'Are You Hot?' struts its stuff: Skin, sex appeal

Thu Feb 13, 7:22 AM ET
Bill Keveney USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES -- Face of an angel, with points lost for overplucked eyebrows: 8.5 out of 10. Body of a goddess: 9.0. Inner beauty: Worthless.

Exteriors are all that matter in ABC's new stripped-down reality contest, Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People (tonight, 8 ET/PT), a swimsuit competition where the only talent needed to win $50,000 is the ability to turn around.

Here's a show that wears its superficiality with pride. At the Southwest final here last week, 16 attractive men and women paraded in front of three judges, who rated them on face, body and overall sex appeal.

At the judges' instruction, women hiked up the sides of their bikinis. A man spun around as two huge video screens homed in on his derrière. A buxom woman, asked if she had a strategy for handling men who stare at her chest, drew enthusiastic applause by declaring: ''I want to let everybody know that my (breasts) are real.''

Executive producer Mike Fleiss, who's hot in reality TV for The Bachelor, Bachelorette and High School Reunion, says he has simply done away with devices that other shows use to disguise what they're selling: skin and sex appeal. ''We say upfront that this is the most superficial show in TV history.''

Andrea Wong, who oversees ABC's alternative programming, says Are You Hot? isn't cause for concern. ''This is a really fun, loud spectacle. It's just pure fun.''

There's nothing subtle about the show. Fleiss, who expects to be ripped by critics and women's groups, says he's trying for a potent mix: sex appeal, fantasy fulfillment, a winnowing process and humiliation.

The latter results from comments about body fat, bad teeth and Fabio hair from the judges: designer Randolph Duke, supermodel Rachel Hunter and Renegade's Lorenzo Lamas. Even if they dodge Simon Cowell-like insults, competitors face the ''flaw finder,'' a laser pointer whose green dot Lamas aims at imperfect body parts. ''Squeeze those thighs really tight,'' he tells a woman, as the dot dances on her upper legs.

After the premiere, the other regionals will follow on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. For each region, the judges will trim a field of 32 to eight, with viewers then choosing four by voting at abc.com. The 16 finalists get a last chance to impress on March 13. Winners will be announced March 20.

''I wouldn't be surprised if somebody comes out in their birthday suit'' on March 13, Fleiss says.

That might not be a stretch for some competitors. When Duke, digging for a hint of personality to determine one man's sex appeal, asked to see more, the gent took him literally. He started lowering his trunks.