Below Deck viewers have survived kitchen fires, nightmare charter guests, dramatic dismissals, drug scandals, and soured romantic relationships. But Monday’s episode of Below Deck Sailing, “Total Ship Show,” is unprecedented in franchise history, in terms of its sheer disaster quotient. Within the first five minutes of the episode, the Parsifal yacht crashes into a stone dock in high winds, destroying the end of the vessel and totaling Captain Glenn Shephard’s already-dented ego. (Last week, Parsifal suffered a less serious collision. We hope the sailing yacht is not cursed.) The rest of the episode unravels like a high-paced thriller set aboard an out-of-control luxury yacht.
The villains: the shrill, gluten-free charter guests, who are too self-involved to notice the Parsifal’s jacked transom door. The dramatic B-plot: the chef screwing up a five-course meal by serving steak after dessert. As if this were not enough action for a single episode, there is also an STD scare that forces an otherwise respectable woman to reckon with an indiscretion.
“It was almost like an embarrassment of riches,” said Below Deck executive producer Courtland Cox, of the chart-topping chaos in Croatia. “It’s amazing that this was all happening, but it’s also difficult to tell all of these stories in an interesting way within a limited amount of time per episode.” Some viewers complained that the season was starting off too smoothly, but Cox trusted the process and knew that such interesting cast members would yield climactic story lines. “With any great narrative structure, you want to have peaks and valleys that eventually crescendo into something interesting…. The yacht crashing, guests being crazy, and Jean-Luc [Cerza Lanaux] being worried about getting an STD, all that stuff is the seasoning.”
Ahead, Cox and Parsifal chief stew Daisy Kelliher take us behind the scenes of Monday’s bombshell episode to answer all of our burning questions—about everything from the crash to the onboard romances, including Dani’s pregnancy announcement.
Executive producer Cox was tucked away in a tiny control room on the Parsifal during both accidents, where he was able to watch what was happening from three different camera vantage points, and hear what was happening from the walkie-talkie dialogue on deck. Cox said that he knew that the Parsifal was going to hit the dock about five seconds before it happened—when first mate Gary King began calling out the shrinking measurements between the yacht and the dock, but the boat, because of the intense wind and swell, kept hurtling toward the dock at full speed. Because of a mechanical error that short-circuited the thrusters, Captain Glenn was not able to propel the vessel in the reverse direction.
As the ship sped toward the dock, the Below Deck producer juggled a contradictory range of concerns: the fear of a captive passenger aboard an out-of-control vessel; worry for his fellow shipmates; heartbreak for Captain Glenn, who was about to bite it in front of multiple cameras; and, conversely, the shark-like instincts of a reality-TV producer keen to capture the chaotic melee in all of its gruesome glory.
“The human part of me, my heart aches for Glenn,” Cox told Vanity Fair. Still, he continued, “My job is to capture what’s actually happening—so we told our camera operators, ‘Stay on Glenn.’ We don’t push right up in his face or get in his way, but the story in the moment was that Glenn hit the dock. How was he going to rectify the situation?”
In addition to seeing the crash, viewers also witness Captain Glenn’s spirit breaking close up—as the sweet Parsifal pilot realizes, in devastatingly real time, that he has not only incurred thousands of dollars in yacht damages, but has done so with a camera trained on him.
“I probably watched this episode 15 times in various incarnations, and every time I see Glenn’s face in the immediate aftermath of hitting that dock, I still get very emotional,” said Cox. “It’s a catastrophic moment for any yacht captain when you do damage to a boat. It’s the worst possible thing. And I also know that that’s compounded by a factor of a million because there are TV cameras on you.”
Cox has produced 16 seasons’ worth of Below Deck, and called the crash “the second-most intense moment ever on the series.” (The first-most intense was a near-death accident in 2018 during which deckhand Ashton Pienaar was pulled overboard after his ankle was caught in ropes.) “As a producer, it’s amazingly compelling. But as a person onboard, it’s terrifying…. But Glenn is a consummate professional. He didn’t try to deflect or make excuses or try to tap dance his way out of it. He went quickly into crisis mode, damage mode.”
Parsifal chief stew Daisy Kelliher said that watching the crash in the episode was worse than living it, “because I was downstairs when it happened. I have never seen a boat that crashed the dock or been in a boat that crashed the dock.”
Speaking about Glenn, Kelliher said, “He was pretty upset at the time, but you quickly calm down. It was an accident, and the main thing is nobody got hurt. It’s like banging your car. You get the insurance sorted. You learn from it. And you move on.”