For the next few weeks, Metro.co.uk will be speaking to reality TV fan favourites about what time on their show was like – and how things have changed now they’re Back to Reality. This time, it’s… David Birtwistle from Too Hot To Handle.
‘You smashed it! How brilliant’.
As an online fitness coach, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect me to say to my clients. But I was actually telling the head producer of Too Hot to Handle (THTH) how excited I was about the shock twist they’d thrown at me and the other contestants.
I was on the first series of the now-famous Netflix hit and had no idea that my love life was about to be controlled by a cone shaped AI called Lana – I just thought I was going to be on a regular dating show.
Instead of being angry that I was now banned from kissing/touching/having sex with the beautiful women that surrounded me, I was relieved and actually looking forward to my month of celibacy.
Going into Too Hot to Handle, I was worried about coming across as ridiculous. I didn’t want to have to take part in over-the-top sexual tasks – like Love Island’s lap dance challenge – or have my actions framed in a way that would shock viewers, so I was glad that that pressure was off.
Instead, I was being offered an experience – an opportunity – to change my attitude to relationships; to help me form better, deeper and more meaningful connections with other people. I was getting a month’s worth of free therapy, with the possibility of winning prize money at the end.
It’s not what I signed up for – it was even better. All I’d been told in the run up to filming was that it was going to be a bunch of young, good-looking people in a house in Mexico.
It sounded fun, but the main reason I’d wanted to go on was because I thought it would be good for my business; I’d seen how series like Love Island had made people household names. I was an online fitness coach, running my company and was doing well in my career.
When a Netflix producer slid into my DMs asking whether I would consider applying for Netflix’s first reality dating show, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
I was 28, in a good place with my job, and single. I’d had long-term relationships and dated before Too Hot – it wasn’t like I was a problem child in need of drastic fixing – but some of them had left me bruised and I had my defences up.
The way I saw it, it couldn’t hurt to apply.
I think I was probably one of the earliest contestants to get cast – in the end it was something like five or six months between the first audition and filming. That time was like being in limbo.
You don’t actually know if you’re going to make it on until the last minute. I had no indication after the first, second or third audition whether I was a shoo-in. Even after I signed a contract, there was very much a caveat of ‘this doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be on the show’.
I was flown out to Mexico and still wasn’t 100% I’d actually make it into the villa. I spent a week of uncertainty getting a tan just in case – I didn’t want to see my pale reflection in the cameras!
I only got confirmation two days before we started filming.
On top of that, there was all the paperwork that said I couldn’t tell anyone, except my mum and dad. They’d seen people have less than favourable experiences on reality TV and they were worried for me, but it just made me more determined not to do anything stupid.
It’s the one time I listened to the advice my mum had been giving me since childhood: ‘Think before you speak’.
As for my friends, I couldn’t tell them; I just had to go AWOL for a month. When I came out the other side of filming (and still couldn’t spill the beans), I just said I’d been hibernating and focusing on work. Thankfully, no one questioned that too much!
When I was finally sent into the house, it was all quite overwhelming. There were cameras everywhere and so many new people. I didn’t want to do anything wrong or say something stupid. I wanted to make a good first impression – not just to my new housemates, but to the eventual audience.
It was so intense that I was in absolute shock when the twist came – and when we found out there was going to be prize money. That was a lovely bonus, but to be honest I wasn’t really motivated by it as I didn’t really need the cash.
What was keeping me committed to obeying the rules was my desire to actually give in to the whole experience, 100%. Plus, I knew doing anything to jeopardise the rest of the team’s chances of winning the grand sum would not do my popularity – in the house, but also to the outside world – any favours. I didn’t want my clients, or parents, seeing me breaking the rules.
Although I didn’t come out with a lasting relationship, my time on the show was fun and I’m glad I did it.
My favourite memories from filming probably include quite a lot of unseen bits; times where we all played American football, throwing the ball around on the grass, or diving into the pool.
Every morning, Bryce would get up and immediately dive in the water. We’d just sit there and think, ‘You haven’t even had a coffee yet – calm down’. It’s quite nice having these private memories that are just ours.
But by the time it ended, a month after we started filming, I was ready to leave.
We’d been in this one environment and hadn’t been able to leave or see anyone else, so I was like, ‘Oh my God, get me out of here!’. I just wanted to go back to not having any cameras on me.
Mainly, I wanted to walk up to the bar and get a beer, as a 28-year-old man, without someone asking how many I’d already had. Obviously, producers have a duty of care and can’t have you drinking too much, but I just wanted my freedom back.
When I got home, I had quite a lot of time to enjoy normal life. I think it was around 12 months from the beginning of filming to the time Too Hot actually aired.
I had my own perspective of what had happened but now I was left to wait and see whether my version would be the one to materialise in the final product, and how it would be received.
I really tried to keep myself cool and not worry. Instead, I chose to prepare.
I invested in my business, Endeavour Life, by creating more content, improving the services we offered and changing our sales approach. I had no idea if Too Hot was going to be a success, but if it was, I wanted to be ready.
In the end, I massively underestimated, and the business was not set up for the response we had!
I put that down to Netflix promoting Too Hot so well. I remember signing into Netflix in March 2020 and seeing a banner across the top of the screen with my face on it. It was an ‘oh my god’ kind of moment.
I got so many enquiries for my online coaching services in the days that followed, and my social media platforms were booming. People were suddenly invested in what was going on in my life, and especially if I was hanging out or dating any of the other contestants.
But at the same time, we’d just been launched into a pandemic.
London was in lockdown and when I’d walk to the shop to get food, I wouldn’t see anyone. There was no one asking for selfies or autographs, which I think is quite common after a reality show stint in normal circumstances!
Instead, those people reached me through my business. I had a number of people who booked on to courses just because they wanted to speak to me; they didn’t actually want training.
While flattered, I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, this isn’t going to work’.
To be honest, there were a lot of lessons learned quickly. One was that reputation is very important. If someone pictures in one light on a reality TV programme, it’s very hard to change how they see you.
In my case, it was less because of my actions, and more because I’d been on a show like Too Hot. I noticed that some people didn’t realise I had over 10 years of experience as a PT and had been on track for a professional rugby career before tearing my ACL led me to coaching. They didn’t realise this, not fame, was my passion.
Straight away, I wanted to change people’s perception of me. I now focus on sharing my knowledge so that followers can see I’m a trusted, credible expert.
While I’d gone from having 20,000 followers to 1.3million in a fortnight, that number went down again pretty sharply soon after.
I completely get it; people likely followed because they thought they’d see the David from THTH – the one that talks about love and dating – but then they realised I talk about health and fitness a lot and that’s not something they’re interested in.
I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of followers – I have around 840k now – but I’m glad because those people who left don’t want my content, and that’s fine; they should only be following people that make them feel good!
Because that’s ultimately what I want for the people who follow me, and who I work with. I love helping people. I love sharing my experience of health and fitness with them.
I want to help people in all aspects of their wellbeing; I cover things like relationships with food, reducing anxiety and fear around it; improving fitness and taking the appropriate steps to reach your goal; how to feel better physically and emotionally.
When it comes to the latter, I feel like Too Hot helped me.
Before it, I was just like any British man. If someone asked me how I was, I would reply with ‘yeah, I’m fine’. It’s the standard reaction.
But the question we were constantly asked on the show was, ‘How do you feel’? It’s the same question but so much more open. I started to consider how I actually felt about things and was made quite reflective as a result.
It’s something I’ve brought into work with my clients – and into my relationships.
After THTH aired, I didn’t really prioritise romance – I mean, there was a pandemic happening, after all. It was my least successful dating year as an adult. It was non-existent.
But then a year and a half ago I met my now-girlfriend Hazel. It wasn’t from a dating app, and it wasn’t through social media, and it wasn’t a reality dating show. We just bumped into each other in a bar.
It was pure chance and we now have a beautiful relationship. Too Hot made me so much more aware of what I really wanted from a partner.
I felt comfortable surrendering myself to someone again; knowing I might get hurt but that it was the only way I was going to experience true love. Getting over that fear, I was able to commit wholeheartedly.
Too Hot to Handle ultimately had a positive impact on my life, and I’d definitely consider more TV in the future – but as far as dating shows go, that’s done.
You can follow David on Instagram and TikTok
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