I’m watching Too Hot To Handle and I’m jealous. Not of the impossibly sculpted bodies of the contestants, nor of their insatiable sex drives, or the fact that they’re all on a free trip to the Caribbean. No. The thing that’s making me jealous is a workshop.
Carly Lawrence is telling former flame Chase DeMoor how much he has hurt her over the course of the show. In addition to calling out his “huge ego”, Lawrence says DeMoor never made her feel comfortable or confident in herself and explains how disrespectful it was that he moved on so quickly with another contestant after their split. She then calls him a liar and accuses him of being with her for the wrong reasons. The key difference between this and a regular conversation is that DeMoor was not allowed to respond until Lawrence was done talking; he had a headscarf around his mouth. All he could do was sit there and listen. So he did.
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This is just one of the many self-improvement workshops that takes place in THTH - and it’s exactly what makes it more compelling than other reality TV dating show. The premise of the series is simple: send a group of hot, horny singletons to a tropical location with the caveat that they’re not allowed to be intimate with one another because doing so will result in a fine deducted from the overall prize money.
The idea is that by having these restrictions in place, the contestants will form “deeper connections'' that transcend physical attraction. It sounds a bit “live laugh love”, but it works. Not just for the contestants, but for the viewers, too. Watching Lawrence defiantly tell DeMoor exactly how he’d made her feel without being interrupted was empowering; why had I not done the same to the men that had treated me badly? Why should straight women bottle up their anxieties and concerns to appease men? Isn’t it about time we stopped being so afraid of being deemed “psycho” for simply speaking our mind?
Lawrence’s monologue certainly offered DeMoor food for thought. He later confessed that no one had ever spoken to him like that before, and while his grand epiphany might’ve only been that he should listen to women, he did eventually apologise to Lawrence and acknowledge that he’d been selfish. That’s the part I envied; the workshop had given Lawrence closure on a painful experience with a man, which enabled her to move on with contestant Joey Joy, whom she is still dating now.
There have been other meaningful moments in the series, too. Like when the male contestants did an art workshop about self-expression that saw the formerly philandrous Marvin Anthony open up about how growing up with a single mother had affected the way he’d treated women in the past. Or when the swaggering male stripper, Nathan Webb, shed a tear as he told Larissa Trownson how his ex-wife left him out of the blue. Then there was the time when all of the women wrote down the ways in which they’d been hurt in relationships as part of a ritual that saw them crumple up the pieces of paper and throw them into the fire pit. I know, I know. But it was surprisingly moving.
That’s the thing about THTH: it has heart. Sure, there are ridiculous challenges and not all of the contestants make any emotional progress, but lots do. If not as a couple (two out of the final four couples from the show are still together now), then as an individual, which is arguably more important.
The same cannot be said for this series of Love Island. As much as I love the ITV2 programme - there’s an entire chapter dedicated to it in my book - it has, increasingly, become less about finding lasting love and more about finding one million Instagram followers and a deal with Boohoo. The challenges are skin-deep (so far they’ve largely revolved around stripping) and very few Islanders seem to show any interest in finding actual romance, ready to have their “heads turned” by anyone new. There’s a dearth of emotional investment, as illustrated by Lucinda Strafford, whose response to her partner Brad McClelland leaving the show was to lament the fact that they’d recently shared a bowl of Special K with some raspberries.
There are more problems with Love Island than this, of course (namely the lack of racial, sexual and physical diversity), but some of them, I suspect, could be fixed if it took a leaf out of THTH’s book, and gave the show some meaning beyond asking people what their type is for the seventh time that day.
‘Millennial Love' by Olivia Petter is out now with 4th Estate, available here. Olivia is a senior lifestyle writer at The Independent.