Hot Ones, a cheap YouTube show, has been competing for 15 seasons with the talk shows of the great channels. Its host is no illustrious heir to David Letterman — legend of US late night shows — but his most recent guest was none other than Matt Damon, and the most-watched episode has already totaled 93 million times. What is your secret? A very spicy sauce.
The creators’ idea was to make an entertainment talk show, “but it would be good”. It is well known that the United States loves its celebrities, although it likes them even more when they are off the red carpet, in those moments when ordinary people can identify with their idols. So Chris Schonberger, director of YouTube channel First We Feast, thought it would be a great idea if during the chat —well prepared, with complex questions— actors, actresses, musicians and chefs ate 10 chicken wings whose stinging, because of the sauces, grew until it reached two million units on the scale of Scoville. To give you an idea, this is the fourth most aggressive pepper in the world. No actor, however talented, is able to control their reactions to such an experience.
The last ingredient in the recipe for success was the presenter. Schonberger proposed to Sean Evans, a bald white man, then 30, that he take over the program. Bingo. Evans, voted best presenter this year at the Daytime Emmy — the award for daytime television productions — worked perfectly, thanks to the fact that he managed to remain unflappable while eating the same spicy wings as his guests. He presses them with delicious affability to respond when they cry, spit, curse and even suck milk through their nostrils to try to calm the burning.
It sounds pretty far-fetched, and in a way it is, but the conversation is interesting, and the humanity and spontaneity resulting from the encounter, even more so. So far, 200 celebrities have accepted the challenge, leaving unique moments in popular culture. In the United States, before the pandemic, around 500 series were produced and 300 reality shows per annum. Any content that manages to raise its head in this crowd is already a wonder. If you do this without a considerable budget, then it borders on the miracle.
The famous and temperamental cook Gordon Ramsay, who has 16 Michelin stars under his belt, was one of the guests. He said that it was his children who convinced him to participate. He started, faithful to his craft, criticizing the quality of the wings, while narrating little things about the programs Kitchen Nightmares and MasterChef. The man who made television fame by rudely tearing up half-UK kitchens ended up begging to go to the bathroom — which he did — and confessing that he hadn’t cried so much since the funeral of food critic Adrian Anthony Gill. Finally, it demonstrated its vulnerability.
With actors and actresses something peculiar happens. Evans faces people who for work reasons are constantly defying their own will. Disciplined professionals who learn to dance ballet in six months and who lose or gain pounds to get a role. Most, moreover, are extremely competitive. They usually arrive at the program with airs of superiority and do not consider surrender: there is a list of the “shame corridor” for those who give up eating the 10 wings, and the vast majority are men. Actor Shia LaBeouf, the bad boy from Hollywood, dared Evans to put even more hot sauce on the little wings he was going to eat, to taste…something. She ended up shaking, crying and admitting that Hot Ones “it’s a real program” and it doesn’t use “tomato sauce to fool people”.
The success of the show, which currently doesn’t need advertisers thanks to the sale of the hot sauces its producers make, reached a milestone this year in the entertainment industry. The program Saturday Night Live, a humor institution in the United States, made a sketch parodying the Hot Ones. Comedian Mikey Day played Evans, and Maya Rudolph played Beyoncé, where the music diva succumbed, completely sweaty, to the burning of her wings and failed to answer questions. Many of those interviewed do the same, claiming they can no longer focus on anything but relieving the sting. When this happens, the production offers milk, rice, beer or whatever is needed. Nothing really seems to work.
O Hot Ones it got to the point that it already has a television version, it became game show and partnered with Reebok to create a special line of sneakers. It’s something like the American dream of youtubers, although its creators have followed an independent path on the platform. It started as a five-minute space and now has guests, like Justin Timberlake, who are half an hour live. His two greatest achievements were to demonstrate that you can compete on equal terms with industry giants when you have a quality product, and that Charlize Theron is from another planet. The award-winning actress has not shed a single tear.
Support news production like this. Subscribe to EL PAÍS for 30 days for 1 US$
sign up on here to receive the daily newsletter of EL PAÍS Brasil: reports, analyses, exclusive interviews and the main information of the day in your e-mail, from Monday to Friday. sign up also to receive our weekly newsletter on Saturdays, with highlights of coverage for the week.