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There's A Monster At Both Ends Of This Boat: 'Below Deck Mediterranean'

How did this happen to me?, you may wonder as a weekend afternoon sinks into the deep blue waters of the figurative Mediterranean. I had plans for today. I had dreams. I am still in my pajamas, and it is three o'clock in the afternoon. My bones feel like bungee cords. I may never get up.

Bravo has a lot of shows about weirdos who are obscenely rich, led by their many clumps of Real(ish) Housewives(ish) scattered across the country. It has fewer shows about the people who work for weirdos who are obscenely rich.* For my money, its best entry in that category is the Below Deck vertical (often actually a horizontal, hiyo!), which includes both original Below Deck (set in the Caribbean) and the spinoff Below Deck Mediterranean. Both of these shows are about crews of chartered "superyachts," mostly made up of young, adventurous hot people who leave all kinds of nascent careers to spend time inflating water slides for tycoons to rest their behinds upon as they rocket from the deck down into the sea. (Only temporarily. They are allowed back on the boat.)

Each season follows a single yacht and its crew as charter groups get on and off, spending anywhere between one night and several nights looking out at the beautiful blue water, eating chef-prepared meals that they often complain about, and getting roaring drunk.** Sometimes, charter groups drink beer and wine, but sometimes they seem obsessed with some particular cocktail like espresso martinis or Piña Coladas or something with a cute name that sounds made-up. The crew ferries them to the shore for various excursions and beach picnics, keeps the boat from crashing into the rocks, and make out in their cabins.

Because, of course, while much of the drama comes from the Get A Load Of These Rich Goofballs aspect of it all, you are really spending your season with the crew, made up of the chef, the stewardesses (or steward, if applicable, which is rare), and the deckhands and bosun who do most of the actual boat stuff. On this season of Below Deck Mediterranean, the crew includes Hannah, the chief stew; Anastasia and Aesha, the other stews; João, the bosun; Colin, Jack and Travis, the deckhands; and Ben, the chef. (Ben has worked on both regular Below Deck and Below Deck Med, and he wound up in this season after the original chef committed a series of unforced errors, including making pancakes from a boxed mix and still having trouble turning them out.) The captain's name is Sandy Yawn, and you can write your own reality television jokes, thank you very much.***

Some of these people have kissed. Some of these people have done more than kissed. (There are night-vision cameras in their bunks.) Many of them have had knock-down, drag-out fights. Captain Sandy read Hannah the riot act recently for not having the table set at 8:30 in the morning when brunch was scheduled for 10:30. As Hannah looked at her, baffled, Sandy speculated that the beautiful wood table, kept so shiny and reflective that you could apply eyeliner in it, wasn't adequately "inviting" in case someone got up early and wanted a cup of coffee. She said this, of course, while standing on a yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean where there is literally nowhere to go that doesn't have a view, where there are countless plushy fluffy couches, and where you can get someone to bring you that coffee right in the hot tub if you like. But no! They must sit at a table set with dishes, growing crusty with salt from the sea air two hours before breakfast!

Look, these are the stakes. If there's any show on television that cares more about setting the table correctly than Downton Abbey, it's Below Deck Med. In fact, you can think of Below Deck Med as the Downton Abbey of Bravo with much more drinking and less being scandalized by jazz, and you won't be too far off. Where Downton has the downstairs staff who are only too honored to serve the very wealthy people who never do any work, Below Deck Med has beautiful people in their twenties who are knocking themselves out to try to impress finance goobers who demand Great Gatsby theme parties and seven-course meals.

(As a side note, it was sort of fun this season when the original chef, Mila, who is allegedly Cordon Bleu trained, started hauling out what she wanted to serve to rich charter guests. Captain Sandy looked at a plate full of boxed taco shells with unguarded horror, as if they were obscene candies from a bachelorette party, which, by the way, are totally something a Below Deck Med guest would ask for.)

I don't know how to explain the tendency of this show to devour hours of my attention once I get started. It might be the delicate balance, though. Below Deck Med is perfectly balanced between the snark of the crew about the guests and the haughtiness of the guests about the crew, the hyper-drama over who kissed who during one of the crew's sloshed nights off between charters and the absurdly mundane arguments about ironing. Ironing! There was an entire multi-episode plotline in one season about whether the chef was ignoring a guest's distaste for onions. Onions!

There's sex! There are chores! There are humiliating toga parties! They once spent nine hours untangling the anchor chain, and it felt like we saw most of it! The fourth season concludes Monday night, and I will be there. Making my own drinks.

*Hashtag #NotAllBravoCelebrities.
**Hashtag #NotAllCharterGuests.
***Hashtag #NotAllYawns.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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