Three cheers for trashy reality TV
Heads up; this review contains spoilers.
Is anyone still talking about Too Hot to Handle?
This review is long overdue considering I, like the rest of the world, wrapped up watching the show shortly after Netflix dropped the episodes in full last month. But with some lingering thoughts to unpack and a bonus episode dropped in response to the show’s success, perhaps there’s still some merit in throwing these thoughts into the void.
When Too Hot to Handle hit Netflix, it immediately wormed its way into the platform’s top tier of releases of the week. Throughout the week of April 20th, it sat pretty, occupying the number one spot on Netflix US, UK and Canada charts. In the Philippines, it maintained a high-ranking spot until almost everyone and their newly-minted LDR partners knew the ten contestants (who would later become fourteen) by heart.
But what about this particular reality show such a hit, even in a country full of people who are up ‘til our necks in Pinoy Big Brother-bred stars?
With a cast of conventionally hot men and women, a gorgeous beach house, a $100,000 prize and a talking robot that resembled a humidifier, Too Hot to Handle was set up to pique attention right from the get-go. But what truly made THTH what it was is the same key ingredient Netflix has applied to its other reality shows like Love is Blind and The Circle: restraint. In Love is Blind, contestants had to forge relationships with their would-be fiancés without seeing each other beforehand. In the Circle, contestants communicate exclusively through a social media platform, disallowed from seeing each other despite living in the same apartment building. In Too Hot to Handle, men and women who are supposedly the “horniest serial swipers” parade around in their swimwear, sleep in the same beds and inevitably get close—but never close enough.
The restraint in THTH lies in the one policy that governs their retreat: no kissing, no fucking, no sexual touching in the hopes of teaching them to gain deeper emotional connections. Break the rules, prize money gets deducted.
Different iterations, same special sauce.
As far as timing goes, THTH’s take on restraint—as exhibited in varying degrees of sexual frustration and groaning and top secret, under-the-blanket blowjobs—couldn’t have come at a more perfect moment. The show dropped in April, in the thick of lockdown when our days were free and our bodies craved contact. Even if steamy reality TV isn’t typically your Netflix offering of choice, just know that quarantine does things to you. It was art imitating life.
Shortly before I started watching the show, I was beginning to see all the signs of the public’s collective longing. For a handshake without gloves. For a hug without an underlying pulse of fear. For a kiss. For their lovers. For sex. As someone who has been loving long distance for the past three and a half months, I could see why the public got so easily invested in what Rhonda and Sharron did when they spent the night together, or if Harry and Francesca would have another expensive makeout session. What I’m really trying to say is this: the world was starting to get horny, and it felt good to see these hot people on screen relate.
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While the sex ban kept things interesting, it’s the rest of the rules that spelled the show’s biggest flaws. By episode three, it seemed like the provisions were being made up as the show went along. Bryce was added to the line-up mid-way. Kori, Madison and Lydia came in two episodes before the season wrapped. The eliminations were sporadic. It was unclear until the end whether the remaining prize money would go to a single winner or the entire group, which came across as more of a head-scratcher than an incentive.
Yes, Too Hot to Handle was far from perfect. And yes, I doubt that all the contestants walked away with the lessons they were supposed to have picked up. And yes, maybe it does deserve that 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I’ll own up to the fact that the frivolity and constant will-they-wont-they (spoiler: they will) left me amused enough to follow Francesca on the ‘gram post-finale.
In times like these, we could all do with a distraction in our locked-down lonesome—and while I never expected it, I guess shallow reality TV just does it for me.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver