I was so excited for Too Hot to Handle. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll take trashy reality TV over some Emmy-winning drama any day, and THTH seemed like a perfect addition to my quarantine line-up. I mean, what could be better than sexy singles going to a tropical location, thinking they’ll be their hot and horny selves, then being forbidden from indulging in their salacious desires in return for winning $100,000? But once I started watching this Love Island knock-off, I became increasingly frustrated with the show’s premise. It seemed to me that the show’s executive producer also served as a member on the Texas Board of Education; instead of dishing up some juicy drama, it appeared the show was actually meant to preach the morality of sexual purity and the idea that you can’t nurture an emotional connection in the presence of sex.
At first, I was ready to accept the contestants being deprived of physical contact as a means of differentiating the show from its countless reality-dating counterparts. But once Lana, the weird robot that policed everything the contestants did, also forbade masturbating, I knew that there was something more insidious going on. Forbidding sex between the contestants could be seen as showing a new way of dating, but forbidding masturbation just revealed the show to be a propogandistic tool by the abstinence-only community. Masturbation is a solo act; it does nothing to impede the creation of a meaningful relationship. In fact, having a way to relieve some sexual frustration could’ve actually made the contestants more agreeable and helped them avoid breaking the rules, meaning they’d be more free to actually build an emotional foundation. But the show didn’t actually care about the contestants forming emotional bonds with their romantic partners. Its main intention was to villainize sex and disregard it as a valid way of gauging one’s compatibility with someone else.
When Chloe kissed Bryce to determine whether she thought he was genuinely a good match for her, only to realize they were better off as friends, Lana took $3,000 out of the cash pot. Sure, this broke Lana’s arbitrary rules—but Chloe’s transgression did more to determine their emotional compatibility than abstaining from kissing would have. Imagine if Chloe and Bryce had followed the rules and started building a relationship, only to realize they weren’t romantically compatible in the slightest. I think that would’ve been more of a blow to Lana’s experiment than their kiss.
The same can be said for Chloe and Kori: he didn’t care at all about her, as evidenced by him asking Francesca out on a date instead of her right after they’d kissed. This situation highlights a major oversight of Lana’s hypothesis—emotional manipulation. If Kori and Chloe hadn’t kissed, he could’ve continued feigning an emotionally durable connection with her until he eventually got into her pants, which would’ve ultimately been much more detrimental both to Chloe and to the experiment than their little kiss turned out to be. Lana’s experiment could never work, because it didn’t account for the contestants’ potential deceit and manipulation—two things Lana could never detect because she’s a nosy, sexless robot overlord and not an empathetic entity. This just proves that the experiment’s only goal was to falsely portray sex as injurious to the building of emotional connections.
Plus, nobody even learned anything—not even Francesca and Harry. Their smug faces and feigned displays of remorse indicated to viewers that they were amused by their situation, uninterested in taking their circumstances as a chance to grow. They only “learned their lesson” when Lana gave them the chance to win back all the money they had lost ($26,000), as well as the group’s forgiveness for having lost the money in the first place, if they managed to spend a sexless night in the private room alone. While they succeeded in their challenge, it was only because of the irresistible incentive to do so—not because of any startling realization that sex somehow prevented them from building a strong emotional connection. (And for all their rule-breaking, they’re still together.) In fact, what they chose to do in the room instead of have sex—chase each other around the room naked and play with the sex toys—seemed like a mockery of the whole process, and insinuated that had Lana not upped the stakes, they would’ve still had sex.
Really, those that followed the rules—Nicole, Kelz, Matthew—only did so because they avoided all temptation by not even bothering to form an emotional connection with others. Sure, Kelz went on that date with Francesca and they showered naked together (how was that not a violation, by the way?), but once it became clear that Kelz wouldn’t break the rules and help Francesca make Harry jealous, she dumped him. Kelz followed the rules and yet he was rejected, despite Lana claiming that following the rules would generate an emotional connection. Not only was Lana wrong, she was also vindictive and eliminated anyone who criticized her methodology. Though the eliminated contestants—Haley, Madison, and Kori—were unbearable in their own right, it was obvious that they were eliminated because they didn’t participate as eagerly as Lana would’ve liked, and were vocal about how ridiculous they found the whole process. The official reason may have been that they “failed the experiment,” but they broke the rules a lot less than Francesca and Harry did, and engaged with the retreat a lot more than contestants like Nicole who didn’t even try to build a relationship with someone else; their only fault was in negatively criticizing Lana.
Really, the experiment ultimately ended up being a transparent proponent for sexual abstinence. I understand that the premise of the show was simply meant to provide a unique take on televised dating. But it still detrimentally vilified sex and diminished the importance of establishing physical chemistry in a relationship. Besides, the show itself disproved its own hypothesis, as the most “meaningful” relationships of the experiment were born from sexual transgressions—Francesca and Harry, Sharron and Rhonda, and even David and Lydia all broke the rules at some point. Meanwhile, those that followed the rules didn’t end up forming any type of emotional connections. If anything, the show only proved that having sex (if you want to, of course) is a vital part of building an emotionally sound relationship with someone else. And I think that that truth is what’s actually too hot to handle.
By Modesty Sanchez