- Below Deck -A 'Below Deck' Producer On What It's Really Like Filming (And Casting) The Show
When Below Deck Season 1 premiered in the summer of 2013, it created a tidal wave of success that would roll on and on. Nine years and three spin-offs later, the allure of watching the server and guest dynamics on a super yacht – interrupted here and there by drunken make-outs, fights, and a lesson in maritime law – has not grown old.
At the center of it all has been Nadine Rajabi, a Below Deck Executive Producer. Her Below Deck career began with Season 3 (you'll remember it as the one starring Rocky Dakota), which lead her to launch the wildly successful spinoff, Below Deck Mediterranean, and the new show, Below Deck Down Under, currently streaming on Peacock.
Nadine actually started out in non-scripted TV on spinoffs; she worked on MTV’s Run's House spinoff called Daddy's Girls in 2009, and later, got a call from Bravo to work on an "art and cooking show" in Miami, which eventually turned out to be the The Real Housewives of Miami in 2011.
Having a few years of experience under her belt helped her hone her talent – "I didn’t know I had this skill where I could see 'the story’," Nadine tells me – and when her talent and network connections merged, she was hired as an executive producer on Below Deck in 2015.
Below, Nadine and I dive into what it's actually like working behind-the-scenes of the series; the specific metric that made Bravo eager to launch Below Deck spinoffs; and how casting really works.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Melissa Lacks Friedman for The Dipp: Below Deck over the past decade has become a behemoth of a franchise. I know Med was the first spinoff, then Sailing Yacht, and now Down Under… How did the development of the spinoffs come to be?
I have launched a lot of first seasons, but not on purpose. After I came on Below Deck Season 3, I was able to see the "story" develop, listen to key character development, and focus in on that Downtown Abbey "upstairs-downstairs" mentality, and I knew there was something there.
This show, which back then was different than other Bravo shows, brought in that "co-viewing" audience of females and males, which is huge. Bravo is a female-dominated network and having a show that brings in co-viewing, not even just across sexes, but across ages, as well, was not something to take lightly.
Seeing that, we knew we could expand the franchise, which is really where the Med was pitched and born, and thus the growth began.
Walk me through a day in the life of preparing to film, and filming. First of all, is your team on the yacht during the seasons?
Yes, we are actually on the boat and we have a 24-hours-a-day shoot schedule. We split the team up in 12-hour shifts, morning and night shifts, so we have access to the cast at all times. When you're not on shift, you take the water taxi back to the production crew's hotel nearby, where we exchange notes with those on the other shift, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
We are very lucky to be on this crew and get to experience this type of travel, but this workplace is nothing but mundane, since you really live and sleep all in the same place… most of the time in a tiny, little control room on the boat.
Plus, postproduction is lengthy. It takes about eight months or so to put together a season. You have to really be detail orientated with a show like this in regard to catching specific audio, such as the hook up between Eddie Lucas and Rocky Dakota in the laundry room on Season 3.
We didn’t have a camera in there at the time, but picking up on that audio allowed us to include that hookup within the storyline of an incredible season.
Same thing with catching Chef Adam Glick and Malia White on Below Deck Med, whispering about their past together. We caught that really by listening extremely closely, dialing up the audio, then stepping back and noticing this was something bigger than what we were seeing.
Really, this team is amazing and one of the best I ever worked with. The same crew has come back to Med year after year, and that really shows the love of the show, which is rare in this industry.
Yachting is notoriously a boys' club rife with harassment, which we have seen on the show between guest and crew. What is it like working as a woman behind the scenes on a yacht?
It is tough to witness those moments from behind the camera, since our job is to let people figure out the problems on their own. It is, in the end, up to the captain to solve the issues between the crew on the boat, but obviously, if anything escalates to the extreme, we would step in and get involved.
But if you flip it and look at the positives, I truly believe the show has provided more opportunities for women and people of color in yachting and really has changed the narrative.
You see strong female voices standing up, speaking their minds… Malia from Med started on dive boats and now is working up to a captain. Zee from Med has really represented people of color in the yachting community and I feel has changed the narrative and conversation.
The cast of Below Deck somewhat changes from season to season. What's the thought-process behind keeping some familiar faces on the cast, versus introducing some new ones?
When we launched Med, we wanted to bring over a familiar face from the original, and that ended up being Chef Ben Robinson; he allowed us to bring over that Below Deck audience and not lose them along the way.
When it comes to casting, it really comes down to: Are they working now, how are they doing, and would they be able to continue to carry story?
In Down Under, we kept in touch with Aesha Scott, who told us she wanted to get out of yachting after Med and didn’t want to have the Chief Stew responsibilities, but she honestly was always great TV. We called her the "walking anti-depressant." She is a ball of sunshine, who was also extremely witty and outspoken.
We then found out later she was starting to get back on boats after she changed her mind with her career, which led us to reach out to her so we could carry over the audience from Med to Down Under for this new launch into streaming, which is a very large lift in itself.
What is your relationship like with some of the cast members?
I am close with all of them. Captain Sandy is like family, she's a fantastic leader who really cares. She recently attended my grandmother’s funeral, which says a lot. I love Bobby Giancola; Kate Chastain’s a dear friend; I text with Malia and Katie Flood from Med frequently.
I would say I am the closest to Hannah Ferrier. When I was on set for Below Deck Down Under, it was right around COVID and Australia was in lock down and the travel restrictions were crazy, so I flew to Sydney right around then and stayed with her for a few days… she is definitely like a little sister to me.
Behind the scenes, did you have to change any of your day-to-day tasks since the show is a "Peacock Original Series"? Did you see any drastic changes from Peacock vs. Bravo?
The process was the same. What’s great about my job is no matter the network, the job is the same wherever you go. But having the show on Peacock is great as it has a different aesthetic. It's new, exciting and sexy, and definitely worth it.
Catch Below Deck Down Under currently streaming on Peacock.
Images courtesy of Nadine Rajabi