Monday, July 15, 2024
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Vacationer of the Week: Kyle Viljoen – Stew on “Below Deck Mediterranean”

Out and proud Kyle Viljoen spills the details about his career in travel and his experience serving as Stew on Bravo TV’s reality series, Below Deck Mediterranean.

Our Vacationer of the Week is Kyle Viljoen! If you think his face looks familiar, it’s because you may have seen him flexing his expertise as a Stew on Season 7 of the 2022 Emmy-Nominated TV series, Below Deck Mediterranean on Bravo, and streaming on Peacock. So, I decided to reach out to Kyle to chat with him about all things travel! 

At first glance and in chatting with him, you probably wouldn’t realize that Kyle came out a year ago (2021) based on his confident, fun, and infectious personality. That welcoming demeanor has followed him through his seven-year career as Stew as well as a flight attendant, including a three-year stint working in Qatar as what calls, a “service queen.”

From Johannesburg, South Africa, Kyle has traveled to 50 countries, and he still is working on his personal bucket list which includes getting to Alaska, Hawaii, and Fiji. In this candid interview, Kyle reveals – in a matter-of-fact way – talks in-depth about the dynamics of the interior team on Below Deck, what sparks his passion to travel, how he navigated being an out gay man in Uganda, and why a douche is one of the things he never forgets to pack – and not for the reason you might think. 

Kyle Viljoen, Stew on Below Deck Mediterranean (Photo by: Laurent Basset/Bravo)
Kyle Viljoen, Stew on Season 7 of “Below Deck Mediterranean” (Photo by: Laurent Basset/Bravo)

Vacationer Magazine: How were you chosen to become a crew member for the Season 7 of Below Deck? Had you seen the show before joining the crew?

Kyle Viljoen: Having these different circumstances come through to me – everyone was like you belong on there. So, I started watching and I said literally, “this is me.” I’m just missing a camera. I saw the option to audition for Below Deck because it’s not something completely outside of who I am as a person. I have the existing knowledge of how to work on a yacht. This is legitimately a working yacht, a working crew, and 100 percent completely true and real. 

So it’s kind of just shifting from one yacht to this one and having the opportunity to be on a platform to really showcase who you are as a person – your skills, your knowledge, everything that you are – the complete package. 

How many charters were there for this season of the show? How many weeks were you on the superyacht HOME vessel?

During the time of filming, there was a quarantine period that the country (Malta) required. So physically working was like six consecutive weeks of nine charters. Sometimes if they’re gracious (the guests) it will be a day turnover where you flip the entire yacht. So this time we had minimal time to do it, so we had to add those stress factors in too. But it was exciting! It kept me on my toes. I never got time to feel tired. I never got time to relax. I was like… “Let’s go!” I gotta make cash because I’ve got some goals I need to do.

Kyle Viljoen (Photo by: Laurent Basset/Bravo)
Kyle Viljoen (Photo Credit: Laurent Basset/Bravo)

I didn’t realize that you worked as a Chief Stew before the show. How was taking orders from Chief Stew Natasha Webb?

Natasha (Chief Stew on the motor yacht HOME) is not the first person I’ve had to take orders from. Even though sometimes when I was Chief Stew, some 3rd Stews think they can tell me how to do my job. I’m like honey, no problem, I accept you saying what you need to say, but you need to be in my position, and we can talk again! Alternatively, go find yourself another yacht where you can be Chief Stew, ya know! 

So, I put people in their place real quickly, and I just remind them why I’m a Chief Stew. I’ve had hospitality experience for seven years consecutively. Now, I’m working with billionaires. This is not my first rodeo. I’ve worked on an A380 airbus with 25 crew members on one flight and over 800 passengers. So, miss thing, I’m sure I can handle a group of five people. 

When it comes to Natasha, from the beginning, it was the aura she put out there like, “you are here, you’ve served in this position, I trust you in this position, you’ve got free reign, explore who you are as a person, showcase your creativity.” And she’s not going to be involved because she puts that trust in us initially. 

That’s the type of Chief Stew I am as well. I’m going to give you the opportunity to go ahead. I want to see different [table] settings. I want to see different bed-making skills. I want to see how you handle laundry. Every day we learn from different individuals. And some of the Chief Stews I worked with learned a lot of things from me, too. It’s not something you acquire, and you have all the knowledge in the world. So, with Tash, being on this season and being the loving soul that she is, I think I’m going to be the main bitch here. You know what I’m saying? But she’s getting my salary. 

Below Deck Mediterranean - (l-r) Dave White (Chef), Kyle Viljoen (Stew), and, Natasha Webb (Chief Stew) (Photo Credit: Laurent Basset/Bravo)
Below Deck Mediterranean – (l-r) Dave White (Chef), Kyle Viljoen (Stew), and, Natasha Webb (Chief Stew) (Photo Credit: Laurent Basset/Bravo)

In your opinion, what are the perks of sailing around the world as a crew member?

Sailing with me! (laughs) Seriously, I’m a people person. So, through the years of traveling to 50 different countries, I really enjoyed meeting different individuals from backgrounds – cultures, races, traditions, language, food, and history as well. That’s what I enjoy the most because it’s not every day that I’m going to be put on a boat, I’m going to look for a job and I’m going to be working with a Portuguese individual from Portugal or be working with a Serbian individual.  So you really get to know and study these cultures that you have right in front of you – it’s like having an encyclopedia. 

Secondly, I get to see different places from a different perspective. It’s one thing going to Italy, but it’s another thing seeing the shores of Italy from yacht side. Because you can have a view of the whole landscape in front of you.

And then the third is money! The compensation is high and matches the workload. It’s a tax-free job, but you have your own responsibility for your home tax obviously. I’ve never received money like this in my life before even when I worked for the mega-wealthy. I get to do what I know how to do for the minimum and get paid for it. And the maximum – that’s a Chief Stew role – and that’s where I am.  And I’m a Pieces, gurl! Fish need to connect with the water! 

Kyle working as Chief Stew in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)
Kyle working as Chief Stew in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)

What advice or tips would you give to guests traveling for the first time on a charter vessel or sailboat for an extended period?

What I can say is please come with an itinerary. Please, come with some plan or some ideas of what you want to see. It is really difficult doing our job and so then the other aspect is, “I’m bored, and I don’t know what to do for six weeks.” 

Gurl, you planned this trip what do you mean you don’t know what you see? Please have an itinerary always prepared. It is so important. It helps the booking process and reservation process; how it [reservation process] works in one country doesn’t work in the other. 

One massive pet peeve for me is having to pick your shit up off the floor.  I can do a whole laundry basket, I leave the towel on the side, but holy hell, I’ve had explosions of clothes fall on me and it takes away from the time we can provide more of that personal attention. And it helps us do the job faster. 

Does identifying as an LGBTQ+ person affect how you travel? If so, how?

As much as you want to say, go out there and be yourself. I still stick to that. But when you’re going to different countries, know where you’re going and what’s the rules of that country because you could seriously get yourself into a lot of trouble. 

You know being from Africa, we hear these horror stories all the time of people missing, and people being murdered for who they are just by identifying as being part of the LGBTQIA community. Which is why we need to go to these countries to advocate. 

When I go to a country, I generally am who I am from the get-go, but I take into consideration the country’s rules, regulations, cultural preferences, and traditions. But that’s never going to stop me from traveling the world because that’s one thing I pride myself on. You can spend years in university, and I love that for you, but you’re going to learn a lot more traveling the world in one year like I did.

Fort Lauderdale Boat Show - Kyle Viljoen, Dylan Viljoen, Kayla Viljoen, Henrique Pinto, and Jose (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)
Fort Lauderdale Boat Show from l-r: Kyle Viljoen, Dylan Viljoen, Kayla Viljoen, Henrique Pinto, and Jose (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)

You’ve been able to travel quite a bit. So far in your career, what are your top three favorite places to visit and why?

Something that personally resonated for me – I was going through such a dark time during my travels. I landed in Bali. Never knew about Bali and never thought about Bali. I landed and went to my hotel where there was this creeping vegetation coming through the window – a stunning open earth environmentally-friendly hotel. And I laid down and it sunk in… “Bitch, you in Bali! You are part of this whole meditation scene and there’s life creeping through your window… Get to it!” I got the best massages, visited the temples, and I drove around. That was my ultimate favorite and it’s cost-effective to go there as well – super cheap!

My other favorite was Uganda. A lot of people will not say that. It was one of my fondest memories. It also has dense, wet vegetation, but it’s not LGBTQIA+ friendly. But you will not believe how many individuals are there, living very secret and very reserved lives, which I feel awful for. During my week’s stay there, we had time to invite these people out for drinks, we got to go to private places, and we got to hear their stories of living as LGBTQIA+ people in Uganda. 

In-charge Flight Attendant on FlySafair Johannesburg South Africa (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)
Kyle as the In-charge Flight Attendant on FlySafair in Johannesburg, South Africa (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)

So, just out of curiosity, how do you find people to connect with who are LGBTQIA+ friendly? Do they just gravitate toward you? 

(Rolls his eyes playfully) Definitely the gravitation. I’m a magnet not only for people’s bullshit but also for people to be who they are in front of me. One thing about me in a conversation is that I can hold it, but I really want to get to know you. And people really like that when they have an opportunity to speak about themselves. And for these individuals, this time was very precious to them because it was the first time that they could be open and have these discussions as a group.

Your gaydar is right up there. Making these assumptions, you can see someone but you don’t want to confront them about it (being LGBTQ+). But you can see it from quite some distance away. It’s bodily movements that you pick up on or verbal queues. And these are the people I usually keep my eye on especially when I’m visiting a new country because then you can find out where you can go to be safe or the good club or those good adventures. I love meeting the LGBTQIA+ community all over the world. 

What’s the third place after Uganda?

The third place would have to be Montreal. I went in February for my birthday, and I can remember the piercing white snow. It was quiet and eerie, and I needed it at that time. But I also went to go visit the maple farms and met the most interesting old gentleman whose family had owned a maple farm business for many generations. We had snowball fights and saw deer, elk, moose? I mean they’re all the same flippin’ thing. I saw one of them. But anyway, I really got to understand the maple syrup-making process. It was also a French-speaking city so I got to brush up on my French. Because ya know… she speaks a few languages. 

Maple farm near Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)
Maple farm near Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)

So, how many languages do you speak?

I speak five and only two of them really help. I speak English, Afrikaans, Dutch, Zulu, and Xhosa. Zulu and Xhosa are native to South Africa, and so is Afrikaans, which is a derivative of Dutch. 

What three places are still on your bucket list to visit? Why? 

Hawaii. I want to see the coral reefs. I want to see the jungle and coconuts. It seems so natural and preserved to me. Definitely, anywhere in Hawaii, I would love to go. Excuse me… Hawaii… that’s that correct pronunciation. 

The second place that I would love to go to that’s very tropical as well is that I’d love to see Fiji. I really like to see Fiji again. It gives me a lot of the Philippines and Bail combination is what I get from it, but totally culture as well, which I love go and witness. 

And I’d genuinely like to go to Alaska. There’s something about it that is so isolated. It’s giving me smores, it’s giving me hot cocoa, and hot wine as well. I want to experience the tropical, the cold, and everything in between. 

Djibouti, Horn of Africa (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)
Djibouti, Horn of Africa (Photo Credit: Kyle Viljoen)

You’re heading on a trip. What’s the one pair of heels you never forget to pack?

Is this PG-related? No, I’m just kidding. 

You’re speaking to an LGBTQ+-friendly audience so anything you say will not be a total surprise. 

You know what I’m gonna say a douche. Cuz gurl, when you’re trying new food all over the show I was constipated for weeks on end, and I needed to do something about it. It’s always going to be stomach medication and not for anything else but to help me process this new food. 

But one thing I cannot live without is toothpaste and a toothbrush. I feel like I’m taking a fresh shower after every brush. That is the only thing I’m really obsessive about. And I talk so much shit anyway, I want to make sure I’m fresh. 

Below Deck Mediterranean received two Emmy nominations in the Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program and Outstanding Picture Editing For An Unstructured Reality Program

Below Deck Mediterranean airs Mondays at 8 pm ET/PT on Bravo. New episodes will drop one week early on Mondays on Peacock.

Kwin Mosby

Kwin Mosby has 20+ years of editorial experience which has included working as the editor-in-chief for Vacationer Magazine, managing digital producer for Travel Channel, and content manager for Travel Leaders Group. He is also a freelance writer and his work has appeared in reputable print and digital publications, including Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, Tripadvisor, and others.

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