by Lea Veloso
On YouTube’s currently trending page, it’s almost inevitable to see a thumbnail of a celebrity in pain with a hot sauce bottle in the background. The first ten seconds of a “Hot Ones” episode display a celebrity cursing, often in tears, trying to power through the heat. Produced by Complex Media and First We Feast, the viral hit web-series Hot Ones has claimed the tongues of many beloved celebrities like DJ Khaled, Key and Peele, and, recently, Chrissy Teigen. Hosted by Sean Evans, this weekly show is structured differently than the average interview by integrating a hot wing eating competition along with intriguing and juicy questions.
The celebrity is given the challenge of eating ten different wings slathered in hot sauce, each increasing in Scoville heat units as the video goes on. After each wing is eaten, Evans asks direct questions to the challenger. The interview is full of invasive, complex, but appropriate questions from hidden histories and intense research. For example, Evans may dig up information on the background of Instagram stories with families, as seen in the episode with Chrissy Teigen, or dissect details of where they were pre-stardom as seen with restaurateur Guy Fieri. The pressure is on for the competitor to keep their poise and complete their goal of demolishing all ten wings. Some keep their pain inside, like Natalie Portman who wanted her glass of milk with fine liquor. Others express their pain in vociferous ways, like Terry Crews who spent half of the video holding his tears in and finally let out a thunderous yell when Evans asked him for his favorite power quote from his previous works.
Evans is a personable figure as a host, a former freelance journalist before finally settling down at Complex Media. He sits down with his challenger and through the 130 videos, he powers through the wings and eats with his competitors. According to the LA Times, Evans built up a tolerance to spicy foods in his youth when his father would regularly give him spicy food and with the success of Hot Ones, he has garnered fame as a spice eating champion. His calm attitude contrasts the contestant. He doesn’t hunger for the answer to come out of a celebrity; rather, he waits patiently and laughs as if he is with an audience. He doesn’t shame the contestant when they struggle to come up with a coherent answer while exhaling fiery breaths, and he keeps up the conversation as if they were just friends at a dining table making fun of each other.
The striking feature of the show is the signature “Last Dab.” Once a competitor devours all nine wings, Evans asks if they would like to partake in an extra challenge on the hottest of wings. The notorious wing is encrusted with a concoction made specifically for the show, appropriately named “The Last Dab,” which is measured at two million Scoville heat units. Evans warns the celebrity that they don’t have to add another slab of the hottest sauce, but they might as well do so in the last minutes of body and tongue torture. It is a hilarious attempt at subtle hazing since the celebrity is watched by the cult following subscribers of First We Feast and their fans who will root for them as they prevail through the challenge.
Only ten people have not completed the challenge and are inducted into the Hot Ones Hall of Shame, among them are Taraji P. Henson, DJ Khaled, and Comedian Ricky Gervais. As a reward for those who were brave enough to eat all of the ten wings, Evans offers the winner a thirty-second promotion for their upcoming projects. It often throws off the challenger as this somewhat lacklustre prize after a process that put them through agony for twenty-five minutes. A constant haze of wheezing, coughing, and tender sore throats echo throughout each promo, a montage that completes the video. In a platform where ridiculous challenges have prevailed into viral hits, there is a sense of truth that adds to the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing people in a pain that all of us have encountered through some sort of gustatory agony and leaves the viewer hungry for more.