Tumi Mhlongo is jumping decks, which comes with a big promotion. The Below Deck Down Under alum is venturing from the crystal clear waters of Australia to the picturesque Italian Rivera for season 8 of Below Deck Mediterranean. The South African moves up to the first stew position aboard the 180-foot M/Y Mustique, headed up by Captain Sandy Yawn.
They won’t be the only familiar faces. Also, returning are stews Natalya Scudder and Kyle Viljoen. Luka Brunton crosses over as a deckhand, fresh off the Below Deck Down Under boat this past season. Rounding out the start of the season crew are franchise newcomers Bosun Ruan Irving, Deckhands Haleigh Gorman and Lara Du Preez, and Stew Jessika Asai.
Here Mhlongo opens up about moving up the ranks and teases what’s to come.
This is the first time you’re in a leadership role. What does this opportunity mean to you?
Tumi Mhlongo: It’s a big deal for me personally because there are not a lot of people of color in the industry. Especially, in a management position like this and on a vessel this size. It feels so good because it’s something that needs to happen. I know there are others, even from my country, who want to join the industry. This kind of shows them they can do it. It’s great.
They are both incredible captains. Jason is more of a relaxed, laidback, easygoing kind of captain. Captain Sandy is more strict with very high standards, which I love because that’s what I know. I’ve always worked with captains with very high standards. It was nice to work with Captain Sandy. She lets it known where the boundary is. I loved working with both of them. They both bring something different to the table.
Did you get any advice from Aesha [Scott] about stepping into this position?
Aesha and I definitely spoke a bit during my season. I tell her, “This is as hard as I thought.” She is like, “I know, girl” One thing is always staying true to yourself. Just make sure that you’re making a decision with your gut and your heart and what you really want. Just being you. I think that’s one thing that Aesha taught me. Be you, relax, sh*t happens. It’s not the end of the world.
When you’re coming on board, there is already this existing history between Natalya and Kyle. How was it managing that dynamic?
I knew coming in I really needed to stand up for myself. I’m not going to demand respect from people, but they do need to respect my position and the fact I’m in charge. They need to respect that there are reasons I do certain things. Just respect the position.
How would you describe your working relationship with Chef Jack?
Look it’s not going to be as bad as Ryan [McKeown] and Aesha. That’s for sure. I can tell you that for free. Jack and I might have a bit of a rocky start, but in the end, it’s going to be beautiful to see how our friendship develops. I really respect how calm he is as a chef. I’m grateful to have that.
What can you tease about the guests on these charters? There were some visuals shown in the teaser where one party and some interesting food presentations.
The guests were so much fun. We had a little gay pride party. I love a good gay pride party. There were a few penises around. We had a group of girls that also came on and were also super fun. Just a fun bunch of run people.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with this crew?
There are so many big personalities. A lot. Almost too much. When you’re dealing with such strong personalities, there are always going to be conflicts and issues. It’s kind of like little kids running around where you have to whip them into shape.
What can you tell us about the romance drama on board?
Definitely love triangles. You’re definitely going to see a lot of hookups, but I’m not included. Let’s put that out there. For me, I’m lucky because I’m not attracted to anyone who works on a boat. I just know when I’m going on a boat, I’m going there for work. That’s the only thing I’m focused on. I guess that’s how I avoid it. I don’t want distractions. Some people do get involved. You do you, if that’s what you want. For me, if you don’t look like my future baby daddy, I’m not going to touch you.
What kind of guy are you looking for?
The reality is I’m not going to be in yachting forever. I just know it’s not something I want to do up until I’m age 40. Some people do and get in these relationships. I personally would like a normal bed. I don’t know who I would want. Maybe a doctor or lawyer.
What are your career aspirations then?
I’m still deciding about real estate, but I also love interior design. Maybe interior staging. I’m feeling out everything right now. Then I’ll make a decision.
How is it being a Bravo celebrity now?
It’s weird because I’m such a private person naturally. It’s nice to be able to meet people and have an impact on them. That’s been really great. I’ve had people telling me they want to join the industry after seeing me. That makes me happy.
From a viewer’s standpoint and someone in the industry, how did you think Captian Jason and Aesha handled the sexual misconduct incident this season on Below Deck Down Under?
It was very disturbing to see that whole Margot [Sisson] saga play out, but she was in good hands. It was nice to see the crew come together to support her. When you’re there, you become family. It was beautiful to see. She was in great hands. Aesha and Jason would have done anything in their power to protect anyone. I also applaud everyone, even production They acted quickly. It’s something I know happens in the industry. It was nice to see Margot being protected.
Not to mention being brave enough to share what happened in an honest way. Bravo could have also easily shied away from it.
Exactly. I’m glad they did air the episode because we do have this issue in the industry and other industries.
How do you feel like you’ve grown from this experience?
I think I’ve grown a lot. I’m more resilient and grown as a leader. Just dealing with different personalities and learning to navigate that has made me much more confident. It’s great. I’m really glad I went through it.
Below Deck Mediterranean season 8 premiere, September 25, 9/8c, Bravo