She said she didn't "even know what the hell’s going on" when Ashton and Kate ended up briefly locking lips, and she was "floored" when Rhylee returned to replace Abbi Murphy as deckhand. "I did not expect that at all. Nobody did, I don’t think," Laura said of Rhylee's return to Below Deck last season. "Oh my gosh, I would have paid, though, to be on that boat, a fly on the wall when that girl walked on that passerelle and to see [Ashton's] face, all their faces, oh my gosh."
A divide like we've never seen before on Below Deck also developed among the Season 7 crew, which Laura said she found "hard to watch." "I couldn’t imagine being on that boat. Like, that would have been the most [stressful]," she said. "That must have been really challenging. And I know it was."
Kate's relationship with Captain Lee Rosbach was also put under the microscope with some accusing the Below Deck boss of giving the chief stew "preferential treatment." Laura said that in her experience, Captain Lee "absolutely" showed "preferential treatment" to Kate, which she said "isn't uncommon in yachting." "The captain always has his chief as someone he really looks up to because the captain relies on the chief stew for a lot," she said. "So, it is something that they need to establish a strong relationship. For his best interests, they need to have a good relationship."
Captain Lee weighed in on Kate and Laura's infamous "check yourself" confrontation during the Below Deck Season 6 reunion, saying that he would have fired Laura "on the spot." Though Laura said that was a "fair enough" assessment looking back on that reunion moment, she also noted that Captain Lee didn't know everything that had transpired between her and Kate that season.
"He wasn’t there at the dinners. He wasn’t there on our nights out. He didn’t see how she spoke to me," she said. "I was a little bit shocked as well, because we had a pretty good relationship throughout the season, and at the end of the season, we left on really good terms. So I thought everything was OK, and I still think things were OK. However, he’s doing his role as a superior, and again, he does have a very strong relationship with Kate, which is fair. I completely understand that they’ve had multiple seasons together, so they’ve had the time to build that. He doesn’t know me as well. Why would he stick up for me as opposed to someone he knows better?"
Laura said that the combination of always being a "really opinionated" person and feeling like Kate "wasn’t nice" to her from the moment she arrived on M/Y Seanna pushed her to tell the chief stew, "Check yourself." "At first, I did have to just swallow it. I swallowed it and swallowed it and swallowed it, because she’s my boss, and I came in halfway through the season and I can’t just snap at the first time she does something rude," Laura recalled. "I wasn’t even finished [doing] those turndowns, and then she comes in and kind of humiliates me on purpose. I just lost it. I’m only human."
Laura said that her reaction to Kate now seems "immature." "[I] wasn’t someone who was too stable at that point because this is me, 20 hours of shifts... You could see my hair was in a bun, and I was all scattered. I just lost it, which is normal, and that’s all the beauty of being human and everything. We’re all emotional, so it’s OK," Laura explained. "I would have approached it differently, maybe the next morning. Now I know, don’t just act on your impulses. But that’s just part of growing up, right?"
The stews were ultimately able to move past this moment, and Laura noted during our interview that she and Kate got along well as the charter season came to a close, which she said "was really nice." "Because our season, I felt, was a rollercoaster — like, there were so many emotions involved there — and then at the end of the season, we all were friends. We all cried when we left and we missed each other, and it’s been really interesting since then."
In fact, following Kate's announcement in February that she would not be returning to Below Deck, Laura said that she is eager to see what's next for the longtime chief stew. "I’m super excited for her, to be honest... and proud of her," Laura said. "I only wish her the best, and I think that it just makes sense to move on. That was a chapter in her life, it’s 2020, new decade. We all need to move on and do something new and exciting. So, it’s her turn."
Laura has begun a new chapter of her own since we last saw her on Below Deck in Season 6. After exploring Tahiti with Ashton and then on her own for a couple of months following the end of the charter season, Laura came back home to Toronto where she started a personal training business. She returned to yachting six months later when she was offered a job on a sailing yacht in the Bahamas.
Laura isn't currently working in yachting today, although she'll "never say never" when it comes to returning to the industry. Instead, she is focusing on teaching yoga, meditation, Pilates, and other fitness classes online through her website. She also just launched a premium tea line called Satyera, which even includes a mug featuring her iconic "check yourself" quote.
She admitted that her career now feels like the "polar opposite" of yachting. "I loved the chaotic-ness of it. I loved the really long hours and everything and the lifestyle and even the service aspect of it all," Laura said of her time in the industry. "But then you grow up a little bit, you kind of wanna slow down and actually follow and pursue your passions, and I was really thankful that I was able to kind of make my dreams reality really now."
Laura met her current boyfriend on the last yacht she worked on in the Bahamas, and the two have been together for a little less than a year. The couple had been living together in an apartment in Antigua prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but their relationship has become long distance with Laura in Canada and her boyfriend in Mallorca, Spain, where he continues to work in yachting. She said she hopes to join her boyfriend in Europe in the near future, although she eventually wants to return to Canada to live.
Laura's boyfriend hasn't watched Below Deck, although she noted that "he’s a really, really nice guy" and would not "be quick to judge." Before Laura and her boyfriend started dating, they had even spent time together with Ashton, and he knows everything about their past history on Below Deck. "No judgments were passed or anything," she said. "And, again, he’s a very cool guy. He’s not gonna get upset or anything about that."
Laura said that it was at first "really hard" to relive her Below Deck experience as Season 6 aired on TV because of all of the negative comments she received from fans in response to her drama with Kate. But reminiscing about the show is a lot easier now that she is able to recognize how much she has grown as a person.
Laura shared that the stew we saw on Below Deck "would be proud" of the woman she has become. "It’s amazing how much has happened since then, and it’s amazing how much I’ve grown, really, since then," she shared. "To look back on it now, it's not like a sad part where I’m like, 'Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that.' It’s like, aw, amazing. Like, look at me now and then and how I’ll react to certain situations. So it’s a positive thing for me."
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