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This Netflix reality contestant spent $20,000 for sex. She has no regrets

Harry and Francesca get to know each other on the Netflix reality show "Too Hot to Handle."
Harry and Francesca get to know each other on the Netflix reality show “Too Hot to Handle.”
(Netflix)

In “Too Hot to Handle,” the latest grippingly bonkers reality show from the evil geniuses at Netflix, a group of horny, attention-hungry twentysomethings hole up a at a beachfront Mexican villa and attempt to forgo sexual contact of any kind in a bid for a $100,000 prize. Each violation of the rules — which, by the way, also bar self-gratification — brings a fine, starting at $3,000 for a kiss.

Like “Love Is Blind,” which followed couples as they dated in “isolation pods” and got engaged before meeting face to face, “Too Hot to Handle” is strangely well-timed in an era of social distancing and involuntary celibacy for millions.

But while “Love Is Blind” became a pop culture sensation thanks to its deranged earnestness — couples talked about the magic of “being back in the pods” as if they’d just returned from a honeymoon in Tahiti, not a windowless room on a soundstage in Atlanta — “Too Hot to Handle” puts a knowing twist on the guilty pleasure of dating shows.

There’s no host, just snarky narration (by comedian Desiree Burch) targeting the contestants — an international crew of inked-up, musclebound bros and Kardashian clones wearing bikinis that look like fetishwear Spanx — for being vapid, manipulative, excessively libidinous or all of the above. Along with the usual day drinking and poolside lounging, there are group challenges designed to encourage personal growth and/or torment the randy singles, such as a session in Shibari, Japanese rope bondage.

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Fan-favorite couple Cameron and Lauren of Netflix’s buzzy matchmaking reality show “Love Is Blind” take us inside their “crazy adventure.”

There’s also an Alexa-like talking “robot” named Lana that plays the role of referee, announcing every time someone has breached the rules, taking what is the subtext in most other reality dating shows — slut-shaming — and making it explicit.

And no one got in more trouble with Lana than Francesca Farago, a 27-year-old Canadian who captured the heart — or at least hormonal longings — of baby-faced Australian Harry Jowsey. The Instagram model managed to rack up $32,000 in fines over the course of the production, including $20,000 in a single night with Jowsey.

When she signed up to do the show last year, she was “very single” and had little idea of what she was in for — contestants only learned the rules once they’d arrived at the “retreat,” as they call it — but she left in a relationship. She and Jowsey briefly broke up after leaving Mexico but have reunited and are still very much together, though currently isolating in different countries. Farago spoke by phone from Vancouver about her unlikely journey to enlightenment.

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"Too Hot to Handle" on Netflix.
(Ana Cristina Blumenkron / Netflix)

So you didn’t know the rules of the competition before you signed on. How was this show pitched to you?

I was reached out to via Instagram DM by someone in production. She said, “Hey we have this new reality show on Netflix, we thought you’d be perfect for it.” She was asking me about my sex life, about my previous relationships. It was very sexually oriented. I was telling my friends about it and they’re like, “You’re not allowed, you’re going to get kidnapped.” It was very sketchy at the beginning.

They basically pitched it to me as a nice month’s vacation in the sun with attractive people. Everybody’s single. That’s all I knew. I was like, “I hope this isn’t like ‘Survivor.’” My initial thought was this would be “Influencer Island” and they’re going to put a bunch of influencers on an island, they’re going to take away our Instagram, and we’re going to have to compete for something. I was prepared for some weird concept.

It went from being a hot, fun summer with single people to an experience of learning and personal growth, so we were all confused.

Francesca Farago

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When I got there and the rules were [explained] I was like, “OK, this is not what I was expecting at all, but also this makes sense.” I’m single for a reason. We’re all very horny people. We all had commitment issues.

I was so mad, though. I was like, “You guys, I hate you all. How could you do this to me?” I was not feeling it. I was being a little bit dramatic. Not being able to have sex isn’t the end of the world. But it went from being a hot, fun summer with single people to an experience of learning and personal growth, so we were all confused.

Where were you in your personal life when you signed up for this show?

It’s hard for me to find love given the circumstances of my life and also to find a partner who’s OK with the social media and me posing in provocative lingerie and posting it on Instagram. Once I found out it was more of a dating show, I thought it would be easier for me to find someone who would understand my lifestyle. Which is exactly what I found with Harry.

Tell me about Lana.

Oh, Lana. … It’s very strange to call her a “she.” But she was a person for us. She spoke to us, she planned our lives, she paired us with people in group challenges, she revealed our secrets, she gave us rewards. She was like our little host. At the end of the day, even if we didn’t like what she was doing at the time, she knew what was best for all of us and every single situation allowed us to grow. She was a little sneaky devil and was watching everything but she genuinely had our backs.

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"Lana," the contestants' Alexa-like guide on "Too Hot to Handle."
(Netflix)

You’re portrayed as the man-eating villain, especially in the first few episodes. And you definitely spent the most money. How did you feel about that depiction?

When we finished filming I was prepared to be the villain. I was prepared to come across a lot worse. The people in the house were not necessarily my biggest fans. I thought the viewers were not going to like me either. But I was pleasantly surprised with the positive response I’ve gotten. ...

I was alienated very quickly from the group. I was a hothead and I was being selfish. I was like, “They don’t like me, they don’t want to know me, they’re assuming the worst of me.” At that point I was like, “I don’t owe these people anything.” It took me a week and then a few group challenges to realize that’s not the way I should be going about things.

So those challenges were effective?

The challenges were insane. ... We were there for like a long time tapping into our inner emotions. You saw the guys’ challenge with the mud [in which the men had to share their vulnerabilities while covered in mud]. I cried when I watched that. It was so awakening. Even the “yoni” challenge [where the women looked at their vulvas with mirrors and then painted pictures to represent them] united the girls. Those challenges were the ones that made me realize, “I just need to keep it in my pants.”

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A "Too Hot to Handle" challenge
A “Too Hot to Handle” challenge from Episode 5.
(Netflix)

So that was your takeaway from this experience — that you should keep it in your pants?

The main thing it taught me was to consider other people’s feelings. And to have a bit more respect for myself. I did learn that you can form a deeper connection with somebody if you don’t put out right away. That’s obviously a given. I think a lot of people know that. It’s just hard when you’re interested in someone to not want to rip their clothes off. Every lesson that I’ve learned I’ve taken and applied to my personal life. So it’s just been the most amazing experience.

It’s surprising that it was such a meaningful experience. The show seems ... pretty lighthearted.

Especially from seeing Episode 1, we all just look … silly, two-dimensional. You would never guess from Episode 1 that we would all develop so much and really learn about ourselves. It’s a very emotional show. It really does tug your heartstrings.

So you and Harry spent $20,000 in a single night. Was it worth it?

It was definitely worth it. Like Harry said, it was a bargain. Of course we were being selfish and of course we could have kept it in our pants if we really wanted to, but we just felt like that was the right step to take in our relationship. It was very romantic. That was the night we decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend.

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