I'm the last guy you'd expect to be obsessively sliding down YouTube clickholes with a singular focus in mind: see celebrities freak out as they gradually eat hotter and hotter wings. For years, I couldn't handle more than medium wings, and I thought jalapenos always ruined sandwiches and pastas. I got a British palate, as my British father often told me, meaning spicy food wasn't my jam. Sweet stuff, like jam, was my jam.
So what's this scoville scale-averse softie watching the YouTube show Hot Ones? Let me take you back to the first episode I saw two years ago, when host Sean Evans interviewed the comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key about their new movie Keanu while also indulging in wings slathered in volcanically hot sauce. The series' main conceit is that with each wing, the sauce's tongue-burning power increases, and if the show's guests finish the wings with Evans they can plug whatever they came to the show to promote (even though they do all that during the 25-minute episode anyway).
When Key & Peele began to react to the hot sauce's fiery uppercut, I truly laughed out loud. Peele had these googly eyes as the hot sauce interrupted whatever media-trained answer usually comes from movie promo interviews. When they swerved into doing the valet sketch, their improv chops showed, nicely doused with a verve flair thanks to the scovilles igniting their nerve endings.
In one way, it was familiar territory for online forays I've seen before; there's a cottage industry of YouTubers eating dumb things, if only to elicit more views from this schadenfreude-friendly audience.
But there was something so human about the way these actors replied to Evans' deep-cut questions, which impressively veered from the stock answers most guests give on talk shows. Key and Peele were straight up pissed at Evans, even accusing his body of being transformed by nuclear fallout in order to endure the spicy wings.
That first Hot Ones had me clicking that big red button and then tracking back to see which other celebs couldn't stand the heat and literally got out of the kitchen. Each interviewee enduring this odd game show broke down their facade of being a cool suave A-lister and the expected consequence was just like how you and me would react: scrambling for milk, wiping sweat from brows, barely listening to any question lobbed our way and preferring to demand waterfalls of liquid to soothe our dying throat.
I realize why this approach to reality TV appeals to me: I like seeing celebrities be everyday folks, since that's who they truly are. Undoubtedly they are talented and widely adored, but they bleed red like anyone else and their dreams, fears and anxieties merely mirror our own. I'm tired of Hollywood interviews where guests just repeat the same thing they've always said. At least in Hot Ones their defenses are down painfully by the inhibition-lowering meal they're partaking.
And that's reality at its purest form, despite the series still being a show edited and directed with a specific goal in mind, skewing the IRL truth for something a bit more palatable. I get that, but I still can't shake my ear-to-ear smile at seeing Seth Rogen improv a half dozen cuss words over a wing that would've had me passed out and scrambling for a pint of ice cream.
While watching the Hot Ones guests that pound their chests with all the bravado they believe we expect of them, another telling nuance leaps out from this innocuous series: some stars just want their polish shining bright and high, no matter how quick they could be "brought down to earth" with a lip-numbing dab of hot sauce. Shaq was particularly brazen with his confidence that no wing would fell him, which only furthered my theory that Shaq never liked seeing any spotlight dim around his presence, something NBA fans saw during his feud with Kobe.
Hot Ones is a reminder that our heroes shouldn't be lionized for every marquee bearing their name in all-caps. After all, the more you put people on pedestals, it's easier for them to disappoint you and kick you in the face.
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