The 6 hottest chilihead moments from Hulu's "Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People" series

The 10-episode series takes a closer look at the folks who live, laugh, love all things spicy hot peppers

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published January 27, 2024 10:15AM (EST)

Aurea DeGuzman in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)
Aurea DeGuzman in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

For some folks, spice is more than just a culinary preference — it’s a way of life and a source of pleasure even. There exists a tight-knit community of chiliheads, a self-proclaimed label awarded to those who eat, breathe, sleep all things super hot spicy peppers. Such peppers aren’t your measly jalapeños or habaneros. Instead, they include foreboding names like the Ghost pepper, the Carolina Reaper and other peppers that are even spicier.

This chili subculture is explored in Hulu’s latest docuseries “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People.” The 10-part series spotlights several individuals who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of fire: contestants challenging themselves to eat the spiciest peppers known to man in international competitions, pepper growers attempting to cultivate the next uber-spicy pepper right in their backyards, hot sauce enthusiasts experimenting with their fire-burning recipes and one notable chilihead striving to find a hot pepper that can best the world’s hottest (which was the Carolina Reaper at the time).

From showrunner-director Brian Skope, “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” invites its viewers to take a peek into the wacky yet healing world of chiliheads. Each episode features interviews with several prominent members in the community and chronicles their individual journeys to achieve success.

Here are the six hottest moments from the series:

Hot peppers is one chilihead's drug of choice
Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper PeopleJohnny Scoville in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Johnny Scoville, a popular chili pepper reviewer who has been described as the Elvis Presley of chiliheads, became fascinated with peppers after he tried a pepperoncini for the very first time. Scoville currently runs his own YouTube channel, aptly called Chase The Heat, where he tries an array of spicy peppers, flaming hot sauces and other fiery products, much to the amusement of fellow online chiliheads.


“It’s just a beautiful thing,” Scoville said in the documentary. “I love pepper pain. I love pain, and this is my favorite kind of pain.” Eating peppers — and seeking the high of eating an even hotter pepper than the one before — is practically an addiction, Scoville confessed.


“From the time I got to college, I sort of felt like an addict who hadn’t found his drug yet,” he said. “And I basically looked for it, and I tried them all. Over a decade ago, I quit all of them. The only buzz I get is from peppers. There’s always gonna be something hotter, and I’m gonna find it.”  


For chili growers and business owners, an endorsement from Scoville could either make or break their careers. Paul Ouro, co-founder of the League of Fire chili eating competitions, hailed Scoville as “the godfather of chilis” and “a celebrity in the world of chilis.”

The 7 Pot Primo pepper is like “cocaine and a car wreck”
Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper PeopleTroy Primeaux in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Troy Primeaux, a horticulturist from Louisiana, is also the grower of one of the world’s hottest peppers, the 7 Pot Primo. The pepper itself is bright red in color (there are some orange and yellow varieties too) and bears a scorpion-like tail. Its skin is bubbly and lumpy in texture, like many super hot peppers.


The 7 Pot Primo is considered to be a “superhot chili pepper” and is nearly 300 times hotter than the jalapeño. Its heat level can be compared to the Carolina Reaper — which was the hottest chili pepper in the world according to Guinness World Records from 2013 to 2023.


When asked what it’s like to eat the 7 Pot Primo, Primeaux said it’s like “cocaine and a car wreck, both of which I don’t do anymore.”


“The combination together . . . it’s like about 30 minutes plus of just vasodilation, a bear’s chasing you, you’re deer in headlights.”

A chilly tip is offered for eating a spicy chili
Burning Chili PepperBurning Chili Pepper (Getty Images/ThomasVogel)

“Put your toilet paper in the refrigerator,” Primeaux said gleefully in offering a tip for those wanting to try the 7 Pot Primo. “Put your toilet paper in the freezer for Christ’s sake. You know, you need to cool it off before you use it after eating my pepper.”


Some chiliheads do indeed keep a stash of frozen toilet paper, just in case disaster strikes. But not Scoville, who told Variety, “I wouldn’t do it if it killed me in the bathroom the next day. I’m a talented guy — I’d find a different gig.”

Shahina Waseem has a 97-win streak for chili-eating competitions
Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper PeopleShahina Waseem in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Shahina Waseem doesn’t like the flavor of peppers, but she discovered her talent for eating copious amounts of chilis after she entered a chili-eating challenge in Kingston-Upon-Thames and won it. Known as the “UK Chili Queen,” Waseem has competed in nearly 100 chili-eating competitions since and enjoyed many victories. She remains the undefeated chili-eating champion and flaunts an impressive 97 win streak.


“These chilis hurt me just like they do most people,” Waseem wrote in her blog. “The nerves set in days in advance, and I dread each and every competition but I just can't give up when it comes to a [chili] challenge!”


In the documentary, Waseem participated in a mass chili-eating competition against students at Winthrop University and emerged victorious. She also competed against Scoville — who she’s battled in prior competitions — and once again emerged victorious.

Capsaicin can wreak major havoc on the body
World Chilli Pepper FairThe World Chilli Pepper Eating Fair, in its 12th edition, brings stands and dealers from all over the world to the centre of Rieti. (Riccardo Fabi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Participating in a chili-eating competition is not for the weak. Neither is dealing with the aftermath of eating large amounts of spicy hot peppers in a short amount of time. The pain from spicy hot peppers comes from capsaicin, an active component in peppers that’s also a chemical irritant and neurotoxin for mammals. When it comes into contact with any skin or mucous membrane, capsaicin causes a burning sensation. The higher the capsaicin content, the more severe the burning sensation will be — and the harder it will be for the body to get rid of it. Symptoms of high capsaicin in the body include pain and cramping in the stomach and prolonged diarrhea and nausea.  


The documentary showed us a glimpse of the physical toll chili-eating competitions take on its competitors. Waseem recalled a time when she was sick for 18 hours after a particularly excruciating competition. In a separate competition, she’s seen struggling to pick up the peppers on her plate after her wrists buckled from the intense heat.

Scoville finally deems the 7 Pot Primo as the hottest pepper
Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper PeopleBobby McFadden in “Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Throughout the series, Scoville is on a quest to find the hottest pepper that arguably has a higher heat content than the Carolina Reaper. The contenders include the Orange Gusher from newbie chili grower Bobby McFadden; the JP Piranha from James Morrow (aka Jimmy Pickles), who grows many chili varieties in his Pittsburgh home; the 7 Pot Primo, from Primeaux; the Nova Brain, from legendary chili grower Gary Montcalm; an accidental chili grown by Drew Goldy and the Killer Yellow from grower Tom Broome.      


The peppers were first put to the test in Scoville’s Chase the Heat Rodeo, where seasoned and aspiring chiliheads sampled each pepper in a fast-paced competition (spoiler: Waseem won). The peppers were then tested in a laboratory and Scoville scale, which measures the heat levels of chillies. All the peppers contained Scoville heat units (SHU) that surpassed the Carolina Reaper’s Guinness benchmark.


For context, the Carolina Reaper has a SHU of 1,641,183. The top prize was awarded to Primeaux’s 7 Pot Primo which has a SHU of 1,790,150. In second place was the JP Piranha and in third place was the Killer Yellow. The Orange Gusher came in fourth, the Nova Brain came in fifth and the accidental pepper came in last place.


Primeaux’s 7 Pot Primo was never recognized as the world's hottest chili pepper because on August 23, 2023, Guinness World Records officially recognized Pepper X as the world's hottest pepper. Pepper X is labeled as an “exceptionally hot” pepper with an SHU of 2,693,000.

"Superhot: The Spicy World of Pepper People" is currently available for streaming on Hulu. Watch the trailer below, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Chiliheads Hot Peppers Hulu List Scoville Spicy Superhot: The Spicy World Of Pepper People