Hot Ones: Inside the unique mechanism of celebrity interviews in the west

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Every human being has different emotional attributes and reactions, and these vary from person to person. Not everyone can showcase their own vulnerabilities and discomfort in front of the world - although that dynamic has been changed a bit, with the emergence and rapid globalization of social media platforms. However, there are people who have earned supreme status in society because of their talents, dedication, hardship and favour from their fortune. Celebrities, as societies address them, are at the focal point of human curiosity and interest in every society - and only a handful of skilled interviewers or talk shows can properly connect with that sweet spot between the hidden regularities of the celebrities, and the curiosity of their audiences.

There are many talk shows running gloriously in the United States, the country which has been modelled and followed as the standard by most of the countries. All the late-night bonanzas of the Connan’s-Kimmel’s-Fallon’s-Colbert’s-Noah’s; the regular television networks’ news shows in the morning, major weekly shows on tv and more, have garnered massive popularity among the global audiences over the years. Certainly, there had been reality shows and other pop culture talks where the Oscar-Emmy-Grammy-Billboard and box office winning or nominated celebrities appear and share their tidbits with the presenters for their admirers and fans, however, the format seemed monotonous and less-spicy to many.

Literally taking the spicy part into serious consideration, American writer-producer Christopher Schonberger came up with the idea of creating a unique interview show for YouTube, that will feature celebrity interviews. Okay, so basically the same thing - what is different in the idea and how it is correlated with the word ‘spicy’? Well, the idea was that it would be a talk show, but not an ordinary one. Introducing a very unique concept to the world actively present on the internet, Schonberger assigned Sean Evans, a Broadcast Journalism graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and interviewer for New York-based Complex Magazine - and created a show that would showcase how celebrities can handle spicy chicken wings mixed up with hot sauces, and answer vital questions. A legendary show was born, and the rest is history.

With its 15 successful seasons starting from 2015, garnering 8.4/10 ratings in IMDb and attracting viewers all over the world - Hot Ones became one of the most-watched and loved interview shows on the internet, and this article is going to discover its successful journey.

The backstory of the beginning

New York City-based American media and entertainment company for youth culture Complex Media from the Complex Networks launched First We Feast in 2012, a food culture blog founded and edited by former Time Out New York food editor Chris Schonberger. This new blog website grew in popularity, and it began to include interviews and cooking guides in its content. It also started as an online food-culture magazine and later expanded with its YouTube channel on March 1, 2014 - which became known for producing a number of food-related video series including The Curry Shop, The Burger Show, Burger Scholar Sessions and of course, the Hot Ones.

After the beginning of the First We Feast YouTube channel, Sean Evans and Schonberger met to discuss methods to make celebrity interview shows more fascinating and less clichéd, which led to the creation of a unique interview session that will feature Evans and his interviewee eating ten chicken wings or vegan replacements for the vegetarians or vegans, each prepared with a fiery sauce that gets hotter and unbearably spicy. Defining its true colour with its own tagline "the show with hot questions and even hotter wings," as Evans says at the start of each episode - the first season of Hot Ones began on March 12 in 2015, with its first-ever guest Tony Yayo, an American rapper.

Format

The set design of the show, which remained pretty much the same from 2015 till the Covid-19 outbreak, is an ideal and effective example of simplicity. A room with black curtains in the background, a mystic spotlight setup styled as an interrogation cell, and a table for two with individual platters containing chicken wings, the mighty sauces and water alongside milk for Evans and his guest or guests of the night. The sauces, as the main stars of the show, have pretty fancy names and reputations. The first sauce introduced is ‘Sriracha’, which has a Scoville value (the pungency or heat level test, named after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville) of 2,200. The final sauce (as of season 4) has been various versions of the Hot Ones and the hot sauce boutique Heatonist-produced sauce "The Last Dab," each with a Scoville rating of between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000+ units. Since Season 4, The show's practice of Evans and his guests "dabbing" each final wing with an extra drop of the appropriate hot sauce is referred to as "The Last Dab". The guests are encouraged to place a minuscule amount of ‘The Last Dab’ on the final chicken wing as the "tradition" of the show dictates; they are told it is not essential, but most guests choose to do so even if they are already sweating from the preceding wings' heat.

Now regarded as one of the most talented interviewers in the world by many of his renowned celebrity guests on the show, Evans asks interview questions after each of the wings. He has gradually earned respect over the years from both the guests and the viewers not only for his proficiency and intellectual questioning capability in celebrity interviews, but also for eating extremely hot sauces like the Carolina Reaper pepper, which holds the title for hottest pepper by Guinness World Records. As per Evans, eating spicy food as a child eventually build up his tolerance level against hot foods at this level. According to an article published on the Verge, Evans isn’t particularly familiar with any of the sauces on the lineup until his first taping every season.

As the wings become spicier, the guest usually starts to realize and project the consequences of eating the spicier wings, and the interview shifts away toward the effort to finish the wings. To counterbalance the effect of the hot sensation on their mouths and throats, guests are given glasses of water and milk. The standard format features both Evans and one guest eating ten wings each, but in some episodes where there are two guests (such as the episodes featuring Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele), five wings are given to each guest. Guest who successfully finishes all ten wings are allowed to promote their upcoming projects, however, the failures are still afforded this opportunity but are also added to the show's Hall of Shame, although it had been a less-practised thing on the show as most of the celebrities have successfully finished their gruesome journey in the painful world of spicy hot sauces.

Seasons and noted guests

As of this writing, a total of 15 successful seasons of Hot Ones have aired on the First We Feast YouTube channel, containing a total of 228 regular and 6 special episodes. Season 2 catered the highest number (40) episodes among all the seasons. When the Covid-19 outbreak jeopardized the regular studio format of the show, season 13 began on June 25, 2020, following a virtual interview format. The show again returned to its studio with its season 15 on May 27, 2021 - this time with two tables instead of 1, for ensuring adequate social distancing among Evans and his guests.

Initially started with musicians, comedians and comparatively less-known faces in the entertainment industry - now the show has reached its pinnacle and became a must-try for many celebrities. The unique plug-in opportunity that Evans provides for the new or upcoming projects of the famed guests, have got highly appreciated over the years as the show boosts up the participators with the feeling of concurring their discomfort or fear against spicy foods and hot sauces. Musicians including DJ Khaled, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, John Mayer, Wiz Khalifa, Dua Lipa, Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, The Jonas Brothers, Lorde and more; celebrated actors including Idris Alba, Drew Barrymore, Shia LaBeouf, Michael B Jordan, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Rudd, Kristen Stewart, Daniel Radcliffe, Will Ferell, Margot Robbie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brie Larson, James Franco, Matthew McConaughey, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Matt Damon and more; world-famous YouTubers like Marques Brownlee and Casey Neistat; wrestlers including Steve Austin, Sasha Banks, Chris Jericho, Ronda Rousey and even ‘The Undertaker’ Mark Calaway; comedians including Trevor Noah, Hasan Minhaj, Kevin Hart, Terry Crews, Gabriel Iglesias, Shaq, Lilly Singh and more, food enthusiasts including Padma Lakshmi, Adam Richman and even the most known chef in today’s world, Gordon Ramsey - these are just some of the names that appeared and highly acclaimed the show, and its well-researched questionnaire that Evans asks with his bonafide talent and humour while chugging the spiciest wings. To date, the top viewed episode is Gordon Ramsay’s one, with more than 92 million views.

With its unique style of presentation within the simplicity of conducting interviews on a friendly dinner and some deeper, personal question-answer sessions, Hot Ones undoubtedly became a YouTube delight for many viewers across all the regions in the world, including Bangladesh as well. "The show with hot questions and even hotter wings" has also been setting new bars in the late-night talk show world, which Sean Evans is casually excelling with its every new season, humanizing the celebrities and delighting fans around the world on YouTube.

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