Below Deck is watched by millions of viewers around the world, and this season there’s a New Zealand accent on board. Tara Ward talks to Katie Flood about being all at sea.
At first, Katie Flood didn’t think much of Below Deck, the reality show that made her famous.
“I’m very open about the fact I used to take the piss out of it, like “this isn’t yachting”,” she says of the Bravo reality franchise that captures the upstairs/downstairs world of superyachts. She’d only seen the occasional episode from an early season, and wasn’t keen to get on board a show that looked “a bit rough around the edges”.
But after seven years of working in the yachting industry, Bravo caught the New Zealander at a weak moment.
“For four years I had a casting agent message me, and I was like, no, no, no. Then on the day I walked off my boat last year, I got another message, and I was just like, screw it, why not? It was a global pandemic, the world was going tits up, and I was like, let’s just see where this goes.”
That curiosity saw Flood become chief stew in season six of Below Deck: Mediterranean (a Below Deck spinoff based in Croatia; there’s also Below Deck: Sailing and the upcoming Below Deck: Down Under). For several weeks, Flood’s every move aboard the Lady Michelle superyacht was captured on camera as she kept the boat’s interior running smoothly. In the season currently screening on Bravo and ThreeNow, we’ve watched Flood work hard and play hard in a high pressure world where the tips are good, but breaks are rare and days off even rarer.
And now? “It turns out Below Deck was actually one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Below Deck is the hugely addictive reality show that pulls back the curtain on life in the luxury world of yachting. We all aspire to be part of the 1% who can afford these lavish vacations, yet on Below Deck, you find yourself backing the underdog: the crew. There’s a delicious delight in watching rich people prove that money doesn’t buy class, while the crew are the ones putting in 16 hour days to ensure every surface is free of fingerprints and the champagne is always flowing.
Whangarei-born Flood reckons it’s these insights into the realities of the industry that makes Below Deck so popular. “The minute I tell somebody that I work on a superyacht, they’re fascinated, grilling me with like 101 questions,” she says. Add a bunch of strangers living and working together, some high maintenance guests and beautiful scenery, and you have all the ingredients for gripping reality TV. “We’re under so much pressure that we do lose our shit, we do break down, we do have fights, there are crew romances,” Flood says. “It’s just a lot going on in one very small space.”
Flood’s season of Below Deck: Med filmed for six weeks, with each of the 18 episodes following the crew as they scramble to meet the demands of the charter guests. In past seasons, Below Deck guests have hooked up in the crow’s nest, threatened to bring in coloured gumballs on a helicopter, and demanded to watch an American football game while the boat was at sea. Flood’s season was no different.
“I don’t actually know how they choose the charter guests, but I can tell you they are a lot more wild on Below Deck than by normal yachting standards,” Flood says. That’s the whole point, she reckons. Wealthy billionaires who lounge around demanding nothing make for boring TV, but guests who call off their wedding the night before the ceremony or who make the most of the open bar always bring the drama.
That’s not the only difference to real-life yachting, and Flood now understands why she judged those early episodes of Below Deck so harshly. “Honestly, you don’t have time when you’re filming to run a boat to the highest standard like you normally would. It is physically impossible. It’s probably the hardest I’ve ever worked,” she says of life on Below Deck. “The job alone is already such a high intense environment. Then you add 50 other people running around the boat, camera crew, audio mixers, lighting, producers. It’s chaotic.”
Covid-19 added another layer of intensity to Flood’s season, which began filming in September 2020. Production hired a resort in Croatia where everyone – including guests – had to self-isolate for 10 days. “We had like one hundred people in our bubble,” Flood says, adding crew was tested for Covid-19 twice a week and guests had to have a negative test before stepping on board. “Actually, the last charter of Below Deck: Sailing, their guests ended up testing positive so they couldn’t film the last charter. It was just very strict and very cautious.”
While Flood was initially hesitant to appear on an international reality show, she says the public response has been better than she hoped. “You become very anxious because you hand over your life to these people behind a computer, but I’ve honestly been blown away,” Flood says. Her parents watch the show proudly in New Zealand, but online, Flood has experienced some backlash. “I’ve definitely received the hate mail and the criticism and everything that comes along with this sort of thing. But overall, it’s been actually super positive.”
Flood isn’t the only New Zealander to appear on Below Deck, but she’s proud to have flown the antipodean flag on such a huge reality franchise. “I get so many messages saying that I’ve represented New Zealand well, which is incredible to hear,” she says. Would she do it all again, knowing what she does now about reality TV? Absolutely, says Flood. “It was a pretty wild experience.”
Below Deck: Mediterranean screens on Bravo on Thursdays at 8.30pm and is streaming on Three Now.