Warning: This post contains spoilers for all eight episodes of Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle.
Let me state this upfront: I am a certified dating show junkie. I watch The Bachelor — and The Bachelorette. I enjoyed Love Is Blind. I even watch trashier fare like Temptation Island. (Speaking of which: Where is Season 3, USA?) So when I first heard about Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle and its evil-genius concept — hot singles are whisked away to a tropical locale, but they can’t have any sexual contact with each other or they’ll lose prize money — I thought it’d be right up my alley. Hey, who couldn’t use a little brainless entertainment right now?
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But now that I’ve watched all eight episodes, I’m left feeling just like the show’s pent-up contestants: a bit unsatisfied. Too Hot has a killer premise, to be sure, but the show managed to fumble it away with a number of ill-advised production choices. The result is not nearly as fun as it should’ve been: a crushingly disappointing missed opportunity. (I say this with all due respect to my esteemed colleague Andy Swift, who shares my love of terrible reality TV and who gave Too Hot a positive review. We’ll always have Vanderpump Rules.)
To illustrate how Too Hot to Handle left me cold, here are four main reasons why the dating experiment just didn’t work for me:
1. The prize money was too low.
This was a major misstep right out of the gate: This show is asking 10 sexy singles to keep their hands off of each other… and only offering them a combined prize of $100,000? Even if they were absolute angels, with no money taken away, they’d only walk away with 10 grand each, or about half that after taxes. Heck, the tropical vacation they’re on is worth more than that. To really up the stakes, Netflix should’ve put up at least half a million, so the players would start seeing dollar signs and turn on each other when the violations start piling up. With the prize so low, the contestants just seemed to shrug off each other’s indiscretions, didn’t they? (Well, except for Kelz, aka “The Accountant.”)
2. The rules were arbitrary and confusing.
Yes, Too Hot to Handle‘s initial concept is a reality TV masterstroke, but then they went and botched the execution by never establishing the ground rules. Would the contestants all be splitting the prize money, or would there be one winner? How much cash did each violation cost? The contestants didn’t know, and neither did we. The mischievous pair of Francesca and Haley tried to stir up trouble by kissing and not telling anyone… but then the all-seeing digital tattletale Lana just ratted them out anyway! (Keeping all violators anonymous would’ve been an interesting wrinkle, actually, but alas.) Contestants arrived and left without any rhyme or reason. By the anticlimactic finale, which saw each remaining contestant named a “winner” and awarded an equal split of 75 grand, we kind of wished Lana would’ve been switched off from the start so the contestants could just bounce off each other without limitations. (More on that in a sec.)
3. The contestants were annoying… even for dating show contestants.
In reality TV, casting is everything, and Too Hot to Handle stumbled badly here, assembling one of the least likeable groups of contestants I’ve seen in years. You know how on a season of The Bachelor, one contestant might be labeled “the dumb one”? Well, on Too Hot to Handle, they were all “the dumb one.” Plus, some were aggressively bitchy (Haley), some were aggressively unappealing (Bryce), and some were aggressively self-involved. (Hi, Francesca!) I didn’t even like the narrator, whose pseudo-snarky comments were a far cry from the wit and wisdom of Love Island UK‘s Iain Sterling. When you don’t like any of the contestants, it’s hard to root for them to find romance or to win money — not that any of them went home with much of either. Which leads me to…
4. The romances and demonstrations of “growth” were contrived.
Look, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a looooot when it comes to reality TV romances — again, I watch The Bachelor — but even I didn’t get suckered in by Francesca and Harry supposedly falling in “love.” (I actually didn’t believe a single word that came out of Francesca’s plumped lips, to be fair.) Rhonda and Sharron’s romance was barely any more plausible, mostly because Sharron’s “growth” happened at far too rapid a pace. So this show tells us these are all just mindless sex machines… and then tries to tell us they’ve all magically evolved in only a few weeks, after a few dumb self-realization workshops? Nah, not buying it. And no one else even tried to feign an actual connection. What was the point of all this self-denial, if no sustainable relationships came out of it?
The good news is: There’s already a TV show a lot like Too Hot to Handle, but without any of the Lana nonsense. It’s called Love Island UK, it’s a frothy summer delight, and there are six full seasons available to stream right now on Hulu, in case you were wondering. (Just turn on the subtitles so you can catch all the uniquely British slang.) Too Hot to Handle blatantly ripped off its format, down to the uncomfortably close sleeping arrangements, but Love Island has a goofy charm that Too Hot failed to replicate. (And when they spring random rule changes on the contestants, it actually makes the show better!) So if you’re like me and you never warmed to Too Hot to Handle, at least you know there’s another island full of sexy singles out there waiting to cure your quarantine blues.
Binged all of Too Hot to Handle already? Grade the season in our poll, and drop your thoughts in a comment below.
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