Netflix's Too Hot to Handle was inspired by iconic Seinfeld episode 'The Contest'
How long can you last without any "self-gratification"? Especially secluded from the rest of society? That's the question Netflix's Too Hot to Handle show developer Laura Gibson asked herself after rewatching the classic Seinfeld episode "The Contest," three years before every single person would be subjected to little to no dating life because of the coronavirus pandemic. Too Hot to Handle is a reality show nearly tailor-made for the pandemic, and it's all thanks to one of the most famous comedy episodes in history.
"They all had to not masturbate for money, and they all cave. I said, there's gotta be a show in there," Gibson tells EW as she walks back through memory lane.
"The Contest" aired during season 4 of the hit NBC sitcom back in 1992. It centered around the main cast, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, making a bet to see who can be the ultimate master of their domain. Too Hot to Handle takes that bet and throws it in a blender with Bachelor in Paradise and Love Island. The show stars 10 prototypes of every wannabe IG model from your high school all put on an island for the chance to win $100,000. The twist? Well, have you ever put a Sim character in a pool and taken out the stairs, and sadistically enjoyed watching them suffer? The show is kinda like that. These are 10 hot men and women who have to avoid getting physical with one another in order to win all of the money. If they don't, the final pot will spiral down to nothing. And, no spoilers, but it definitely gets close.
The show was first pitched to Netflix back in 2017, although they started shooting in March and April of last year. Laura, along with showrunner Viki Kolar and managing director Jonno Richards, had to come up with a way to actually incentivize the contestants to stop touching either other. "We talked about it being like the minibar in a hotel. This is what the peanuts will cost, like that," Kolar said. "$3000 was set for a kiss, and even that took a lot of debate."
The rest of the bill was more of an educated guess. For each base the couples would cross, the producers had to come together to decide how much they purposefully disobeyed the rules. They needed cameras set across the retreat. Assistants, called loggers, were also listening into the audio at all times, a job we don't envy in the slightest.
"One of the loggers told me she became an expert of deciphering audio during sexual activity," Gibson says. "We would say 'keep an eye on those sounds. What time are they doing it? How long are they in the toilet for?'
This became especially tricky during a moment between contestants Francesca and Kelz. After being burned by Harry early in the retreat, Francesca was baiting Kelz into going into the shower with her. Kelz, with the sheer strength of every single human combined, was tempted, but eventually decided not to go in with her.
"No one could believe his level of ability to say no to Francesca, it was beyond," Gibson says.
Eventually, contestants who were obeying were given a watch to tell them that they could break the rules for a short amount of time. These watches, that could light up green, were used as an incentive for the retreat's guests to keep going, that they were actually making progress.
"It's like, I've done my 10,000 steps a day, " Kolar says, comparing the watch to Fitbits. "It's like your little champion."
The producers can't believe their Netflix show is coming out during the pandemic, when not having sex with strangers is almost a given. Before they got off the phone with EW, Kolar said "We could have never predicted this would go out when most 20 to 25-year-olds in the world are going to be suffering from terrible blue balls."