If you were tuning in to Bravo's hit reality series "Below Deck" this season, you have been surprised to see a familiar face. Former doubles No.1 and two-time gold medalist Gigi Fernandez features prominently in a two-episode arc in Season 10 of the show, which is set in the Caribbean on the island of St. Lucia.
Fernandez, 58, found herself on the show after trying to chase down a once-in-a-lifetime birthday present for a friend.
"A very dear friend of mine was turning 50 and she said, 'For my birthday I want to go on Below Deck,'" Fernandez said. "My friend was the egg donor for my kids so when I wrote to 'Below Deck' I wrote, 'I am who I am, I'm Gigi Fernandez, I'm a two-time gold medalist, and I want to give this as a gift to the donor who gave me eggs.'
"So it was a good story. If they're not picking us, I don't know who they're picking."
Ultimately, Fernandez's friend was unable to make the trip due to Covid restrictions. So Fernandez put her problem-solving skills to work and came up with a different plan. She invited six of her tennis friends to go on the trip to play tennis and host a tennis clinic on the island.
"I'm an ambassador of tennis, I'm always trying to share my knowledge," Fernandez said. "So to get tennis on TV in front of a Bravo audience, which is not our typical tennis audience, I thought would be really cool.
"Once we decided this is what we wanted to do, Bravo just took over. They found the court and did an amazing job."
The filming occurred earlier this year in February. Fernandez's first episode, Episode 5, aired on Monday, Dec. 19. In it, Fernandez and her friends arrive to the island and celebrate her 58th birthday. Episode 6, which airs on Jan. 9, will showcase their tennis adventures on the island.
Fernandez has been a fan of the show for a long time. She marveled at the opportunity to just be an unabashed fan while living the high life on a 200-foot mega yacht. Fernandez has been at the helm of her company, Gigi Fernandez Tennis, for 10 years, traveling the country to host doubles clinics and organize group excursions to major tournaments. She is also a teaching pro at Innisbrook Resort in Tampa.
"For me, the experience was special because I was on the other side of fandom," Fernandez said. "Normally I have all these people who come to my camps who are so excited to see me and I never really understood their experience. Now I do. I've had the experience of being on the other side of being a fan of something and going there and the whole time you're there it's like 'Oh my god, I can't believe we're doing this.'"
"Below Deck" airs on Mondays at 8:00 p.m. ET on Bravo.