It’s one thing to step into an established reality show as the newbie. It's another to step in and essentially replace that show's star. That's the situation Francesca Rubi found herself in when she signed onto Bravo's Below Deck, becoming the series' new chief stew -- the first person to replace Kate Chastain.
"First of all, she probably has smaller feet than I do, because I'm taller than her," the Australian native jokes with ET over video chat. "From what I've seen Kate do on the show, and how she works, she’s a fantastic chief stew. I don't think you can compare the two of us. I think we both have different work experience backgrounds, on yachts and off yachts."
Francesca worked in event management on land before entering the world of yachting, a career she began as a purser, essentially the manager of a superyacht, before transitioning to chief stewardess.
"Every chief stewardess creates different experiences for their guests, and what they focus on, and I really thrive in that because I'm a very creative person," she adds. "I think the thing that we do have in common is working really hard and earning respect from our peers and captain, and that takes time -- and she has had a lot of time, five to six years on me, on the show, to be able to do that."
"Below Deck came to me at such a good time," she shares. "I was leaving the boat that I was working on for the past couple of years, I believe two and a half years I was on the yacht, and I just needed some time, and I wanted a new experience, something I can sink my teeth into, and get creative and have no restriction on that level -- and it just popped up, and it was just meant to be."
A casual fan of the show, Francesca didn't reach out to (or hear from, unsolicited) any former cast members before filming season 8. She wanted to go into it with fresh eyes, which led to some moments for which she probably does wish she had been briefed.
"You've got camera crew, you've got the sound guys all around you all the time and you're trying to do your job and tend to all these guests," she explains. "I'm constantly looking in one direction and then changing... and it's someone in front of you and you're like, 'Oh my god. There's people everywhere.' It's challenging, that's for sure."
The timeline of shooting Below Deck also threw off Francesca a bit, seeing as the charters on the show are shorter (only a couple days, vs. a week) and require incredibly fast turnaround.
"It was a lot of pressure being my first time," she confesses, noting that she was shocked to see how often she burst into tears when the trailer for the season dropped earlier this year -- a trailer in which Captain Lee Rosbach proclaims, "There's no crying in yachting."
"I definitely didn't get enough sleep, or eat anything or drink any water," she admits. "I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to be and do everything myself. … That's a little bit of myself that I didn't really want to show, but in the end, I'm glad I did because it does show that I've got a heart and I'm human."
Francesca says she's thankful her breakdown didn’t happen in front of the guests, and walked away learning a valuable lesson: You're not always going to be the best at something the first time around. Being a chief stew and being a chief stew under the pressures of reality TV are different animals.
"I just need to allow myself time to be able to adapt, you know?" she says, adding that both she and Bosun Eddie Lucas took on too much this season, at least in the first couple of charters.
"We weren’t relying -- because we didn't know our crews' work experience, and we hadn't seen them work before and don't know what their strengths and weaknesses were, so we took a lot on our plates," she offers. "I ran myself to the breaking point … but over time, it gets a lot easier for us."
Once she got the swing of things, though, Francesca says she more than enjoyed her time making Below Deck, and promises season 8 features "a lot of yachting firsts."
"So much happened," she teases. "There's people in the water, there’s people naked, it seems like everywhere I turned on the boat, there was something going on. … You walk upstairs and there's a naked charter guest. It was just like, OK. Nothing is too crazy. I'm just going to act like everything is normal."
While she still has to experience watching back her first season (which she calls "mind-blowing"), Francesca's already all in on doing a second season of the show.
"I would, 100 percent," she declares. "I would do another season because I think Captain Lee and I, towards the end, had a great working relationship. That trust and respect was earned and also, I think that I can just nail it even better. You know when you do something once and you’re like, great. Down the hatch. Got it! I can do it with my eyes closed now -- maybe with one eye."