Over the last four years, Below Deck — and later, spin-off Below Deck Mediterranean — have made working on a luxury yacht seem like the best job ever. Putting aside the rampant drama, who wouldn’t want to get paid thousands of dollars a week to flirt with fellow crew members and party it up? But you can’t believe everything you see.

Though each season of the Bravo series does follow the crew of a real mega yacht for five weeks of charters, it’s not completely “real.” That said, you can’t call it “fake” or “scripted” either — it’s just what you’d expect from a reality show that needs to deliver on entertainment. In other words, production has their hands all up in the goings-on of this show, and that comes directly from the source.

For one thing, the boats aren’t actually named what they’re presented as on TV. Back in 2013 when the show premiered, series mainstay Captain Lee Rosbach spoke with The Triton, revealing that the mega yachts are frequently renamed by producers for the show. For instance, Season 1’s “Honor” is actually called “Cuor di Leone” in real life. This renaming only happens after they’re able to find a boat that will be large enough to accommodate the crew, guests, and the camera and lighting crews.

below deck mediterranean — bravo

Additionally, Captain Lee, the real first officer, and the real engineer are the only true staffers that stay on board during production so they can make sure the vessel is properly operated. The rest of the hot, young crew viewers meet each season are hired, and the real crew is given time off, returning after filming. Production maintains this real crew — many of whom are international — could never work due to logistics with visas, payment by Bravo, and background checks.

The crew members we do see on-screen are largely inexperienced, though Chef Ben Robinson and Stews Adrienne Gang and Kat Held all come from the yachting world. Still, the crew is actually working while on board the yacht, and they’re all required to be licensed and certified. To do so, they have to take a two-week course on first aid and firefighting. Plus, Captain Lee has the authority to fire anyone on his team if they’re not fulfilling their duties.

As for the charter guests, they are real people who were always planning to take a week-long, six-figure trip — they just get screened ahead of time and agree to be filmed. The deal is sweetened for them, as they’re offered a discount of more than half-off. Even so, that still ends up costing more than $10,000 per person, so it’s not exactly a steal!

The final and most important ingredient factoring into Below Deck’s success is the drama. All of the fights, hookups, and issues that happen are “a pretty accurate snapshot” of the experience, says Captain Lee. “What happens happens and it’s all caught on film,” he explains. He also adds, “Any time you bring new crew on board, whether it’s for a TV series or whether you’ve lost some of your old crew — which happens quite frequently in yachting — you’re bound to go through some changes, and adaptations are going to be made.”

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