In the 10 years since Below Deck set sail, the series has taken Bravo by storm, dominating the ratings and introducing millions of viewers to life on the high seas. What started as a single show set in the Caribbean has evolved into an empire with four spinoffs — Below Deck Mediterranean, Sailing Yacht, Down Under, and Adventure — each helmed by a different captain with their own unique leadership style.
By now, after 25 seasons spread across the franchise, fans know exactly what to expect: Captains will clash with their crew members; third stewards will disrespect the chain of command; people will get blackout drunk and make out in the hot tub; a chef will unleash hell upon the galley while preparing a 10-course tasting menu. And so it goes as Bravo's hit series expands to different corners of the globe, offering slight variations but never straying too far from the original format.
Below Deck has never been bigger, but with the show celebrating its 10th anniversary on July 1, it's only fair to ask what's in store for the franchise's next decade on Bravo and Peacock. For the first time in years, the flagship series and its many spinoffs are heading into uncharted waters. In a major shakeup, Below Deck proper will be moving on without Captain Lee Rosbach, who has been with the show for all 10 seasons, after he was forced out by the network. While Bravo's postseason "Ce-LEE-Bration" suggested he was retiring from yachting, Lee, who spent time away from Season 10 due to health issues, claims he was told executives want to "move in a new direction," though he's said he'll still "be doing some things for [Bravo] in the next year." Adventure's Captain Kerry Titheradge is set to replace Captain Lee, but the game of musical chairs also leaves the fate of the cold-weather iteration, which has not yet been renewed for a second season, in jeopardy.
The first spinoff, Below Deck Mediterranean, has problems of its own. Of the franchise's current captains, Med's Captain Sandy Yawn is by far the least popular (seemingly with fans and crew members alike): Her tendency to micromanage the interior team and play favorites with the deck crew has led to six seasons of intense conflict, culminating in the questionable firing of longtime chief stew Hannah Ferrier in Season 5. The show never quite recovered, and in the two seasons since, the cast has been made up of journeymen who do their jobs and deliver a little drama along the way (like the toxic relationship between chef David White and chief stew Natasha Webb last year), but fail to make a lasting impression.
Amid all this uncertainty, Below Deck Sailing Yacht has emerged as the future of the franchise. Much of the show's success stems from the continuity of its cast: While Below Deck and Med have featured a revolving door of crew members since the departure of their longtime chief stews, Hannah and Kate Chastain, respectively, Sailing Yacht's core group has remained the same for three seasons. Captain Glenn Shephard first stepped aboard Parsifal III when the show debuted in 2020, but he really found his groove the following season, when chief stew Daisy Kelliher, first officer Gary King, and chief engineer Colin MacRae joined the team.
Like Down Under's Captain Jason Chambers, Glenn is always willing to lend a hand, and though he sets high standards for his team, he's far more forgiving of their mistakes. (Glenn has only fired three people in four seasons; Sandy fired two in just nine episodes when she filled in for Lee.) As the years have passed, Daisy, Colin, and Gary have embraced Glenn's loosey-goosey attitude — some may say too much — giving the show a more relaxed energy than its motored counterparts, even at its most stressful moments.
At the same time, the stability among the crew heightens the drama. On other spinoffs, if a stew is trading jabs with the chef or two deckhands are feuding over the anchor watch schedule, it's difficult to get fully invested in the conflict, as it likely won't matter at the end of the charter season, when they'll wave goodbye from the dock and never be seen again. (And with Below Deck airing year-round, workplace clashes like these quickly blend together.) However, on Sailing Yacht, these disputes follow the cast from one season to the next, and each slight piles up like layers on a primary's birthday cake. That's been the case with Daisy and Gary, who began their tenure at each other's throats but have since developed a better working relationship. Still, they understand exactly how to get under the other's skin, and they wield that knowledge like a weapon, as when Gary insists he needs a stew to serve drinks on the tender, and Daisy responds by pretending she can't hear him, sending them fuming to opposite ends of the boat.
The Sailing Yacht crew's familiarity with one another — and viewers' familiarity with them — has led to one of the most exciting reality TV plotlines of the year: the Daisy-Gary-Colin love triangle. Daisy and Gary had a steamy makeout in the hot tub last season, but their fling ended there (or so viewers thought); this year, after the tender incident, Daisy turns to Colin as a sounding board, and the two share a long-awaited kiss of their own. They begin a casual relationship, but every night off, Gary, who isn't getting the attention he wants from junior stew Mads Herrera, throws himself at Daisy, creating a rift in his friendship with Colin. Halfway through the season, Gary drunkenly reveals something they agreed to keep secret: "Having sex with you was f*cking amazing," he says, as Daisy eyes the camera and tells him to "shut the f*ck up."
In order to fully understand what's going on — the continued flirting between Gary and Daisy, her friendship with the men, and Colin's reaction to his friend's betrayal — and why it's happening, viewers must be aware of their complicated history. Bravo helps out by offering a lengthy recap to open Season 4, Episode 9, "Love Boat," after Daisy and Colin's first kiss, but the two-minute montage doesn't come close to capturing 40 episodes worth of jealous looks and playful banter. As with Vanderpump Rules' #Scandoval, fans must be well-versed in the ins and outs of Sailing Yacht to appreciate just how delicious the Daisy-Gary-Colin love triangle really is.
The sailing itself also poses problems that don't affect crews on the more traditional, motored vessels in the Below Deck fleet. Every charter, Daisy and her team have to quite literally batten down the hatches as Glenn turns off the engine, raises the genoa and mizzen, and allows the wind to do its thing. Almost always, their efforts are insufficient, and the 20-plus degree heel sends food and glassware flying. The stress caused by this activity, which delights the guests like nothing else, only compounds existing tensions, as it feeds into the narrative that the deck crew gets to have fun sailing while the stews are forced to clean up their mess inside. This interior vs. exterior battle is one of Below Deck's most consistent themes, but here, it's baked into each charter, giving producers the ability to play up the drama elsewhere.
As Sailing Yacht Season 4 has shown, that drama doesn't have to be romantic; it can also be of the mechanical variety. Boat issues are nothing new for Below Deck — near-crashes and ringing alarms are a constant, no matter how skilled the captain — but Parsifal has been particularly finicky this season, leaving Colin to contend with a stalled engine, a clogged plumbing system, and leaky exhaust pipes. Because Colin, the franchise's lone engineer, is directly involved in the cast, his herculean effort to fix the boat becomes part of the season's narrative, rather than something that's resolved off-camera by a group of mysterious, unseen employees. Colin's work is unglamorous and often thankless, but it's essential: Not only does he keep the boat running in moments of crisis, but his time in the engine room offers a more complete look at what's really going on below decks.
It took some time for Below Deck Sailing Yacht to come into its own, but as the Season 4 finale approaches, it's apparent that the show is poised to carry on the franchise's legacy. With the original shows floundering, Sailing Yacht's long-gestating conflicts and the goofy, mild-mannered captain at its center have proven to be the wind behind Below Deck's sails. So long as this cast sticks around, fans can expect the reality series to sail toward even greater success in the future.
The two-episode Below Deck Sailing Yacht Season 4 finale airs Monday, July 10 at 8:00 PM ET on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.