One question loomed for the producers of Too Hot to Handle season 2: “How do we step this up?” It was that mystery, EP Amelia Brown tells Refinery29, that was bandied about during pre-production meetings. The competition series/elaborate self-help ruse had a breakout first season on Netflix last spring, launching a new stable of Instagram influencers and serving as many viewers’ lifeline to pop culture during the start of the pandemic. Once Netflix ordered a second season, the minds behind the reality show knew they had to recreate the magic of its predecessor — but with the added obstacle of everyone on Earth knowing all the tricks.
“We need people who are very active, very flirtatious. But [those people] are obviously not going to think the No. 1 show they want to do is one where they’re going to get told by [AI host] Lana that they can’t do anything [sexual],” Brown explains.
The production team came up with a solution — the lie of a fake show called Parties in Paradise to lure cast members. “We never went into huge detail about the actual show. It was like, ‘You’re going to go party around the world. You’re going to go on a boat and island hop. The person who’s the biggest partier is somehow some sort of winner,’” Brown recalls. While production didn’t tell contestants — or “contributors” as Brown calls them — what they would win, producers did hire affable comedian Jeff Dye as a host to quell any questions about the validity of Parties in Paradise.
Still, one star nearly figured it out.
“Marvin Anthony was getting suspicious, thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s this?’” Brown says with a laugh. Then the French model showed up to Turks and Caicos, where Too Hot to Handle season 2 filmed, and saw everyone wearing Parties in Paradise T-shirts. “He was like, ‘It’s gotta be a show. They’ve got T-shirts,’” Brown continues. “We were like, ‘Alright, great. We’ll keep the T-shirts then.’”
While Anthony’s wary instincts are commendable, viewers shouldn’t be surprised the rest of his co-stars completely fell for production's sleight of hand. Parties in Paradise looked very credible this time last year. Multiple publications — including ScreenRant and The Sun — published articles announcing the show and its casting efforts in June 2020. One Love Island star’s PR firm published a recruitment ad. An “insider” told tabloids at the time, “It's in the middle of a bidding war between channels, but it'll end up airing globally — it's huge.”
“If people think other people want something, then they’re interested,” Brown explains pragmatically. “It was like, ‘Alright, we’ll use that very old business analogy and it will entice people more.’”
The right people were enticed, and sexy singles started arriving to party in paradise last fall. As viewers see in Too Hot’s season 2 premiere, the cast immediately embraces the alleged theme of the occasion and is hungry to hookup. Nascent couples and romantic rivalries quickly form,and many cast members prepare to hit the sheets with their comely co-stars before the night ends. Then, professional party pooper Lana appears to block all the fun. Everyone is devastated. For viewers, the switch from Parties in Paradise to Too Hot is swift and merciless. Behind the scenes, the transition wasn’t so speedy.
“No, no, you have to re-sign everybody up to be on the actual show. For legal reasons,” Brown cautions. “They were signed up for one show and then the process begins of going, ‘Please stay.’ But luckily, for series 2, the show had been so fabulous and so well received [last year] … in the back of their mind they're going, ‘Oh hang on, I’m fairly certain this was a really good show. So I think it’s good [for me].’”
Too Hot to Handle was very good to its inaugural cast. Chloe Vietch parlayed her season 1 fame into a chance to compete on The Circle season 2. Francesca Farago became a tabloid staple with 5.4 million Instagram followers. Harry Jowsey appeared in Jamie Lynn Spears’ headline-making Zoey 101 music video, which has over 2 million views.
As anyone who’s seen season 2 knows, the show did go on. Everyone in the cast followed in the footsteps of Veitch, Farago, and Jowsey and remained under the careful eye of Lana in the pursuit of $100,000.
Now, Brown is pondering the fate of Parties in Paradise. “It weirdly is a conversation we’ve had with our development team. It’s like, ‘Hi. Maybe we should make this show,’” she says. “It’d be really fun to make, that’s for sure.”