Underneath my yellow skin

A hot take on Hot Ones

There’s an internet show called Hot Ones, and it’s about eating hot wings. That’s a pretty disingenuous description, so let me expand on that. There are hot wings, yes, but that’s just the backdrop for the actual show. Sean Evans is the host, and there are ten wings in front of him. He has a celebrity guest on the other side of the table (sometimes two if they’re paired in any way) who also has ten wings in front of them (or five if it’s a shortened episode). He asks them questions as they eat the wings, starting from mild hot sauce to ‘why the fuck am I eating this?’ hot sauce.

I don’t know how I started watching. Maybe someone showed me an episode, but more likely I saw an episode online somewhere. Either on someone’s social media or because I went down a rabbit hole, and I was hooked. I watched several episodes based on the guest. There are ten seasons, so I was hopping all over the place. I will note that the interviewer is easy on the eyes in a working class, I will kick your ass kind of way.

Before I get deeper into the show, let me share with you my love for the hot sauce. Or rather, how I used to love hot sauce. My brother and I had a friendly competition to see who could give each other the hottest hot sauce. It morphed into one of us giving the other a bottle for Christmas. Same wrapping paper every year, and maybe even the same box. It was fun, and I would obsessively look for the hottest sauce. I don’t remember the year, and I can’t find it on the Googles, but it’s at least ten years ago. Probably more like fifteen. Anyway, I found this bottle of hot sauce that had just come out, and it claimed to be the hottest hot sauce ever.

It had the picture of a nuclear bomb on it, and it was, indeed, called ‘Da Bomb’. Tagline: Beyond Insanity. I bought two bottles–one for myself–and I made a huge pot of chili and put three drops in it. It even suggested you put one drop in for a pot of chili. I was macho, though, and I put in three drops. Big mistake. My throat closed, and I could feel the heat coursing through my veins. It was the most pain I’d felt in my life, and I couldn’t even finish the pot. I gave the other bottle to my brother with a warning. A few days later, he informed me that the competition was off.

As a side note, when the Carolina Reaper was invented in 2013, my brother sent me an email saying, “Competition back on?” I laughed and declined because I was off that tip by then. I wanted flavor with my spice, and when it’s that hot, you can’t taste anything but the heat. Da Bomb in particular was nasty. It was nothing but heat, and it wasn’t even good heat. It was acrid and vinegary, and there was no pleasure with the pain.

Why am I mentioning it? First, because it’s hot sauce related. Two, because it’s on the show. I think it was the hottest at one point. It was definitely second for a time, and now it’s third. This is purely in terms of Scoville scale (hotness), and Da Bomb is 135,600 Scoville units. The current hottest one is The Last Dab which was created by Hot Ones. It sits at 2,000,000+ Scoville units. That’s nearly 20 times hotter than Da Bomb. However, on the show, Da Bomb is the one that gets most people. It punches them in the gut, and as Sean says, if they can handle Da Bomb, they can handle the last two.

Da Bomb is one reason I love this show because I can actually relate to what the guests are going through. Plus, I can gauge how they’re actually doing with the wings. It’s not the only reason, though. Sean is actually a really good interviewer. He was rough when he started, but by now, he has it down to a science. More than one interviewee has complimented him on his skills. He does a deep dive on their lives and comes up with esoteric tidbits that aren’t known at all. Many are genuinely pleased by it, probably because they have to do the regular junket gauntlet so goddamn often.

Here’s the thing about Sean. He’s an excellent interviewer because he’s very empathetic. I didn’t realize this when I first started watching, but recently, I noticed that he mirrored his guests. If they did vegan wings and almond milk, so did he. That’s basic, but it goes even deeper than that. If they don’t drink water/milk, he won’t either. If they eat only one bite of each wing, so does he. In the early days (which I didn’t watch until later), he was more overt about it. One guest dumped water over his head so Sean followed his lead.

I’ve been watching episodes compulsively, and he actually said in one that he mirrored guests. He does it so naturally, it’s hard to spot unless you’re actually looking for it. Psychologically, we make people feel comfortable by mirroring them. Crudely, if they lean forward, you lean forward. If they nod their heads, you do as well. If they cross their legs, you do it, too. Again, not overtly, but subtly.

That’s the basics of what makes him a great interviewer, but he takes it a step forward. He performs empathetic listening and goes where the guest takes him. In addition, just the set-up of the show makes for great answers. It’s really hard to present a polished exterior when you have tears streaming down your face and snot running from your nose. Anyway, he’s willing to answer questions frankly from the guests, and he’ll go down an interesting side route if the guest presents the opportunity.

I’ve seen people laugh; I’ve seen people cry–I’ve seen a lot of people cry; I’ve seen people hiccup uncontrollably. People touching their eyes with burning fingers. Shouting at the top of their lungs. Crying for their mothers. It’s an amazing reaction, and it’s interesting to see who reacts how. It’s funny, though, because there have been episodes I’ve turned off because I just can’t fuck with the guest for whatever reason. Not the ones who don’t want to be there but are reluctantly coaxed along the way. More the ones who are trying just a bit too hard to be funny–really annoying. Eddie Huang thought he would thwart the system by going backwards, which did not go well for him. Bobby Lee shit his brains out. Aubrey Plaza shot milk out her nose. Well, more to the point, she snorted it up her nose like a Neti pot (and Sean followed suit) before shooting it back out again.

The other thing about Sean is that he takes such care with each guest. He encourages them when they’re struggling, and he bolsters them up when they seem to be flagging. He makes sure that they don’t touch their eyes with their sauced fingers. He swears like a motherfucker, but he’s so unfailingly positive. Seriously. He’s down to earth and caring. He’s like the perfect boyfriend except in an interview situation.

I love this show, and I can’t really say why. I mean, I articulated some of the reasons in this post, but it’s more than everything I’ve just written. There’s just something about it that draws me back time and time again. Here are five of my favorites (besides Alexa Chung, which I posted above) in no particular order: Ken Jeong, Idris Elba, Maisie Williams, Aubrey Plaza, and Hasan Minhaj. Oh, and Paul Rudd was fucking hilarious as he always is. Very disarming.

I don’t know why some of these people go on the shows. Don’t get me wrong. Some are fans who are excited about being on the show, but there are others who clearly don’t know what the show is/don’t want to be on it. Most of them, however, are won over by the end. Many of them had said that it was such an enjoyable interview in a tone of surprise. Granted, they were usually riding the hot sauce high, but they really enjoyed themselves despite the hot sauce.

The basic formula goes like this. They start easy with Sriracha or the equivalent, and there are jokes, yo. Some come in cocky, saying it ain’t no big thing. They eat one or two wings and are very pleased with themselves. “This isn’t so bad,” they say to themselves. “I can do this no problem.” Sean will smile enigmatically and say, “Get back to me on wing ten” or “We’ll remember that later.” Depending on the guest, they start getting uncomfortable around the middle. Most make it to five or six with little problem. The ones who don’t are entertaining as fuck, but most of them keep their cool until the middle wings. Then, seven is a big ramp up, and eight is the motherfucking Da Bomb. That’s when people lose their shit, and it’s the best.

Weirdly, nine and ten usually aren’t as bad, and my theory is twofold. One, Da Bomb is just that bad. It’s not meant to be a sauce that is poured on something–it’s an accoutrement, an accessory, a little dab will do you. By the end, they are out of their minds and in pain, but also exhilarated. I don’t know why I’m addicted to this show, but as long as they keep producing them, I’ll keep watching them. Oh! The other thing is that many of the guests who come on who have seen the other episodes talk about how they thought other guests were mugging it up, but it really is just that hot. Another interesting thing. The first season was all rappers (and there still are plenty). It’s been interesting to watch the show grow, and I hope it goes on forever.

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