Members of the Below Deck Down Under production team and cast say that the decision to intervene and then fire two castmates after they were caught on camera engaging in non-consensual, sexually inappropriate behavior was about maintaining a safe working environment and “not anything to be congratulated.”
In a Los Angeles Times interview, an executive producer on the Bravo reality show, as well as members of its production team and the Northern Sun yacht crew, discussed how the series handled multiple instances of inappropriate misconduct during two recent episodes of the Australian spinoff. Episodes six and seven of the show’s second season, which aired back-to-back earlier this month, chronicled multiple instances of sexual misconduct on the Northern Sun luxury super yacht by former castmembers.
The separate but connected incidents, which took place during a power outage on the boat, involved bosun Luke Jones and second steward Laura Bileskalne, who were both let go by Capt. Jason Chambers after they engaged in non-consensual physical contact with fellow crew members. In both instances, members of the production team and fellow crew members verbally addressed the misconduct with Jones and Bileskalne, and at different points, physically stepped in.
“It was a hard night; the whole thing was very, very difficult,” said Nadine Rajabi, one of several executive producers on the series. “I didn’t realize the response that would come of this because that was not anything that we were thinking about. It’s not anything to be congratulated on because it was just about doing the right thing. I would hope that everybody would act in that way. It was about safety.”
In one tense interaction following a night of drinking, Jones got into bed naked with castmember Margot Sisson, who was sleeping. When crew members intervened, he attempted to shut them out of the cabin before they were able to eventually successfully remove him from the cabin. According to the L.A. Times, chief steward Aesha Scott alerted Chambers to Jones’ behavior before the captain removed Jones from the boat and fired the next morning.
In another incident, which aired during the following episode, Bileskalne made unwanted advances toward boatmate Adam Kodra, also entering his bed without his consent and prompting producers to step in. Before Scott again alerted Chambers and Bileskalne was fired, the second steward would also question Jones’ termination and express sympathy towards him in remarks to Sisson.
Jones — who told Chambers that he was sorry and was “just so disappointed in myself” on the show — could not be reached for comment by the L.A. Times. (The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Bravo for additional comment from Jones.) But in an Instagram post, Bileskalne, who is now private on the social media platform, apologized to both Kodra and Sisson. “My sincere apologies to Adam, I did not realize I made him feel uncomfortable, and no one should be put in that position,” the post reads. “And to Margot to not been able to empathize. I was 29 when the show was filmed, 30 was my life-changer. I am 31 now and I am watching it as all of you, an entertainment show.”
Scott, who was among those praised by the show’s viewers on social media for her quick action and is a survivor of sexual assault herself, expressed that while not all the events of the night were included during the episodes — including “a part where I did actually have a conversation with Laura about pulling back a bit [with Adam]; that it goes both ways; and she needs to stop being so inappropriate with Adam” — watching “how far [Bileskalne] was pushing it” was “really shocking.”
“I don’t feel those small little bits until the audience does, until it’s aired. I know I made the right move now even more,” Chambers noted, before adding he’s “grateful” nothing else happened. “To all parties involved, everyone is going to be hurt from this. We need to protect all the crew members involved, and I mean all the crew members involved, for their health, safety and mental health going forward. We need to respect every person around us and understand that no means no so that we’re all safe.”
Rajabi added that one audio supervisor, who entered Sisson’s cabin with just the flashlight on his phone while Jones was inside, made a “valiant” effort. The EP said his quick decision-making, including wedging his foot inside the cabin to prevent Jones from closing the door, bought other production crew members more time to reach Sisson during a power outage, that saw footage feeds to the monitors suspended despite cameras continuing to record.
The spinoff is only in its second season, but the Below Deck franchise first debuted on Bravo back in 2013 and followed a crew through its Caribbean voyage. In the seasons and spinoffs since, drinking has become part of the show for both charter guests and off-duty yacht crew, with Rajabi noting that there “are the things you don’t see” in other episodes in relation to cutting people off from drinking and ensuring those on the show are consenting. While they’re typically “encouraged to step in,” this situation was different and has since “sparked a lot of conversations” in the yacht industry and around reality TV.
“The one thing I remember from that night is I was so scared because I was like, ‘If there were no cameras, what would have happened? What would have happened? Because nobody else is there to watch,’” she said. “I think [this incident] was more instinctual; it was ‘this cannot happen,’ and it was safety. It wasn’t a ‘What do we do? Should we or shouldn’t we?’”