This Looks Terrible! Are You Hot?
The notorious 2003 reality competition Are You Hot? was less a conventional reality show than a ghoulish, Black Mirror-like social experiment to test the depths of the viewing public’s superficiality and obsession with appearances above all else. Would audiences be shameless and soulless enough to support a show where hunks and sex bombs who embody our culture’s impossible beauty standards are paraded in front of an expert panel, a hooting and leering in-studio audience and an in-home crowd possibly masturbating furiously and judged solely on the basis of their physical attractiveness?
Was the problem with beauty pageants, ultimately, that they put too much importance on personality and community service instead of focussing monomaniacally on the only thing that really matters in life: looking exactly like what society angrily demands women, and to a much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much lesser extent, men, look like.
Are You Hot?’s idiotic, hateful and ultimately deeply misanthropic premise puts it in an impossible place when it comes to race. If the show doesn’t feature enough African-Americans or POC or if its contestants of color get eliminated early then it risks looking fundamentally racist. Focus too intently on race, however, and you risk charges of fetishizing the bodies and faces and sexuality of non-whites. Oh, and also there’s no way you can stage a competition where two white judges and Lorenzo Lamas ogle and leer at the bodies of nearly naked black men and women, judging them purely on purely physical terms on a scale of 0 to 10 without it feeling like a goddamn slave auction.
It’s almost as if a show with this premise never should have seen the light of day.
Are You Hot’s suspiciously non-hot, very covered up host JD Roberto establishes the show’s unapologetically sleazy, leering tone when he brags, “This is the show that cuts to the chase. You’re not going to hear any bad versions of Aretha Franklin songs. You will not be forced to endure any mediocre stand-up comedy because we don’t care if you can dance, sing or tell jokes. All we want to know is one thing: Are you hot?”
Our judges in this cursed endeavors are supermodel and mother to Stacy Rachel Hunter, designer to the stars Randolph Duke and second-generation international super hunk Lorenzo Lamos.
Hunter is clumsily shoe-horned into the Paula Abdul role of the soft touch who would really love to be able to give every contestant a 10 for body, face and sex appeal (the three criteria on which the contestants are judged) but just can’t, because to dole out overly high scores to, say, a woman with insufficiently large breasts, or a man with skinny lower legs would compromise the integrity of Are You Hot? Hunter takes her job very seriously, with a dourness that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.
For example, when Hunter clearly wants to tell a gorgeous, buxom Latin beauty her cosmetically altered lips look all fucked up, she stumblingly blurts, “There’s something about the lip area that I am not sure about.”
Duke is even more awkwardly cast as the sassy gay fashion guy, an archetype our culture has given a lot of leeway to judge the bodies of women, and judge them harshly, without coming off as misogynistic creeps. That leaves Lamas and his “Flaw finder”, a laser pointer that, despite its name, is generally used to highlight a contestant’s flawless torso or perfectly toned thighs rather than highlight some manner of ghastly imperfection, like bad teeth or an overly skinny body.
Are You Hot? begins with a pre-judging round where a bevy of weirdly interchangeable hunks and beauties from “Hot Zone 1”, identified only by their name, home and occupation saunter before the stone-faced judges and an appropriately horny in-studio audience and are instantly deemed “Hot” or “Not” in a bizarre, manic frenzy of cold-hearted judgment and frenzied exploitation.
For extra grossness, in between judging we’re treated to teary testimonials from what are described as “Are You Hot Casualties.” Now, when I think of the word “casualty” I think of people who’ve died in wars or fires or the movie Casualties of War where the title gets its dual meaning from Michael J. Fox’s character being so traumatized by his fellow soldiers gang-raping a Vietnamese woman in front of him that he is, in his own way, a casualty of war. I do not think of aspiring models not making it past the pre-judging round on Are You Hot?
Openly weeping after getting cut early, a gorgeous Are You Hot? “casualty” named Bettina reasons, “I don’t want to cry on TV but it’s fine. I know I’m hot. All the guys love me in Chicago. That’s the only thing that matters.”
That, in this weird world, qualifies as a meaningful consolation: sure, Bettina was coldly eliminated on a sadistic reality competition for not being hot enough but the dudes where she lives can’t stop hitting on her, and that, ultimately, is what matters, not inner beauty or strength or character or any of that shit.
We then move to the first round of judging. In a loving tribute to earlier parades of seedy exploitation, we begin with the swimwear competition. The contestants are allowed to talk, but not too much, as it is imperative that they be judged by the firmness of their abs and the magnificence of their cleavage and not their brains.
The contestants only have time and space for a single one-liner that will illustrate their sex appeal without trying too hard. Contestants brag about being “all natural” or “naughty” or their determination to win this meaningless popularity at all costs with a deeply unsexy, deeply awkward self-consciousness that suggests that even people who want to win something called Are You Hot? realize, on some level, what a thoroughly disgusting and reprehensible proposition the show really is.
Lamas, who has the poor judgment and terrible character to really get into his role as judge isn’t really judging the female contestants so much as he’s engaged in the dark art of “negging.” That’s a Pick-Up Artist term for the cynical practice of insulting a desirable woman you want to sleep with in playful ways so that she will be so insecure and desperate to prove her desirability that she will have sex with the pick-up artist.
It’s not just Lamas who is acting disconcertingly like a Pick-Up Artist. The show itself is a massive exercise in negging: take objectively sexy, beautiful gorgeous people from all over the country, make them compete for your approval and validation based exclusively on their physical attractiveness, devote endless airtime to dissecting minute flaws and then finally send all but one monstrously insecure contestant home for the unforgivable transgression of not being hot enough to qualify as the sexiest person in the country.
It’s impossible to go on television and rank the faces, bodies and sex appeal of desperate strangers on a 0 to 10 scale without coming off like a huge asshole. The judges are not quite as awful as they could be but that basically only means that they find ten different ways to say “your boobs aren’t big enough”, including fumbling references to a body “being too thin to carry all that sex appeal” and an admonition for one contestant to “Go to McDonald’s and eat some cheeseburgers" without the exact words “Your boobs aren’t big enough” ever technically being uttered.
Watching the pilot of Are You Hot? Made me feel dirty. It made me feel gross. It made me feel like I needed a shower, and then to reexamine my life and the choices I’ve made and the steps that somehow led to me choosing to see Are You Hot? of my own free will.
I take some odd solace, however, in knowing that a public stupid and superficial enough to make a show called Are You Hot? a depressing reality also had the good judgment to make it a huge flop. Are You Hot? never should have existed in the first place but at least it died a quick, richly merited death and today stands as a uniquely dire nadir in a reality competition field already overflowing with lows that don’t just reflect poorly on the often seedy and exploitative genre but on humanity as a whole.
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