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Heather Chase is learning quite a bit about her own experience making Below Deck, by watching Below Deck.
"It's been a couple months since filming and I feel like I've forgotten a lot of this," she confesses to ET over video chat. "I think the thing that surprised me the most is seeing how much [second steward Fraser Olender] talks under his breath. I had no idea that was going on. I just saw who he was to me. Now, I'm looking back because I'm like, 'Oh my goodness, I think I would've handled this a little differently if I heard all of that...'"
Fraser and Heather got off on the wrong foot, though the chief stewardess didn't realize that until she saw Fraser's commentary on TV. He's repeatedly mumbled about not understanding her management style and feeling stretched thin ("As a second stew, you have to be all over the place -- and it doesn't mean that I, myself, wasn't all over the place as well," Heather says in response), and going so far as to proclaim, "Get your s**t together, Heather!" in his confessional interviews.
"Look, I look to my interior my crew the way that when I was climbing the ladder and I'm just a little disappointed," she says of the comments made behind her back. "I would've never said that about my chief steward in the past. It's all about trust and loyalty and hard work and coming together as a team. And so when I see characteristics that divide that, it's shocking, obviously."
In more recent episodes, though, Heather and Fraser have formed a bond. They've maintained a friendship off the boat, and hash out their differences weekly as they watch the episodes with the audience.
"We definitely trade voice notes and we recap every episode together," she shares. "At the end of the day, I love him dearly and the stress of a charter season's real and we all deal with it differently. If talking to yourself under your breath is your way you work through your frustrations, at least he still showed up and was an incredible worker. So moving forward, I think we all learned lessons watching this."
Part of their bond has been a mutual frustration with third stew Jessica "Jess" Albert, who hasn't exactly been pulling her weight. And when she does jump in to help, she makes surprising decisions, like stripping unused beds of their sheets. Sneak peeks at upcoming episodes hint Heather will reach a crossroads with her third.
"I definitely think that Jess is just hitting a speed bump," she offers. "She's getting what we call the mid-charter season hump, where you're not sure if you want to be here or you want to be with your family. She's got a lot of personal things going on, and I think ultimately, she has to make a decision herself. It's a change from being a solo stewardess to now being on a team of three, and I can recognize it's a lot on her plate right now. And at the end of the day, it's just about her happiness and we'll see what she decides to go for."
"She definitely hits a breaking point," she reiterates, "and how she handles that, you're just going to have to wait and see. And how I handle that, oh god, we're just going to have to wait and see."
At the top of Monday's episode, Heather notes she's never been forced to fire a stew, which could be an omen of what's to come.
"No one wants to throw the hammer down," Heather tells ET. "No one wants the 'come to Jesus' moment, and also no one wants to have to be stern. But when you've literally used every tool in your tool bag, you come to a point where you're like, what is it going to take? I've given you every option. I've taken you out of laundry, taken you to a beach picnic so you can get some fresh air. I have no more tools to give you from my bag, and now we're all pulling the weight. What's going to take to make you happy? You have to decide that because now you're not working and you're grumpy, you're just a bad apple. So, she has a decision to make."
Heather says she's also spoken with Jess as the season has aired, and her own harsh critiques of Jess' work (along with many from Fraser) have been broadcast for millions to see. "I've told her, 'No hard feelings...' The charter season is different for everyone. And we're on great terms now, let's see how this come to Jesus moment," she says.
To be fair, Jess also commiserated with Fraser in feeling frustrated by Heather's management style, as well as with her bunkmate, deckhand Rayna Lindsey. On the most recent episode, Rayna went in on Heather after pitching in to help with dinner service. Heather repeatedly asked Rayna to stop presenting platters of food to the guests without proper serving utensils, but Rayna wouldn't listen and kept on running plates without tongs.
"Of course, it all feels like a blow to the chest," Heather admits of seeing her co-workers speak negatively of her. "I can understand her frustrations. Myself, I'm trying to remember that night and I'm like, 'Why weren't the service tongs pulled...' but we're throwing a party. We're doing turndowns. They drank a lot of cocktails. We're watching a kid 24/7, it's kind of-- the tongs are right near where the door is to take all the food out. So, I didn't think I needed to stage anything. I thought communicating with everyone like, 'Hey, just wait 'til we get service ware...' At the end of the day, we're all a team -- interior, exterior, doesn't matter -- it's all a part of the same boat. We split the same tip."
"So if anyone wants to get departmentalized, that's where I know, that's not how [Captain Lee Rosbach, first mate Eddie Lucas] or myself run a boat," she continues. "We're all here together. And if you want to start saying, 'That's not my department, that's not my problem...' well, you're looking at it in the wrong way. It's all about how can we collectively make the guests' experience great. So, I mean, it sucked to hear the chit chat behind my back, and I understand people's frustrations, but maybe let's focus more on being team players and not drama starters."
With that being said, Heather is walking away from seeing how she's perceived by others with some lessons.
"I wear heart on my sleeve, I truly do. I care about every little thing, every detail, every crew member, every guest, I put it all before myself and I think we'll all see a point where I kind of break and realize, I can't just give, give, give, give, give 24/7, and just be fumbled over and stabbed in the back," she teases. "I think I've learned to ... maybe not to take things so seriously, to think before I talk in some realms, and in other realms, be a little more sure of myself and remember why I am in this position."
Before joining the show, Heather was a fan of it -- to an extent.
"I'd seen a couple seasons here and there," she says. "It's almost like I would watch Below Deck because I live it and it's funny to watch somebody else go through all the stress, and I've had different people be like, 'Isn't that your job? Why do you watch that on your off time?' And I'm like, 'It's almost like a weird anxiety coping mechanism because you know what's going to happen.'"
She also has friends from the franchise -- Below Deck Mediterranean alums Alex Radcliffe (deckhand from season 5) and Anastasia Surmava (stew and fill-in chef from season 4) -- who offered her some important advice about making the series: "'Expect nothing and do everything, just be yourself,'" Heather shares. "'It's not scripted in any way, shape or form. You just go and do what you do and have a good time. Don't take things so seriously, and live your life.' And I think that's the best advice anyone could get coming onto the show."
Sometimes sharing can be misinterpreted, though. Heather caught some flack in the first few weeks of season 9 airing when she discussed being bullied in high school for being "white and blonde" while growing up in Hawaii. Some viewers took that as a "woe is me" attention-seeking moment, but Heather promises it was not. She was simply trying to get across that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
"I grew up being teased and harassed over something I really couldn't change," she explains. "And why that has shaped me in to a person that I am, it just wasn't easy and I hope a lot of people can take it more from the side of just, in life, we all get judged for things that we can't control. And we have the power to start changing that narrative for our kids, for our families and for even our peers and our workplace. Let's accept people for what they are, and not bully them for things that they can't change."
This season of Below Deck is doing a bit of that itself, exploring the franchise's first-ever onscreen queer romance! Fraser and deckhand Jake Foulger made out during a recently aired car ride, and according to Heather there's more to come on that front (and as a refresher, as this unfolds, Jake claims to be engaged to a woman... but also non-monogamous).
"None of us were shocked with where it went -- thrilled and happy about all of it," Heather gushes. "I think there's a lot of juicy story to unfold in that envelope. That's a whole book right there and a whole 'nother show in its own, but I'm excited for the fans to see how it all plays out and see who leaves with who at the end of the season."
"I feel like [the audience will] definitely be surprised to see who falls in love, out of love and or who all decide to hook up," she adds. "And I think will be most shocked by a crew interaction at the end of the season. I think everyone will have a jaw-dropping moment and a teachable lesson here to look forward to. So, stay tuned for a juicy season."
For the record, though, Heather says she left her time on My Seanna still in the relationship she was in when she stepped on the yacht. As for her future relationship with Below Deck, Heather hopes to break the one-season chief stew curse that seemed to fall into place after longtime stars Kate Chastain and Hannah Ferrier's exits from the franchise.
"I absolutely loved my experience," she proclaims. "I really, really did. And if they called, of course, I would. No one throws a party like Captain Lee, and it would be an honor to work under him again, it'd be an honor to throw some more badass parties and strap another season under my belt. I look forward to everything that's to come."
Below Deck airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, with episodes streaming the next day on Peacock.