Below Deck Mediterranean is back for another drama-fueled season on the Italian coast with a few familiar faces in tow! Along with returning yachties Captain Sandy Yawn, Natalya Scudder and Kyle Viljoen, Below Deck Down Under alum Tumi Mhlongo is joining the crew of the M/Y Mustique as the Chief Stew. Tumi has the honor of being among the few other iconic yachties such as Aesha Scott and Ben Robinson to jump franchises, and she is more than up to the task. Even though she described missing the first charter of the season due to visa issues as “the most undesirable situation,” Tumi realized that “there are things that you can’t control” in life, especially in the yachting industry.
As for cutting her teeth as a Chief Stew for the first time on television, Tumi conceded that she was nervous, but excited for the challenge. “It felt really nice to be given the opportunity to show the viewers that I’ve grown,” Tumi explained. Luckily, she had her former Chief Stew Aesha to rely on for advice. “We were definitely texting throughout the season,” Tumi gushed. “It was really comforting just to have someone who has gone through the same thing because being Chief Stew is such a unique experience.”
Though the Mustique is a massive motoryacht at 180-feet long and weighing in at 989 gross tons, Tumi wasn’t intimidated. “The first boat I ever worked on was this size,” Tumi remembered. Perhaps the most intimidating part of her job was dealing with the combative dynamic between her Stews Natalya and Kyle. “It was exhausting. I won’t lie,” said Tumi. “They are two very big personalities.” Looking on the bright side, Tumi described navigating between her department’s conflicting personalities as a “was a good test.”
Decider got a chance to hop on a Zoom call with Tumi to talk about the upcoming season, why she prefers to work with a “stricter” captain like Captain Sandy, and why she “doesn’t give a shit” about boatmances on board.
DECIDER: You are part of an elite crew of yachties to jump Below Deck franchises. Besides working in a new capacity, how did your experience differ from Down Under to Mediterranean?
TUMI MHLONGO: I felt like Below Deck Down Under was definitely more relaxed, for sure. The crew loved each other a lot. My first season on Below Deck Mediterranean was a bit more intense. It’s the Med. The Med’s more sophisticated, which is something I like. I’ve always wanted to work in the Med.
You got a well-deserved chance to run the interior yourself as Chief Stew this season. What was it like taking that leap in front of the cameras?
It was absolutely crazy now that I actually think about it. [laughs] I was like, “I cannot believe I’m doing this on a boat this size, for the first time, as chief stew on television.” However, it felt great. It felt really nice to be given the opportunity to show the viewers that I have grown.
The M/Y Mustique is an intimidating vessel. What were the best part and worst part about working on it?
The first vessel I ever worked on was the same size as the Mustique, so I wasn’t too intimidated. The best part was all the storage. I really miss it in that sense. The worst is that we had to run up and down more stairs. Overall, I loved it.
You had a great relationship with Below Deck Down Under Captain Jason Chambers. How did you like working for Captain Sandy?
I really enjoyed working with Captain Sandy. I prefer a stricter captain because everyone understands their boundaries. I come from a very strict yachting background. It’s what I know and what I like. Captain Sandy’s style of leadership was definitely different from Captain Jason’s, but in good way. Also, she likes table-scaping, and she likes things that are pretty, like I do. I loved her.
Did you learn anything from your Below Deck Down Under Chief Stew Aesha Scott that you were able to apply aboard the Mustique?
Yes. I definitely messaged Aisha multiple times. I would send her questions like “What do you do here? And what if this happens?” We were definitely texting throughout the season. It was really comforting just to have someone who has gone through the same thing because being Chief Stew is such a unique experience. She’s always been on my side, so it felt to get advice from her. Both she and Captain Jason are all about working hard and having fun.
One of the most important relationships onboard is between the Chief Stew and the Chef. How did you navigate that delicate dynamic with Chef Jack?
You can see from the season trailer that our relationship in the beginning was a bit rocky, but I consider the Chef as a part of my interior team. I’m all about supporting a Chef. I don’t believe in going against a Chef, and I made sure he knew that.
You are still working on your visa issues on the Below Deck Med season premiere. Was it difficult to miss out on the first charter?
It was my worst nightmare. I would’ve loved to have seen the boat before the first charter and gotten the chance to settle in. It was the most undesirable situation, but there are things that you can’t control. It gave me anxiety, but what could we do?
Because you weren’t able to be on the boat, Natalya had to step up and be your interim Chief Stew. Did you know her before this charter season? Were you okay with that arrangement?
I did not know her personally before this. It’s a normal arrangement, to be honest. Sometimes you’ve got a few stews onboard before the normal chief stew can come in. The second stew will step up into the chief position and then come back down. That is nothing unusual in the yachting industry. It’s not the most desirable thing, but it happens all the time.
Natalya and Kyle’s love/hate relationship was well-documented on the last season of Below Deck Med. How did you manage their often-combustible connection?
TM: Yeah, it was exhausting. I won’t lie. They are two very big personalities. One thing with this season is that all the crew members have massive personalities…and were all crammed together and partying in close quarters. It was obviously going to be a very overwhelming experience. I’m not necessarily like them. I am much more relaxed and want everyone to get along. I’m just like: “Let’s just have fun. Everything’s fine. We’ll be fine.” It was a good test for me, I will say that.
The show’s trailer showed stew Jessika Asai and deckhand Luka Brunton getting awfully close. What’s your policy on boatmances between the teams?
I honestly couldn’t give a shit who you fall in love with who on a boat [laughs]. Do whatever you want as long as you can get to work every morning and carry on with your duties. If hooking up with another yachtie doesn’t affect your job, go for it. Boatmances never work out, but people have to learn on their own.
Even though you were not onboard when Ruan’s paperwork issues happened, what did you think of the situation once you were debriefed?
Well, I didn’t really know what happened when I got onboard the yacht. I’m watching what went down with the audience. I was pretty shocked. Funny enough, I actually know of him.
So what you’re maybe implying is that he had a reputation that maybe preceded his appearance on the show?
I’m not surprised.
Interesting… switching gears, who do you think cried the most this season?
Who didn’t cry? [laughs] That’s such a good question… probably Jess.
And who had the most hookups this season?
Oh, Luka. Come now. Have you seen his face?
He’s so cute! Last season of Below Deck Down Under really got a lift when he joined the deck team.
He’s so pretty in person, let me just tell you. I love him. I adore him, and I’ll never touch him. And he knows that. I’ve told him multiple times.
I know you’re a big Bravo fan. Other than Below Deck Down Under, what have you been watching?
I’m a big Real Housewives fan. Massive. I love RHONY right now. I was a bit skeptical about it because I really love the original one, but I’m absolutely loving the new cast. I cannot wait for RHOBH to come back. RHOSLC looks like it’s insane this season. I’m just all about the Real Housewives franchise.
If you could maybe cross over with another Bravo show, what would it be and why?
For the longest time I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll do Summer House.” I don’t know. I’ve never really wanted to be on a show where the objective is to hook up with people or party all the time or be in a relationship or whatever. I just love the Hamptons.
For the first time ever, Below Deck yachties, Summer House cast members and other Bravolebrities will be colliding on the upcoming season of Winter House. In the trailer, we see Below Deck Med alum Katie Flood flirting with Vanderpump Rules star Tom Schwartz. What do you think of that hookup?
I actually think they look like a good couple? If I’m being honest though, I’m not really sure about Schwartz. He seems like a nice guy but has a few screws loose. Do you, boo. Do you. At least it wasn’t Tom Sandoval!
Below Deck Mediterranean Season 8 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.