On the ever-changing, 24-7 digital landscape that we call the internet, there is literally or figuratively no hotter piece of pop-culture property than the phenomenon that is First We Feast’s YouTube interview series Hot Ones.
Created by Chris Schonberger and hosted by Sean Evans, more than 300 of the biggest names in music, TV, film and sports have sat down to talk turkey while struggling to ingest increasingly spicy chicken wings since Tony Yayo was the first guest in 2015.
Since not everyone is a music, TV, film or sports star, First We Feast and the Hot Ones team have come up with up with a number of ways for fans of the series to walk on the wild side including a play-at-home party game and a delivery service offering a version of the streaming show’s spicy challenge. Additionally, as part of a partnership with Marriott Bonvoy, a limited number of members were recently able to redeem a single point on the Marriott Bonvoy Moments platform to take part in a Hot Ones experience hosted by Evans in New York City. InsideHook was in NYC to interview Evans as well as take part in the One Point Moment Drop experience as a guest.
During the experience, Evans walked guests through a tasting of six sauces while going around the room asking trivia questions and answering some that were lobbed his way. Prior to tasting the sauces — Hot Ones Jr. Red (1,000 Scoville heat units), Classic Chili Maple (1,700 SHU), Garlic Fresno (1,800 SHU), Calientes Verde (36,000 SHU), Calientes Rojo (49,000 SHU) and The Last Dab Apollo (2,000,000 SHU) — everyone had the opportunity to arm themselves with everything from celery and cookies to lemon slices and milk in order to fight off the ensuing spice. For those who wanted an added layer of protection, an open bar sat in the corner.
For the first five rounds of the challenge, the alcoholic armor and other spice shields were more of a luxury than a necessity as the wings came in hot, but with more overall flavor than blazing heat. That all changed with The Last Dab Apollo, which came in scorching off of the jump and burned all the way down before setting up residence as a coal-filled chicken coop in the pit of the stomach. There were hiccups. There were tears. And then there was the decision about whether to continue the challenge with a special seventh sauce: The Last Dab Xperience.
Given the nature of the experience, the decision about whether to proceed with The Last Dab Xperience wasn’t really much of a choice at all and it ended up being a fairly painless one. Perhaps it was because of the level of damage the sixth round had just inflicted and the cumulative effect of trying all of the sauces in order, but ingesting the Xperience sauce wasn’t nearly as difficult or painful as the brush with Apollo had been minutes earlier.
Overall, the experience was enjoyable and, although a bit painful at times, would be fun to do again. Hopefully that’s the same way that Evans feels about the interview we conducted with him before the Hot Ones experience…
InsideHook: At this point in your career, how many wings do you eat a year?
Sean Evans: I try to never eat a wing outside of the show. If I am at a restaurant and they come from the kitchen, naturally I’ll try them. But I try to just stick to the show. These days, that would put me at between 350 and 400 wings a year. Over the course of my career doing this, that’s over 3,000. They’re pretty much dead to me off of the show, but I’m more interested in hot sauce than I ever was and I use it in my everyday life more than I ever did. I’ve experienced the way it can take a normal chicken wing and elevate it.
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IH: Have your interview skills or spice tolerance grown more over the course of doing Hot Ones?
SE: I didn’t start the show as a spicy food person or a spicy food expert. It’s just been through doing it that I’ve been able to build my tolerance to where now it’s just a part of my job. I can eat some pretty spicy wings. I’ve gone great lengths in that respect and made great improvement. I think being an interviewer is something that no one’s naturally good at. It is one of those true 10,000-hour-type of pursuits. There’s so much you have to learn because it’s not just about writing questions. It’s about creating some chemistry and a rapport and building trust with someone you’re meeting for the very first time. I think that that only comes with experience. I’ve gone from zero to 100 on spice tolerance, but I think it’s been even more exponential than that when it comes to doing interviews just by virtue of putting in the hours.
IH: Have you ever been concerned with how much hot sauce you’ve seen a guest put on a wing?
SE: Yeah, but I let people do whatever it is they wanna do. We’ve had episodes where people take tops off of every bottle and will add it to their sauce and I’ll do it right along with them. I embrace those episodes because that’s somebody who I’m not going to have to worry about having to re-engage them, you know what I mean? They’ve taken the bull by the horns and they’re kind of driving the thing. I like that because it allows me to be a passenger and float for a little bit. So, but that is true. When we did the pandemic episodes remotely, we had a best practices guide on how you should sauce your wings, which of course no one read. People were just dumping sauces and some of those episodes have crazy spice reactions. There was nobody putting a guard on how much sauce to use. But it is a bad idea. You should go with what we give you for sure.
IH: Do you think the shared experience of eating hot wings on camera leads to a better interview?
SE: A hundred percent. It’s a sharing of a meal and then we have this added layer of the ridiculous context of the lights and cameras on us. Having that shared experience sort of leads a trauma bond to end up happening. It can go flying off the rails at any point and I have to be a hand holder through the whole thing, and that can create a level of trust. There’s the atmosphere and you’re smoked out by spice. All of a sudden, things get kind of foggy and all you have as support is me on the other end of the table. Before you know it, you forget you’re on a TV show. I love those moments but since the show is on YouTube I think they kind of disappear into the ether a little bit. That’s why I always like opportunities like this one from Marriott to sit down with actual fans and go through it with them. I get to shake some hands, take some pictures and share a physical space with fans.
IH: What’s your biggest piece of advice for surviving Hot Ones?
SE: Be careful around the eyes. That’s the No. 1 most important thing. Any cross pollination mistake you can make, I’ve made it 100 times. The eyes are most important, but there’s no shame in going for the milk or for the ice cream. Whatever you have to do to survive it, do it. And flats over drums, baby.
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