Imagine yourself on an erotic Eden — an island in Mexico, with barely dressed hot singles running wild.
But here, sex is the forbidden fruit. And instead of God, a cone-shaped Alexa-like device named Lana is calling the shots. If you can keep your hands to yourself, you could walk away a richer, better person. But breaking the rules is so much more fun.
That’s the premise of Netflix’s latest reality show, “Too Hot To Handle,” which premieres Friday. The show plunks 10 sexy singles on a tropical paradise — then informs them that sexual touching of any kind is forbidden. Allegedly, this is supposed to help contestants form emotional bonds without sex getting in the way.
If you fall to temptation, you risk your spot on the island and hurt everyone on it: Every infraction deducts money from a $100,000 prize pot, which successful contestants split at the end of the show. The bigger the bang, the more you lose: a kiss, for example, costs $3,000. Plus, the show doesn’t exactly make it easy: Participants’ willpower is tested in crazy ways, including emotionally charged challenges and honeymoon-suite sleepovers.
“Shocked is an understatement. I was actually depressed,” says contestant Sharron Townsend, of Camden, NJ, of the moment he learned the show’s rules. The keep-it-in-your-pants mandate was announced just hours after the “retreat” started, but Townsend — a wrestling coach, personal trainer and self-professed player — had already locked lips with a lady. “I was like, ‘This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.’ ”
“My initial reaction when I found out the rules was, ‘Get me the hell out of here,’ ” says fellow contestant Francesca Farago, a 26-year-old social-media personality from Vancouver. “I had already formed a connection with someone at that point, and we were already able to get physical, so it was even harder because we had a little taste and it was all ripped away.”
Initially, Townsend and Farago had no interest in changing their behavior — even if it meant pissing off their fellow islanders.
“I knew when the rules were dropped that if I felt like I wanted to kiss someone, I would,” she says.
“I came here broke,” he adds, “so who cares if I leave here broke?”
But the two singles found themselves surprisingly affected by the show’s crazy setups.
“Lana reveals your indiscretions almost immediately,” says Farago, who felt the chill from other contestants when her hookups started draining the prize pot. “In that environment, your consequences kind of slap you in the face.”
Townsend, who is also 26, was moved by the show’s workshops — vulnerability-inducing exercises that relationship experts guide participants through. In one, singles are tasked with practicing shibari, a form of Japanese bondage, as a sort of erotic trust fall.
Townsend — who spends his on-camera introduction bragging about studying gender and feminism in college to learn how to pick up women — really “broke down” during those workshops.
A bad experience with an ex, he says, left him “emotionally closed off.” Before “Too Hot To Handle,” “I would sleep with women before we made it to a date.” But on the island, he decided to work on himself — and even tried to form a hands-off relationship with another contestant.
He and Farago both say they left the island changed.
“It was a big wake-up call,” says Farago. Now, “I tell all my friends, ‘You don’t need to have sex right away.’ ”
Luckily for us locked-down viewers, it took them many, many failed attempts to reach that conclusion.
“We lost tons of money,” Townsend admits.