Caution! This article contains spoilers for series one of Too Hot To Handle.
I’m not gonna say Netflix knew a quarantine was coming, but I will say their new show about people who can’t touch each other is extremely convenient. Too Hot To Handle follows in the footsteps of The Circle and Love Is Blind as part of the new take-away-one-important-aspect-of-dating reality show formula, but to the extreme. Arriving on a beach in Mexico, the cast of tanned and ripped singles are ready to mingle, until a sentient AI speaker named Lana drops a horrifying rule: they can’t have sex. In fact, they can’t do anything close to it. Kissing, masturbating, and all other types of physical intimacy are banned, and will automatically subtract serious money from the $100,000 (just under £80,000) pot one lucky person (or couple) is hoping to win at the end of the experiment. Let the games begin — but not that kind.
Your first question about this all might and should be “why?” The purpose of the experiment isn’t just to watch a bunch of sexually frustrated people get mad at each other on the beach (that’s just part of it). The show specifically collected a group of singles who are in serious need of reality check. After one-too-many meaningless flings, it’s time for them to learn how to settle down and form real connections...or pay the price.
However, there are still so many more questions that need answering after binging the entire season that can only be answered by the two biggest success stories from the series. Rhonda Paul and Francesca Farago ended up forming genuine romantic relationships with contestants Sharron Townsend and Harry Jowsey, respectively, after a lifetime of fuckboy and fuckgirlery. They may have conquered the experiment, but getting there wasn’t easy. While it’s been over a year since Too Hot To Handle filmed, it’s still one of the wildest — and weirdest — experiences of their lives.
Refinery29: What kind of show did they originally tell you they were filming?
Francesca: “I was basically told that it was somewhere very tropical, very warm, [and a] beautiful location. So that alone sold me, and then they told me that there was going to be a lot of attractive people. I was just going into it with an open mind hoping that I would leave it having met someone that could potentially be a future boyfriend.”
Rhonda : “I went thinking it was going to be like a Real World scenario. We're living in the house, they got a bunch of hot people, girls, guys.”
Everyone was extremely attractive. We [were] in the sun. It was a recipe for sex.
What was going through your heads in that moment when you learned the premise?
Francesca: “I wanted to get the hell out of there. Everyone was extremely attractive. We [were] in the sun. It was a recipe for sex. So when that was all ripped away, we were just very confused. I was scared. I think I cried.”
Rhonda: “My mind kind of just went blank when I heard it and I was just like, Okay, that's fine, I'm competitive. I got this. Mentally trying to tell myself it's going to be okay.”
What did you do on the beach when the show wasn’t filming?
Francesca: “Depending on the day, we just had to find ways to entertain ourselves, whether that was playing in the pool or having deeper conversations, or plotting something evil.”
Rhonda: “A lot of swimming. Working on our bodies, talking, getting to know each other because there's no other outlet. I loved it. They took phones, I said, Here you go. I don't like the thing anyways.”
What was your favourite workshop?
Francesca: “It was the Shabari, the rope challenge. Going into that I was devastated that I was paired with [Harry] I was not happy with her, but going through that workshop with him made me realise that we are here for a specific reason and there's no point to hold on to any pettiness.”
Rhonda: “The most meaningful [to me] is the workshop where we have to write on our bodies about how people view [us] and we had to wash those away.”
What was Lana like?
Francesca: “She either had your back and helped you out or she skewered you. There was no in between. She was a sneaky little devil. I just think that [Alexa and Siri] are all watching me now. I don't trust anyone anymore. She's planning my next relationship and she's listening to me talk to my friends, I know it.”
Rhonda: “When [Lana] talks you're just like, Oh Lord, what did we do? What happened? What is she going to say? She was making us learn but not just giving us all the answers.”
What did you think of the twist?
Francesca: “Of course I wanted Harry and I to win together cause we thought we had developed the most out of everyone that was there. But by the end of it, I was there for the purpose of the group. There were certain people that I don't think necessarily deserve to win, but it was a group effort and we were all there as a team.”
Rhonda: “I was shocked. I did not know how it was going to go down. [But] everybody grew in such a different way, it was hard to say that everyone didn't deserve it. It was the right thing to have everyone get a piece of the pie.”
Do you think the experiment worked?
Francesca: “I definitely feel like I'm a different person coming out of that retreat. I was more of a hothead. I didn't really think my actions had consequences. I've learned more about dating in general. Like don't necessarily go into a relationship with just the physical first because that's not going to get you anywhere.”
Rhonda: “I have definitely seen a difference in my everyday life. A friend of mine, when I came back, the first thing he said to me was, ‘You different.’ He was like, ‘You're acting different, you're talking a little different, what's going on with you?’ I've grown as a person.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.