Netflix's popular reality show Too Hot to Handle is strangely relevant in the times of COVID-19
Netflix's Too Hot to Handle brings ten undeniably hot young women and men to a beautiful tropical island for ‘what they think is the most exotic summer of their lives’.
It’s not very often that you can draw parallels between what you are watching and what’s happening around you in real life. You can expect to find a rare thought-provoking film and at times even a series that reflects the spirit of the times but you’d never expect trashcan reality TV to offer a glimpse into the soul of humanity. But we are not living the ‘normal’ times and Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle perhaps coincidentally says a lot about our current quarantined lives.
Ten undeniably hot young women and men, isolated on a beautiful tropical island for ‘what they think is the most exotic summer of their lives’ is hardly a groundbreaking premise for a reality show. The men all sport a minimum of six packs while the women’s wardrobe almost exclusively features only string bikinis. Introductory interviews have the men boasting about their sexual prowess. Brawny Sharron, from New Jersey, US, introduced himself as a feminist studying ‘Woman and Gender Studies at college’ which gives him the ‘blueprint to how to pick up women’ while the women seem to go out of their way to label themselves as airheads. “I’m not the brightest spark in the book,” Chloe, from London, happily shares. But just when you start thinking this is just another dating show, Too Hot To Handle throws a curve ball.
It’s only about 12-hours after their arrival that Lana, a humourless, omnipresent AI, informs the contestants that sex is off the menu for this group of ‘hottest, horniest commitment-phobic swipesters’. Not only is sex forbidden, they are also banned from kissing, fondling or any other heavy petting and even masturbating. If they abstain, they stand to win a $100,000 prize and any rule breaking would lead to deductions.
Expectantly, they are not pleased. “Sorry that we’re hot as f**k and we want to tear each other apart like a roast chicken,” exclaims the 22-year-old Australian Harry.
The show presents itself as a sociological experiment. “The question is,” says the disembodied narrator (voiced by American comedian Desiree Burch), “in a world without sex, will they form deeper and more meaningful connections?” Hearing this, a single girlfriend who I was watching this show with over a Zoom hangout (don’t judge!) exclaimed dramatically, “I feel personally attacked.” She, along with singles around the world, has had to give up sexual contact of any kind much like the contestants on Too Hot To Handle. Just days before the lockdown, my friend (let’s call her Priyanka) had right-swiped someone. They were supposed to be meeting for a drink on the day that the janta curfew was announced. “That never happened and now we chat every other day. Even before we meet for the first time I am getting to know him better than I could have in the past,” Priyanka admitted.
There is no way that Netflix could have known that we’d be watching the show under these circumstances but I can’t think of a more relatable show on any platform right now.
Even if you are self-isolating with your significant other or family right now, Too Hot To Handle still feels very real. While our circumstances are very different from the contestants isolating at a plush Mexican resort, the frustration of being denied things we considered ‘normal’ in our everyday lives is common to both. For the contestants, the struggle is to ‘keep it in their pants’, while some of us are craving hot wings with a blue cheese dip on the side and a gigantic margarita. Po-tay-to Po-tah-to.
Freud saw 'deprivation’ as a motivating force for ‘transference’ or redirecting your feelings from one thing to another. While Too Hot To Handle doesn’t posture as something cerebral, the contestants are put through a series of New Age-y workshops that theoretically lead to personal growth and divert their attention from what they are being denied. In one session, the men transform themselves into ‘heart warriors’ by rubbing mud onto each other that ends with them talking about their toxic traits and bear hugs. The women participate in ‘yoni puja’ that entailed inspecting their vaginas with handheld mirrors and then painting their interpretation of them. The artistic proficiency that Canadian hottie Francesca displayed with her Pussy Cat painting is the same level I am at currently. But I have decided that by the end of this lockdown, I will grow an artistic bone. And, I am not the only one distracting myself from thoughts of impending doom by learning a new skill and bettering myself.
Then there is the rule breaking. All of us are staying in isolation to help flatten the curve, so hospitals in our cities don’t get overwhelmed. How effectively we contain the virus’ spread is hugely dependent on how we as a society think of the larger good rather than the singular. We have to look out for each other at this time. The singles on the show aren’t living in the fear of a deadly virus but they have to work as a cohesive unit if they want to win that pot of money at the end of this month-long non-orgy.
While the stakes might seemingly be lower on the show, it is still quite amusing to watch this fantasy reality created for television, more so because of the intersect with our current reality. I didn’t set out to watch this show for lessons in sociology or psychology because it should be entertaining enough to just watch a bunch of Greek gods and goddesses throw tantrums on camera when they are deprived of the one thing they’ve always gotten so easily before. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that nothing captures the cultural zeitgeist of 2020 better than what’s meant to be a piece of trashy television.
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