The truth about Too Hot to Handle’s casting call

Netflix has gained a reputation for producing quality reality competition television. Using high production values and incorporating tech into its unscripted TV shenanigans, hit series such as The Circle and Love Is Blind have garnered high praise. Like its predecessors before it, Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle – released in April 2020 — is also making its mark for putting a novel twist on a well-worn genre. 

According to O magazine, the series “positions itself as a social experiment more than a conventional dating show. The show’s goal is to transform these serial dating app swipers into people who are willing to invest time in a relationship — and its method of pursuing that goal is one-of-a-kind.” The only way to win the $100,000 price is to refrain from hooking up with other contestants and to refrain from “self-gratification.” State-of-the-art surveillance tech, in the form of a cheeky Alexa-like AI bot named Lana, keeps everyone honest in a mansion-sized villa in Mexico. What could go wrong, right?

According to show creators Louise Peet and Laura Gibson, the stars of Too Hot to Handle didn’t exactly know what was in store for them during or after their casting call. In fact, they apparently had no idea what the show’s actual premise was until the contest got underway.

Too Hot to Handle's casting call left out one major detail

Which little detail did the casting call for the dating show leave out? The no-touching rule. 

According to Too Hot to Handle‘s creators, the decision to hide the show’s central premise from would-be contestants was purposeful. Creative Director Laura Gibson told Vanity Fair that the casting call only mentioned the vague possibility of a cash reward and the promise of “the hottest vacation ever.” The hands-off gambit was kept tightly under wraps by the production team for months. 

The inspiration for the show drew from an interesting source: Seinfeld, specifically an episode in which George, Elaine, Jerry, and Kramer make a bet to see who can go the longest without masturbating. Too Hot to Handle marries the sitcom’s plot with the culture of dating apps like Tinder. In the era of choosing potential mates or one night stands from afar by swiping left or right on our screens, can we fall in love without physical contact, even when, in a strange inversion, we’re constantly in close contact?

“It seems like people get their dicks out within two messages on Tinder,” Gibson candidly told Vanity Fair. “I was like, Surely love doesn’t have to start with a dick pic.”

The producers of Too Hot to Handle definitely had a type

Those applicants who were ultimately selected for Too Hot to Handle were picked for a very specific set of reasons. According to co-creator Louise Peet, they were young, incredibly attractive, and completely averse to serious relationships. “When their casting tapes came to us, they sang. They were perfect. They fit the bill in terms of their habits, in terms of their love lives and their commitment phobia,” Peet told O magazine.

Peet offered up some specifics on individual contestants. “We knew David was going to be perfect because he always felt like he was the last boyfriend before becoming a husband. Or that Harry had written a list of how many people he’d had sex with on his phone, but he didn’t really know who anyone was.”

With this in mind, the showrunners knew that the cast’s collective personality traits, when combined with the show’s secret premise, would produce the shock factor they wanted for the pilot episode. And it did!

Contestants almost quit after Too Hot to Handle's first episode

The decision to omit Too Hot to Handle‘s entire premise for the purpose of capturing contestants’ responses on-camera almost worked too well. According to O magazine, a few contestants nearly packed up and left on the very first day of shooting. 

“I was shocked. I was upset,” recalled Francesca Farago. “I had already formed a little bit of a connection [with other members of the cast] at that point,” she said. Though “[other people in] the group thought it was hilarious,” Farago described the revelation as traumatizing.

Fellow contestant Sharron Townsend was equally shocked. “You all could have kept me home,” he quipped, exclaiming that he “could’ve done a church retreat at home” if he wanted a vacation sans sexual contact.

In the end, both Farago and Townsend decided to ride it out. “After a day of thinking about it, I realized it was for the best,” Farago said.

We think they made the right choice — if anything, the entire cast of Too Hot to Handle made a more than memorable, binge-worthy experience for the rest of us to gorge on.

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