Hot peppers and the worst game show ever

By Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Well, it’s been a good run, but Western Civilization has come to an end.

I am speaking, of course, of a television game show called “Hot Ones” — or rather, “Hot Ones: The Game Show.”

Rome had its gladiators and its lions. We have “Hot Ones: The Game Show.”

Clearly, this show is the result of a bunch of guys — it had to be all guys — sitting around and saying “What is the stupidest idea we can think of?” And then another guy says, “And how can we make that even worse?”

Habenero Peppers (Dreamstime/TNS)

“HO:TGS” is a fairly standard game show with a twist. The host asks questions to two teams of two contestants each. In one round, the teams compete to guess an answer based on progressively easier questions. In another, which bears a distinct similarity to “The $10,000 Pyramid,” one team member tries to guess words based on the clues supplied by the other team member.

So far, so blah. It is the twist that has led to the death of all that is good and decent in the world.

Before each question, the teams eat spicy wings. Very spicy wings. Very, very spicy wings.

Officially, the reason they have to do this is because it is harder to think when suffering from the effects of extreme amounts of heat. But the real, unstated reason is the same reason people used to attend public executions: We like watching other people suffer.

The players willingly allow themselves to be humiliated and tortured — that’s what it is, torture — for the chance to win $12,500 apiece and, presumably, the national fame that comes from appearing on third-tier cable channel truTV.

We watch them sweat. We watch their eyes redden and tear up. We watch them sob so that they can’t feel their hands. We watch them double over in actual pain while they try to identify a picture of a pair of lips as belonging to minor celebrity Rebel Wilson.

And I haven’t even mentioned the indelicately named “puke bucket” yet, but yes, we watch them use that, too. Fortunately, the rowdy studio audience did not cheer at that moment, as one might fear. Actually, they sort of looked appalled.

I know the feeling.

We’re not talking about ordinary hot wings here. These aren’t the wings served at every sports bar in the country.

These are blast-furnace wings. These are surface-of-the-sun wings. These are wings that, in the final challenge, boast a Scoville rating of more than 2 million. That means you can detect the heat of one part of the sauce diluted in 2 million parts of water.

If they stirred one tiny tablespoon of the sauce into an 18-foot round above-ground swimming pool, and you had a sip of the water, you could tell it was there. That’s how hot this sauce is.

That is insanity. There is no need for anyone ever to eat anything that hot. Food that hot can do at least temporary damage to your body.

In 2016, a 47-year-old man who ate ghost peppers retched and vomited so violently that he tore a 1-inch hole in his esophagus, according to a report in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. He survived after a 23-day stay in the hospital and had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach, and he was lucky: similar injuries have a high mortality rate.

Of course, that’s a singular case. But assuming the contestants survive their brush with a hint of fame without permanent damage, they are still in for a world of pain.

Choking down the wings is the easy part. In a few hours, their stomachs will churn and bloat and they will begin to regret the life choices that brought them to this point. After that, it only gets worse. The alimentary canal has a terminus, too, and it can be sensitive. What hurts going in, hurts going out.

It’s hard to watch the program without thinking about that part, too.

The lucky contestants on the show lose their dignity. The unlucky ones lose their lunch. And we, the viewers, lose something, too.