Imagine a world populated by beautiful, uninhibited people letting it all hang out. A world where the men look as if they’ve been chiseled out of marble and the women are sensual beauties. Now, imagine a reality show where contestants don’t have to do anything. No mangled versions of “Like A Virgin.” No feeble stand-up comedy. No eating live beetles. Put the two together, add equal parts American Idol and the Miss America pageant, and you’ve got Are You Hot? The Search For America’s Sexiest People, an insipid new reality show from the creators of The Bachelor and High School Reunion.
Each week, 32 of the aforementioned beautiful people parade their wares before a panel of three celebrity judges, who dutifully, and somewhat cruelly, offer their assessments based on face, body, and “sex appeal.” Gain the judges’ approval and you go onto the next round, a chance at $50,000 and the title of “The World’s Sexiest Person.” If you’re rejected — as announced by a giant blinking sign that says “NOT” — you have to live with the fact that maybe you are not as hot as you think you are.
Those who deride Are You Hot? for being shallow and demeaning are missing the point. Are You Hot? doesn’t pretend to be anything more the meat market that it is. Such candor may seem refreshing (even if every other reality show makes the same basic claim), but Are You Hot? makes the fatal mistake of being dull. Where it might have been two hours of provocative fun, Are You Hot? instead manages to make overt displays of sexuality boring.
Perhaps the problem with Are You Hot? is that it’s too simple-minded even for reality TV. Parading a group of half-naked contestants in front of a panel of judges certainly lacks the emotional weight of Survivor and Joe Millionaire, reality shows that ask us to feel connected with the contestants. We need to have some stake in reality tv people. Otherwise, why should we watch?
We get none of that on Are You Hot?. Its format is painfully repetitive: there’s a limit on how many fabulous bodies one can look at in the allotted time, particularly since they have nothing to do but stand there and look “hot.” After a while, the contestants pretty much all look alike. There’s no reason for us to care about any of them.
The first hour of the premiere took us through the selection process and was subtitled, appropriately, “Countdown To Hotness.” I never learned this in geography class, but the United States is broken into four distinct “hot zones” and the show’s producers set up casting calls in cities in each of these hot zones, judging literally thousands of hopefuls based on their “hotitude,” eventually narrowing the list to 32 per hot zone. Mercifully, we do not meet all of these wannabes. Judicious editing allows us to become briefly acquainted with just a few of them.
For the most part, they are buff, tanned people with names like Giselle and Maryleigh and Blake. Some of them even speak, mainly about their hotness, emphasizing that their breasts and lips are totally, absolutely real. We meet Simone, a tugboat skipper from Seattle, who says, “In front of the camera is where I feel the more comfortablest. To compete nationally would be the most funnest experience.” We also meet George, a waiter from Illinois, who says, in all sincerity, that he gets “turned on” sexually when he looks at himself in the mirror. Unfortunately, neither George nor Simone made the cut to the lucky 32.
From here, it’s on to Hollywood, where the remaining contestants are judged before a studio audience by our celebrity experts, apparently chosen because they didn’t make the final cut of Celebrity Mole: fashion designer Randolph Duke; former supermodel Rachel Hunter; and “international heartthrob” Lorenzo Lamas, who comes across as the Simon Cowell of the bunch. Much to Hunter’s performative chagrin, Lamas is fond of pointing out bodily flaws with a laser pointer. He leers, he sneers, he wears yellow-tinted glasses. He may offer the odd compliment or two, but for the most part, he is all business when it comes to judging other people’s imperfections.
For her part, Hunter makes no attempt to conceal her contempt for both Lamas and the frat-party-at-the-Super-Bowl studio audience, who at times zealously boo her assessments of contestants. Hunter looks like she’d rather be anywhere else than on that panel. Only Duke comes out this thing unscathed. Cool, funny, and professional, he seems to be in on the joke.
In the premiere episode, this panel judges the 32 selected from the Northeast hot zone, trimming the field to 16, each of whom is judged again in the swimsuit competition. Contestants receive number scores and eventually, eight men and women are chosen, based on the judges’ final score. A telephone and internet poll from viewers determine the two men and two women from each hot zone who will go on the semi-finals.
By then, the slow pacing has taken its toll: we couldn’t care less who makes the last rounds. Since we don’t get to “know” any contestant except, perhaps, as a body, the outcome has none of the suspense of a Survivor-like Tribal Council. Are You Hot? just runs out of steam. Perhaps because of this petering out, the ratings for the premiere were underwhelming, finishing a distant third, behind CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Will & Grace on NBC. Maybe two hours was too much to ask to keep viewers’ attention. Maybe it will help that future episodes of the show run only an hour.
Still, Are You Hot? makes one undeniable point, however repetitively, inviting viewers to indulge in a favorite pastime: ogling pretty people, particularly those who won’t challenge us with brains and talent. (Why do you think Ben Affleck is such a big star?) And so, we might look forward to a second season, perhaps titled Are You Hot? 2: The Search For Even More Of America’s Sexiest People. But count me out. It’s back to the Food Network, where I’m at my most comfortablest.