The Netflix series Too Hot to Handle’s season three presents an even hotter, more dramatic mess than its previous seasons of scandal. The dating show brings 10 horny young adult participants on an erotic vacation, only to enforce sexual abstinence after the 12-hour mark. The show documents the contestants as they struggle to choose between winning the $200,000 prize money or giving into their sexual urges—and they often choose wrong. At best, Too Hot to Handle is unbelievable, and at worst, it’s exploitative.
According to Deadline, Too Hot to Handle’s viewership decreased after the release of its second season, dropping from 51 million households to 29 million. This lapse in popularity may explain some of the show’s changes—for instance, a flash announcement revealing that money lost by rule-breaking can be won back by good behavior, and the surprise of some participants returning to the show even after being kicked off. Each episode is a rollercoaster with no clear destination, as viewers buckle in for a dizzying experience.
To criticize Too Hot to Handle for its absurdity would be superfluous; the show makes no effort to hide its selling points of voyeurism and drama-laden guilty-pleasure watching. There are many sexually suggestive scenes, often brought out by producer manipulation through sensual workshops like body painting.
But what does go beyond the garish is how Too Hot to Handle fetishizes its representations of queer relations. When Izzy and Georgia inaugurate the contest’s first rule-breaking with some kissing, the narrator phrases the act as an attention-seeking grab rather than portraying it as having any legitimate intimacy or emotional connection. The kiss is followed by a cringey montage of the male contestants voicing their appreciation at the idea of sapphic sexual acts. The gender binary is still rigidly enforced: Men pursue the women and manipulate their male competitors. The kiss shared between Izzy and Georgia is never acknowledged as part of the romantic conquests.
Though previous seasons have featured competitors open to polyamorous relations, this season’s participants act jealous and competitive toward one another, lending the episodes an air of toxicity. Viewers aren’t meant to sympathize with the contestants’ plights of sexless vacation; rather, the show’s selective editing and snarky narrator portrays them as entitled and arrogant. Edited and manipulated to showcase the worst of these contestants, the show makes naturally dislikeable personalities even more unsavoury.
This season stigmatizes sex even more than previous iterations. According to the rule-enforcer character, Lana, sexual acts are a barrier for emotional connection. Too Hot to Handle enforces heteronormativity and traditionalism by offering contestants as an example of what not to be, setting them up as detestable through edited interview clips and explicit narration mockery. The show delights in personal misery, preaching “deep emotional connection” to the contestants, who are simply not looking for that type of relationship. Given that the premise of the show is to lure in people interested in a month of sexual flings, the narrator’s demeaning attitude does not take into consideration the lack of interest participants have in long-term romance.
It is not unusual for viewers to detest the young singles as they prioritize immediate sexual gratification over financial success while manipulating those around them. However, the season’s drama-obsessed, insincere contestants are a regression from the show’s previous portrayals of individuals who were sex-positive. Still, the real blame lies with the show’s producers, as they manipulate and exploit the contestants to manufacture punchlines rather than meaningfully considering diverse forms of attraction.