“Against popular opinion, I’m not a bitch.”
Below Deck star Fraser Olender doesn’t exactly wink when he says this, but a mischievous glint shoots out of his eye like a laser as he talks with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed ahead of Monday’s Season 10 premiere of Bravo’s massively popular reality series. The genuine smile he’s also wearing warms the snark, too. He represents another milestone for the series, one that he takes quite seriously: Not only is he the first gay male chief steward on a Below Deck season, he’s the first male to have that role at all.
When Olender joined Bravo’s blue skies, blue seas, blue behavior franchise in Season 9, the London-born former talent agent was only the second male stew the series had ever cast. Kyle Viljoen of Below Deck: Sailing Yacht has since joined the surprisingly small club, considering how many seasons and different iterations of the show has been—illustrating the gender norms and biases in a very specific sector of the luxury travel industry.
A month before we Zoomed with Olender—he was in Switzerland working a job he described as “chief stewing on land”—we met both him and Viljoen while moderating the Below Deck panel at BravoCon. Both of their on-stage energies matched their personalities from the show. At several points, Viljoen got out of his seat and strutted, danced, and monologued to the crowd’s delight, while Olender sat more reserved, coiling up biting one-liners and sharp observations that he would unleash at just the right moment.
For the crew member who rankled some of his teammates during his first season on Below Deck for muttering snide, though wholly accurate (and very funny) grievances under his breath when they were out of earshot, that all tracked. But now that he’s been promoted to chief stew for the new season, a position that has seen past Below Deck stars either shine or completely implode, he’s excited—and determined—to prove he’s more than the opinion you might have of him.
“I’m excited for people to see more of me this season,” he says. “I think I worked too hard last season. It’s not that I didn’t work as hard this season. But there’s definitely going to be a bit more of my wit—and my stern side.”
The trailer for the new season of Below Deck promises a checklist of everything viewers want from a new season’s voyage before it sets sail: Lots of booziness. Lots of sex. Lots of meltdowns. Lots of charter guests being insufferable. It also promises some more dramatic moments. At one point, Captain Lee Rosbach is heard on the loudspeaker saying “abandon ship!” as smoke fills the yacht and firefighters run on board. There’s also a poignant hint that this may be Captain Lee’s last season at the helm.
“As a Below Deck fan myself, this season has so much more, far more than you see in that,” Olender says. “It’s not even close to what you see in the trailer. I’ve never been part of or even seen a season that incorporates as much as we do in Season 10.”
While multiple crew members are seen at the point of hysterics in a montage that could be dubbed “All Hell Breaks Loose,” Olender seems to be keeping his cool, content to shoot off his poison-dart remarks as the chaos unfolds. “You work with yachties. They literally have no brain cells,” he tells one coworker. Another target: a flower, to which he chides, “Can you be more erect please?”
About his first season as chief stew, he says, “I definitely wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, being thrown in the deep end of not being experienced in being a chief and dealing with a new vessel and a new crew all in one go.” His guiding principle was to “take a step back and think what a chief stew that I’d respect would do.”
When he was preparing for his new position, he thought a lot about how Kate Chastain, often thought about by Bravo fans as the best chief stew in the franchise’s run, asserted herself on the show. “There is nothing less attractive or motivational than having a chief that doesn’t really know what they want or how to get anywhere. So confidence is key for sure.”
There’s no talking to a cast member of Below Deck without discussing what’s become an extreme fascination among the show’s fanbase: How do people drink this much and survive, let alone work the next day? It can seem to viewers that these crew members arrive for filming with a backup liver. Or, at least, some miracle cure so that a hangover, if not gone completely, can at least be mild enough to survive serving demanding guests on a yacht that is rocking back and forth with the waves.
“You work so intensely for a short period of time, and you don’t get any relaxation on a charter,” he says. “Sleep isn’t an option. So the moment we have a second to clock off, you want to let go. Most yachties choose to do that with a drink in their hand, and I’m certainly one of those.” It makes for an interesting, perhaps confusing personal/professional work dynamic. “I’ve worked with many people before who I despise in work but adore out of it. You’ll see some of that this season.”
Drinking too much, or, as he puts it, “having too much fun out of work,” was the thing that made him wince most when watching his time back on Season 9. He doesn’t regret it, but thinks maybe it wasn’t a good idea to imbibe so much, considering “I end up being a little bit incoherent and get extreme muscle relaxation, where I make no sense and look a bit bizarre.” (That makeout session with cast mate and good friend Jake Foulger, in other words: not a regret.)
Olender says he’s excited to watch the new season because, “whether it’s trauma or not, I’ve erased a lot of it from my memory.” And he’s aware of the significance of his position this season, not just in his career, but what it means for his industry and for viewers at home.
“It was hard when I joined the industry and didn’t only not have the confidence that you know what you’re doing, but then also being slightly different to the majority of yachties out there,” he says. “It makes you work harder. It makes you improve yourself more. But I want to strive towards a world where these issues aren’t issues.”
“I don’t tend to talk about my personal life or who I want to be in a relationship or date or go home,” he continues. “It really has nothing to do with how hard I work and and and how much I care about the job. and I think we should put less pressure on that.”
Still, the fact that this is such a major moment for LGBT representation is powerful. Strangely enough, given the demographic that makes up a large swath of the Bravo fanbase, he becomes one of the more visible gay figures on-screen on the network.
“I’m very, very proud and very honored, and I’m going to do my best to represent the communities as best I can,” he says. “We’re making huge strides forward. And I think if I can do this, then anyone can do it.”