- Below Deck -'Below Deck's Courtney Talks This Season's Stew Drama (And Reveals How Production Gets A Hold Of Cast Members' Text Messages)
Every now and again we meet someone on reality TV who’s just… normal. The normals might not make headlines, but if they're not there to look appropriately shocked and horrified when a fellow cast member gets drunk and kicks sand in someone’s face; or gets drunk and ruins poolside DJ equipment; or gets drunk and talks down to women, then how are we to know what’s real and what isn’t?
Third stew cum second stew Courtney Skippon from Below Deck Season 7 was one such normal. The tall blonde with the slight Canadian accent was in business school in France when the yachting industry caught her eye, and after one season as a stew on a boat, she found herself on the hit Bravo reality show.
Then she found herself in a relationship with deckhand Brian De Saint Pern. Then she found herself questioning that relationship, then found herself explaining what basic human decency is on the Season 7 reunion in the Bravo Clubhouse. Now she finds herself zenning out in Vancouver, Canada with her family. She was supposed to get back into yachting in March, but *gestures wildly*.
This time ashore has afforded her, as it has all of us, the opportunity to watch Below Deck Med Season 5 and well, since she’s been there, done that, she has a perspective on the series that you and I don't (even though, let's be honest: hand us a white shirt and a tray and we'd know exactly what to do).
So, what does she think about the stew drama going down on The Wellington?
Stew 'N Crew Issues
Between second stew Lara Flumiani leaving, the addition of chief stew Hannah Ferrier’s nemesis Christine “Bugsy” Drake, and third stew Jessica More’s fractured finger — not to mention that the previews hint that Hannah feuds with Captain Sandy Yawn, leading some sources to claim Hannah is ultimately fired from the show, though she maintains she quit — there’s a lot going on below deck.
Let's start with The Lara Issue. “I really just can’t wrap my head around it,” Courtney tells me over the phone. “Like, we sign up for the job and you essentially just do what you're told and nothing else. Our only job is to do exactly what the chief stew tells you.” Lara, of course, didn’t see it that way, and… bye-bye. "You will find someone else," was absolutely Lara's best line on the show.
Her exit left the crew with a hole to fill, which stressed Courtney out. “The interior on a boat that size should be run with more than three stews, so to see them run it with two — or two and a half, because one doesn’t know the job — gives me exhaustion by osmosis,” Courtney says.
Because, the stew job is draining. Really draining. “It's hard to convey because it's not very interesting, like how tiring it really is and how much is actually involved in the job,” she says.
“You really don't have any downtime when you’re working 16 to 18 hours a day. There's never a time when there isn't something that has to be done or you're not thinking like five steps ahead about all those other tasks you have to do.” When viewers (or guests!) are baffled by some of the mistakes the crew makes, maybe it’s “because they don't understand how tired you are,” she says.
There’s no doubt the job looks exhausting, but, like, what is it, exactly, that stews do?
“I mean, you're cleaning [the guests’] rooms, you're cleaning them as they go in and out throughout the day; you're doing your laundry — you're doing all of the laundry, all of the guest sheets and towels, you're folding their stuff — you're washing all the dishes. You're clearing all the plates. You're filling all their drinks.”
Oh, and aboard Valor, which has a slide the size of Florida, doesn’t have a dishwasher, so it’s all done by hand.
“Washing the dishes really is a big, it was a lot. And then you wouldn't have enough cutlery for a dinner service for all of the courses, so you would be washing cutlery between courses,” she says, on top of “getting everything ready for that service and putting it out.”
By “putting it out” she’s probably talking about the hottest of hot topics right now. The one, the only: tablescaping.
To Scape Or Not To Scape, That Is The Question
We’ve heard Captain Sandy ooh and aah over Bugsy’s ability to conceptualize and execute an artistic arrangement of what appears to be an amalgamation of Party City favors and, for some reason, a lot of glass beads, but what does a real stew understand about tablescaping that the average viewer does not?
“You have to find a balance between tasteful and tacky. That can be hard when table decor is not a top budget priority, especially on a charter yacht, and what you have to work with is often a dollar store tour du monde. Think: tulle, fish beads, plastic shells, fake flowers, polyester napkins,” Courtney explains. “Kate [Chastain] is the ultimate party host and really helped me find that equilibrium.”
Here's a table scaped by Kate:
Here's a table scaped by Bugsy:
“If I’m being completely honest, were I a guest sitting at one of Bugsy’s tables I would likely ask to have it removed,” Courtney says.
Courtney has been, and remains, Team Kate. (Aren't we all.) They talk almost every day. “She's honestly one of my best friends. I feel so lucky to have her. And I knew going in that we would probably get along well, but she was such a great support to me,” Courtney says. She’d work with Kate again in a heartbeat, but as we all know, Kate has hung up her epaulets. She won’t be returning to Below Deck.
About Those Text Messages...
It would be very surprising if Season 7 bosun Ashton Pienaar returned to the show, too, or any of the bru-crew Season 7 deckhands, for that matter, on account of the accusations of sexism and misogyny. Ashton and Brian apologized for their behavior during the reunion (but Kate, Captain Lee Rosbach, and deckhand Rhylee Gerber don’t buy it) and Courtney, for her part, hasn’t spoken to her ex Brian since they walked off the reunion set.
We saw their relationship deteriorate on screen, but mostly, we saw it fall apart over the phone screen. Toward the end of Season 7, as Courtney and Brian stared down the end of charter season toward a brutal re-entry into the “real world,” Brian infamously texted her about the status of their relationship.
Needless to say, it was a “stupid move” (that’s what he calls it during the reunion) that accelerated their break up, and, lucky for us, we got to see their text exchange when, in post-production, they were added as pop-up visuals during the episode, which, by the way Courtney was thrilled about.
“Sometimes they can read your text messages from the camera,” she says of how Production was able to get their hands on such “private” info. (But rarely is anything on a reality show ever private.) “They have wall cameras, so they can zoom in on that and read your messages.”
“But,” she says of Brian’s notorious break-up thread he sent to her, “with the ones that they show on screen, [Production will] just ask you to send it over."
When a producer asked Courtney about a month after the text exchange if Courtney would hand over a screenshot of that text conversation, Courtney was stoked. She starts laughing thinking about complying with that request. “Gladly!” she says, and adds, “Interesting that you asked for that one! I have that one saved!” Courtney says of her conversion with the producer. Gotta love receipts.
On this season of Below Deck Med, we’ve seen text message exchanges pop-up on screen, too; the most cringeworthy ones are the threads between deckhand Pete Hunziker and former-stew Lara. I won't get into those, because, bleh.
(Bravo and 51 Minds media released a joint statement last month that announced Pete was fired for his racist social media post and that he’d be edited as much as possible out of the show, to minimize his appearance. “I understand my mistakes,” Pete said, as reported by The Hill. “I’m sorry for those I upset.”)
After having to work with Ashton and his bru-crew of deckhands on Valor in Thailand, Courtney is understandably disappointed that someone like Pete made it onto the show.
“While it is reality TV, and men like him are a reflection of what’s real in both the world and the yachting industry, I find it hard to watch. It’s just a continuation of harassment dismissed as ‘locker room talk'; and the uneasiness he imparts on the women on board is palpable,” Courtney says. “It shouldn’t be part of the female crew’s job description to tolerate that from guests or crew.”
On the Monday, July 13 episode, Pete received a warning from Captain Sandy about his crude, sexual comments and bosun Malia White demoted him from lead deckhand.
Yacht Food, Fun, And Season 8
As for her season, Courtney says it was hard to watch. “It wasn't necessarily a fun experience because it was quite a negative season. There were fun parts, which unfortunately were brushed aside for the sake of more important issues that needed to be showcased,” she says.
The fun parts, if you ask me, normally center around food. Throughout Season 7, we saw Courtney eating in like, every scene. It was awesome. She says it's because she didn't have time to sit down and have a proper meal; it was just a grab-and-go situation.
"That's why, in like every scene where we're talking in the galley or in the stew pantry, I have my mouth full," she laughs. "I'm holding up a piece of food and chewing! And it's like, an important conversation happening between someone else, and I'm in the background shoving my face with food," she says with audible self-awareness and a sense of humor.
So, did chef Kevin Dobson not prepare crew meals, or...
"Oh, no. He was really good with crew meals and definitely took people's wants into account. I think he did a really good job with that." Kevin served the crew family-style and made sure to include a vegetable and salad so that the crew felt good about what they were eating, according to Courtney.
As for The Wellington's chef Hindrigo "Kiko" Lorran, Courtney approves.
"Oysters and filet mignon with white truffle risotto?! Call me," she says. Also, she adds, "I also cannot tell you what a weight it takes off the stews to have an agreeable, emotionally stable and competent chef. Snaps for him."
As for if Courtney would ever return to the show… “I mean, they didn't ask me!” she says with a laugh. (Season 7 deckhand Rhylee told me a similar story when I chatted with her. If they ever call her to be on the show again, “I’ll be right there,” Rhylee told me.)
But Courtney feels she left on a high note. After the season ended, “I was a bit relieved,” she says. “I think I definitely left in a good spot.” Which, naturally, is a very normal takeaway and a very normal response.