- Below Deck -Former ‘Below Deck’ Star Adrienne Gang On This Season’s Drama, And What Fans Need To Understand About Production
Sometimes it’s good to be first — generally, it comes with a blue ribbon and a lot of respect — but when it comes to reality shows, the last thing you want to hear is, “Hi! You’re the first ones to ever do this!” Unchartered territory is a nightmare among sailors to begin with, and when you add a film crew to that, the terror not only becomes more real, it becomes permanent, available to be stored forever in the bilge of reality TV archives, ready to be discussed and rehashed at any moment.
Adrienne Gang had the pleasure and displeasure of being one of the first “guinea pigs,” as she calls it, when she was portrayed as the no-nonsense chief stew on Bravo's Below Deck Season 1. Adrienne worked on mega-yacht Honor along with Below Deck stalwarts Captain Lee Rosbach and deckhand Eddie Lucas (who, by the way, is returning for Season 8). It was 2013 and no one had heard of Below Deck, which now, seven years later, is widely reported to be one of the network’s most-watched series, and no one, cast, crew, nor viewers, knew what they were getting into.
“It was nerve-wracking for more than one reason for me, because I had been a part of the project for three years prior to us even starting to film,” Adrienne tells me over the phone; she'd just finished up with the provisions delivery to the yacht she's working, which is currently in Sag Harbor, New York.
“I was one of the people that helped put the project together from the beginning with Rebecca Taylor Henning, who is the genius behind the idea.” (Taylor Henning has also worked on The Bachelor, the Real Housewives, and one of the greatest gifts of all time, Rock Of Love with Bret Michaels.) Adrienne's job was to be on the ground in Fort Lauderdale, Florida networking with yachties. They pitched the show to E!, Bravo, MTV, and VH1.
Bravo was interested, Adrienne says, because they were looking to change up their programming a little bit. “They wanted to go back to [featuring] interesting food and cool places, and be less about the Housewives.” Turns out, Below Deck turned into “Housewives on a boat,” Adrienne laughs, but originally, the idea was for the show to be more travel-oriented.
“The initial intent, or what my understanding of it was, it was going to be less drama, more interesting things to watch and see,” she says. The show has taken place in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Tahiti, and Thailand. “They've gotten away from that a lot, and you see less of the places, and just more of the bitching,” which she admits, is definitely entertaining. “I get it, they're doing it because their ratings have proved that that's what people want to see.”
This season of Below Deck Med has certainly been full of Dramatic Entertainment, and yes, we’ve wanted to see it. It's been the franchise’s highest rated across all five Med seasons, because, well:
- Pete Hunziker (remember Pete?) was edited out of the show after racist and misogynist tweets surfaced (he later apologized)
- Pete had a thing for second stew Lara Flumiani, who left after being insubordinate to chief stew Hannah Ferrier
- Second stew Bugsy Drake, who had bad blood with Hannah from a previous season, replaced Lara
- Chef Kiko Lorran, who was best friends with Hannah, was fired/quit after one hell of a “Vegas-themed” dinner
- Kiko’s replacement was Chef Tom Checketts, who happened to also be Bosun Malia White’s boyfriend (they recently split)
- Malia, who we know wanted to room with Tom and not Hannah, turned Hannah in to Captain Sandy Yawn for allegedly not following maritime law when it comes to on-board medication
- Captain Sandy fired Hannah for having unregistered Valium on board; Malia and Tom moved in together
- Tom, between snuggling with Malia in their cabin, couldn't handle the heat in the kitchen and made Aesha Scott cry over sliced cucumbers (with salt)
- Aesha, who came aboard to fill the second-stew hole that was first left by Lara, then Bugsy, when Bugs was promoted to fill Hannah’s chief stew role, pissed off third-stew Jess More for flirting with Jess’s boyfriend and deckhand, Rob Westergaard
- Rob, who speaks very softly and with a very creepy monotone, didn't like Jess’s jealousy, and threatened to end their relationship
- Their relationship, which is more unappetizing than a plate of Kiko’s nachos (bless his heart!), provides great fodder for deckhand Alex Radcliffe
- Alex, who’s been courting Bugsy all season, continues to be the only shining light and comic relief on the yacht this season
And that’s just what happened on the show; we'll get to what's happened off-air. Adrienne has thoughts on it all.
As far as the Hannah-getting-fired storyline, Adrienne can see why she was let go — you gotta declare your medications if your contract says you gotta declare your medications — but as far as how it all went down? Nuh uh. “It was bullshit,” Adrienne says. She wrote a Twitter thread that explained her understanding of what actual protocol should have been.
Adrienne admits she has no love for Malia nor Captain Sandy and asserts that the discovery of Hannah’s medication — the way we saw it go down on the show, at least — did not follow the standard yachting protocols that she’s used to.
For their part, though, Captain Sandy told BravoTV.com she was following protocol; Malia told Vanity Fair that she was following protocol; and Hannah... told Decider that she thought the situation was bullshit.
She called Malia “snakey,” and said if she could go back and change anything, she would have declared her medication, or not have signed up to be on this season in the first place.
Then there’s the stuff that happened off-camera. Well, it was on-camera, just not on Bravo cameras. Captain Sandy recorded a Cameo in which she alleged that Malia is gay, which prompted Malia to upload a video to Instagram that explains she’s not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Malia said she was “shocked” by Captain Sandy’s claims, and said she’d just leave it at that. It was a whole thing, and it rubbed fans, and Adrienne, the wrong way.
At one point, Adrienne had the utmost respect for Captain Sandy and really wanted to work for her. Now, not so much. “I feel like [the show] is getting to her,” she says.
Cast members creating story on their own terms, in their own Cameos and Instagrams, is one thing, but it’s an entirely different thing when they try to re-structure their narratives after filming. Because, as Adrienne is quick to point out, that’s nearly impossible.
“I feel like everybody needs to stop believing the cast when they say that production made it that way. They didn't,” Adrienne says. She’s tired of cast and Below Deck charter guests blaming production for how they were portrayed. She tells a funny story of how, after Season 1, a charter guest had some complaints about how they were seen on the show.
“I was on a three way call with one of the producers and this [charter guest]. And he was saying, ‘I'm just so angry. You made us look cheap. You made us look like assholes. Like, what gives?’ And the producer said, ‘Can I ask you a couple of questions?’ ... ‘Did we ever tell you what to say?’ And the guy goes, ‘Well, no’. And he goes, ‘Did we ever tell you what to do?’ And the guy goes, ‘Well, no’. And the producer goes, ‘Then if you look like an asshole, it's because you're an asshole.’”
Thirteen seasons and two spinoffs later, that’s… mostly still the case. When I chatted with Below Deck producer German Abarca, he told me that Below Deck is one of the realest reality shows he’s ever worked on — the production crew hardly interferes with the cast.
Season 6 deckhand Rhylee Gerber told me that the only thing production did was to encourage her to have conversations with her fellow cast mates to talk out problems and share personal details instead of keeping it all unsaid, and stewardess Courtney Skippon told me about how production got their hands on her text messages (short story short: they asked her for them.)
“I feel like any crew member that, after something air, goes to that as their automatic default — ‘Well, the producers made it look like such and such’ — no, you gave them the material to work with,” Adrienne says.
“I just wish people would stop beating up on the producers for doing their job,” she tells me. “It's really important to me that people know that it's not the producers that are good at creating this. All they're doing is making sense out of everything that happened.”
(Hats off to producers this season for making sense out of Jess and Rob, because Jess and Rob can’t even make sense out of Jess and Rob. But anyway.)
So, is there a world in which Adrienne comes back on the show? Now that we have Eddie back, the re-emergence of former stars could be a fun new direction in casting.
If Below Deck called, Adrienne says she would pick up. It’s always worth having a conversation, she says. In fact, she auditioned for Below Deck Season 6 — the one in Tahiti where Ashton Pienaar goes overboard — but the job went to Kate Chastain.
“Let's put it this way,” she clarifies. “I would not ever want to work with [Captain] Lee again. And I definitely would not feel comfortable working with Sandy, after what I've seen this season.” Adrienne says she doesn’t have anything nice to say about Captain Lee, so she’ll keep quiet on that front. As for Captain Sandy... she’s made herself clear.
The Return Of Adrienne doesn't seem likely, especially considering this: “I can honestly tell you if my real yachting career was like Below Deck, I wouldn't have been doing this for 16 years. I'd be in a mental institution.” Because of the cameras, and the stress of filming, right?
“No, because you can't sustain that level of dramatic behavior and nonsense for any longer than six weeks. It's just not sustainable … there's love triangles and there's fighting and there's, you know, insubordination,” she says, and yes, all of those things happen on yachts regardless of whether or not film crews are there to capture it. “It just doesn't all happen on the same boat in the same six week timeframe.”
Below Deck cast members are now better prepared for what they’re walking into and have a context that Adrienne and her Season 1 castmates didn’t, and that’s all good and fine; it's just part of the reality TV cycle. And Adrienne is proud to have been a part of getting the show off the ground, even if she doesn’t necessarily vibe with a lot of what she’s seeing from the series.
Just don’t try to tell her that Below Deck is ruining the yachting industry. Her peers in the business used to belittle the series and tell her that the show was a bad look for yachties and would discourage the ritzy clientele from chartering. Now, she says, industry folk have changed their tune.
Instead of telling her the show is dumb, they ask her how to get on it. “Happens all the time,” she says. Maybe, after all, it is good to be first.