“I need a lockbox for my phone,” Francesca Rubi joked as we discussed the anticipated social media reaction looming over this week. No, not the US election. But the fact that Francesca is about to step into a very beloved skort and be introduced to the world as the new chief stew on Bravo’s Below Deck Season 8. It’s a role Kate Chastain held for Seasons 2-7, becoming a fan favorite with her witty one-liners and real talk. It was going to take somebody with some real confidence to come on board as the new leader of the interior, and Francesca just might be up for the task. Her hair and makeup was on-point as she joined me on a Zoom call from her apartment in Sydney, Australia last week, coming across both self-assured and warm, and admitted, “With change, initially, it’s hard to adjust to something new. Fair enough. I get it. [Kate’s] a staple in this industry. I love her as well.”
Kate herself has sailed onto bluer waters, serving as one of the hosts of Bravo’s Chat Room, which airs Sunday and Monday nights after Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. And so over on Below Deck, Captain Lee’s got a returning buddy in Eddie Lucas who will be bosun once again, as the captain starts to build a new relationship with his chief stew. But first things first: how long did it take her to learn his breakfast order? “Oh, not long,” she laughed. “It didn’t take me long to learn how to do it. It may have taken other people a little bit longer to do the breakfast. But Captain preferences are one of the first things that I think of. Because as long as the Captain is taken care of, he’s happy, then it makes your life easier and everyone else’s job run smoother on the yacht.”
Oh, but don’t expect things to be completely smooth this season, at all. As per usual, Season 8 of the yachting series, which finds the crew back aboard the My Seanna superyacht but this time in Antigua, comes with drama in the form of crew member makeouts and breakdowns, and obnoxious charter guests, including the most obnoxious of all: the impending coronavirus pandemic. Below Deck started filming the second week of February 2020 for about a month until it was no longer safe to do so; the show was shut down and everyone was instructed to return home. But despite the shortened season, there was still much to accomplish in that time.
Starting with the fact that Francesca was tasked with building the necessary trust between herself and Captain Lee. “I think it took a little while,” she admitted. “It does take a little while in the industry. It takes a little while to earn someone’s trust and see how they work. It’s the same with myself and my stewardesses, so I understand from his point of view, it takes time to get to know me, my strengths, my weaknesses. We started out with a pretty rocky start. I think respect was earned throughout the season when we had to tackle certain situations and be put in positions that we both hadn’t been in before. Working together, that definitely helped us create a stronger working relationship. And also, getting to know each other. When I reach breaking point, each time I’m like, ‘Why did I do that?’ But you know, when you see that side of people, I think that that also makes you realize that that person is human. That person is working really, really hard and putting a lot of pressure on themselves. It also took me balls to cry. I never cry.”
Captain Lee is seen saying “there’s no crying in yachting” in the trailer for this season, a memo Francesca didn’t seem to receive as she’s also shown in tears. “I’m not actually a crier,” she said. “When my girlfriends and colleagues have seen that trailer where I am crying, it’s like, ‘How did you even get to this stage?’ I wasn’t looking after myself. I didn’t drink any water, I didn’t have any sleep that night — four hours or something. I’d been running on empty. My adrenaline was gone. There were a whole lot of different factors. And then add on the pressure of myself that I put on myself to do the best possible job I can. In hindsight, I think it helped me and it helped our working relationship. You’re only human. I act like a robot enough towards the guests. You are a server. This is what you do, you don’t have a personality, almost.”
But this is Below Deck after all, and there wouldn’t be a TV show if that boat wasn’t stuffed with personalities. So I asked Francesca what she thought about her two stewardesses, Elizabeth and Izzy. “Initially, I think it’s about energy and initiative and experience,” she said diplomatically. “Improving that comes with doing the work. Initially, when I had a chat with them, they were both so energetic. They were there, they were happy to work, they wanted to throw themselves into it. I was so excited for that. But when put under pressure, you see different sides of people. So, it’s a work in progress.”
Her relationship with Eddie required much less work as she said, “We got along great. There are a few funny parts, maybe some pranks involved down the line. But I think that we got along fantastically. I was able to lean on him with certain things that came up throughout the season. He felt confident in talking to me openly as well. As both heads of department, I think we had that mutual respect for each other, even if we didn’t talk a lot.”
But the whole crew gets to talking once the coronavirus situation starts to become dire later in the season. “I think that we were quite isolated on the yacht,” Francesca said. “When you are working on your own charter, I don’t really even speak to family unless it’s an emergency. You just don’t really have time, plus the time differences. And you don’t really watch television, or you don’t watch the news. You don’t get up in the morning and have your morning coffee. Sometimes the news is playing in the background, depending on if your crew messes have a television. Sometimes. But you’re really isolated from everything that is going on. When I was on board, just work was my focus. So it didn’t really affect me personally until it was actually like, ‘Okay, charter canceled. We’re not filming anymore. We all must leave.’ And then it’s like, ‘Holy shit. What just happened?’ It was really really surreal. On the last day, we were trying to get some toilet paper or hand sanitizer and masks, things like that. There’s only one supermarket where we were in Antigua, and it was completely sold out. I didn’t know what was going on whatsoever when I realized the whole world was impacted. It gives me shivers, just thinking about it, actually. Reliving all of that, what we’ve been through the last six to eight months. Scarily, we’ve kind of all gotten used to it in a way. We’re all a little bit complacent. Just being at home all the time, by ourselves, this is what it is at the moment. We’ve adjusted to it.”
Just the way viewers will adjust to having a new leading lady aboard this boat. And while Francesca gives off the two key qualities required for this position, both a sunny disposition and a seriousness about the job at hand, it was her understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of Kate that had me believing she is the right woman for this job right now. “Look, Kate and I are very different,” Francesca said, in a tone that was not at all annoyed with the comparison, but a mix of flattered with eagerness to still prove herself. “I think she’s a fantastic chief stew. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s very, very witty. I’ve got a different sense of humor. I grew up in Australia, she grew up in the U.S. We also have different work experience. I’ve been in event management for seven years, and then went into yachting as a purser. She’s been working prominently as a chief stewardess most of her career. I think the fundamentals of yachting are there, to just bring energy, bring initiative, get it done, and do it right. I think that our standards as a chief stewardess are very similar, but how we approach it might be a bit different. I’m excited to show everyone what I can do. Of course, the comparisons will come. She made such a beautiful and big impact for the last six years on the show, and her relationship with Captain Lee and knowing Eddie as well. But I came into the show just doing the best that I could with my skill set. Hopefully everyone will like it.”
Ultimately, Francesca lit up when I asked her what she wants everyone to know and look forward to this season. “I’m so beyond excited to share this with you guys. Because I think that I come from a different yachting background as well, I come from 80-meter, 100-meter yachts. A lot of the clients from there are a lot more regimented, they’re a bit more straight down the line. So I’m excited for everyone to see the season. It’s really fantastic. Each charter definitely has something surprising in it, even for me.”
Below Deck airs Monday at 9pm ET/PT on Bravo.
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