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Joel Embiid Takes on the Hot Ones Challenge

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What’s harder than guarding Al Horford in the Eastern Conference Semifinals? Eating hot wings doused with ridiculous amounts of ghost pepper sauce. Joel Embiid is good at doing both.

NBA Awards Show 2018 - Arrivals Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Hot Ones is the show with hot questions... and even hotter wings. The premise is simple: Each week, a celebrity (usually someone looking to push their latest movie, album, or book; other times, it’s just someone like Coolio) settles in across from host Sean Evans, and is interviewed while eating a series of 10 chicken wings that get progressively hotter (on the Scoville scale) as the discussion progresses.

At face value, it may not sound like a recipe for winning #content, but six seasons and 116 episodes later, Hot Ones is an award-winning Web series that racks up millions of views each week on the First We Feast YouTube channel. People love watching celebrities sweat, dab at their runny nose and lose their capacity to focus while eating mouth-numbing hot wings... who knew?

On the latest episode, our very own Joel Embiid sat in the Hot Ones hot seat to promote NBA Live 19 (which he just so happens to be on the cover of). For the uninitiated, NBA Live is the Kevin Durant of basketball video games: No matter how hard it tries, it’ll never be accepted as anything more than No. 2.

Once upon a time, Live was the premier sports video game franchise (yes, even better than Madden), but the NBA 2K series has been the king of the hill for at least a decade now. Even so, being named to grace the cover of a highly renowned video game is an extraordinary accomplishment.

A bigger accomplishment, however, would be to clear the board in the Hot Ones challenge. There have been several competitors who have chosen to bow out before making it to the final wing. So, as some who has watched about 90 percent of the episodes so far, all me to reveal...

The Eight Greatest Hot Ones Episodes Of All-Time (In My Opinion)

  1. DJ Khaled (Memorable line: “I promise you... if I stop, it doesn’t mean I gave up.” He gave up after the third wing.)
  2. Rachel Ray
  3. Tyra Banks
  4. Kevin Hart
  5. Padma Lakshmi
  6. Vince Staples
  7. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Memorable line: “I took two bites, bitch.”)
  8. Chris Jericho

And with that, let’s get to it.

1) Howler Monkey Original (Scoville Rating: 600; a little spicer than the sweet peppers you would put on a hoagie)

”So far, nothing,” says Embiid after taking a couple of bites of the first wing. To be clear, it was THE FIRST WING. No big deal. Only DJ Khaled has problems with the first wing.

Evans starts off by asking Embiid why the spirit moves him to periodically dunk on 35-year-old, out-of-shape accountants after playing tennis at the local playground. The Process responds by saying that he sometimes gets the urge to check people who talk trash to him while he’s out in public.

For the record, I’ve never understood people who actually believe that they’re even in the same stratosphere as professional basketball players. If the worst player in the G-League showed up at your LA Fitness tomorrow, he’d drop 35 before breaking a sweat.

2) Heartbeat Hot Sauce Habanero (Scoville Rating: 4,000; similar to Tabasco sauce)

This is a small batch hot sauce made in Thunder Bay, Ontario - a little spicy, but nothing too major. Following the second wing, Embiid re-counts the first time that he met Allen Iverson, marking the first time in recorded history that two GOATs met outside of a standard farmhouse setting.

”[Iverson] was always telling me, ‘You’re going to be the one’, and then nowadays, when he sees me, he’s so proud and he always talks about ‘Yeah, that’s what I told everybody... I knew you were going to be that guy.’”

Later in the segment, Joel admits that his favorite word in the Philly slang lexicon is “youngbul”. I love my city so much.

3) Pirate’s Lantern Pepper Sauce (Scoville Rating: 7,500; similar to a jalapeno pepper)

Embiid cops to being “perfectly fine”, but as someone who has done the Hot Ones challenge several times (and who plans to do it again this Saturday at 7PM at Tattooed Mom as part of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival - come through...), I know how easy it is to fall into a trap at this point in the process. The first few sauces of each season taste good - this one in particular is a mustard-based pepper sauce that would pair well with a hot dog or pretty much anything in the sausage family.

This segment begins with some discussion about the newest version of NBA Live, which makes this the perfect segueway into...

The Definitive Ranking of Games in the NBA Live Franchise

  1. NBA Live 95
  2. NBA Live 96
  3. NBA Elite 11 (a failed rebrand of the series that was never officially released; also the version of the game that featured Andrew Bynum as Jesus)
  4. Rank the other ones however you wish - they all pale in comparison to the top three.

”I’m actually really good at everything I do,” says the consistently humble Embiid when reminded of a time where he destroyed fellow Sixers’ teammate (and former guest of a local basketball podcast) T.J. McConnell during a video game session. “That’s what I like doing. I like kicking people’s asses... and letting them know that they suck, they are trash, and I’m better than them.”

4) Torchbearer - Son of Zombie (Scoville Rating: 24,000; similar to a serrano pepper)

Embiid has a noticeable, physical reaction after eating the fourth wing, and I have a noticeable, physical reaction after the Sixers’ franchise center says that Drake’s Scorpion will be the album of the summer. He could have used that moment to shout out Black Thought’s ridiculous “Streams of Thought, Volume 1” project with 9th Wonder, but I digress...

Evans and/or the First We Feast team does an extraordinary amount of research to come up with the questions for each week’s show, so I’m a little disappointed at the softball that they pitched here. This would have been the perfect opportunity to drop the Barbara Bottini hammer, but we don’t always get what we want in life.

5) Hot Ones Los Calientes (Scoville Rating: 36,000; similar to a cayenne/tabasco pepper)

When you’re the premier program on a YouTube channel that boasts more than 3.5 million subscribers, people want to do business with you. So Hot Ones partnered with Heatonist to make a line of hot sauces, the latest of which is called Los Calientes. The label says that it’s inspired by Cali-Mex flavors, but to me, it has more of a Caribbean jerk kind of thing going on. Either way, the sauce would be an ideal complement to a Mission-style burrito.

(For what it’s worth, the first-ever Hot Ones-branded sauce is far better than Los Calientes, and is a must buy if you like spicy food.)

In no uncertain terms, Embiid states that his goal is to complete the challenge without drinking any water or milk. This is a fool’s errand: There are no Purple Hearts given out in this challenge, JoJo.

”Explain That ‘Gram” is a recurring segment on Hot Ones where guests provide the stories behind some of their most memorable IG photos. But despite Embiid’s treasure trove of social media burns, he’s asked about a very innocuous snapshot of 2 Chainz playing basketball, and another photo of himself posing with Michael Jordan in New Orleans at All-Star Weekend. Embiid claims that Jordan was on board with the picture, making it the first photo that MJ has willingly posed for since 2004.

Five down, five to go. As the legendary Jim Ross would say, business is about to pick up...

6) Bravado Black Garlic Carolina Reaper (Scoville Rating: 71,000; twice as spicy as a cayenne pepper)

This is the part of the show where the celebrity typically reaches for the milk provided by the First We Feast crew. Some guests bring their preferred brand of almond milk, which any Hot Ones veteran can tell you is a rookie mistake. There’s nothing in almond milk that counteracts the peppers, so it’s just as good (or as pointless) as drinking water. But alas...

”Easy,” says Embiid after eating a wing doused in a sauce made with red serrano and Carolina reaper peppers, but then he wipes his hand across his face in a moment that betrays the words coming out of his mouth.

After being prodded by Evans, Embiid claims that he can eat more than 15 Nutella sandwiches in one sitting (and used to eat an entire jar of Nutella a day!). I’m not sure that’s the best use of the talents of Sixers’ executive chef JaeHee Cho, but you do what you have to in order to keep the big man happy, no?

”Back in the day,” says Embiid, “I used to be a savage.”

7) Bunster’s Black Label (Scoville Rating: 99,000; similar to a Scotch Bonnet pepper)

Seven sauces in, many guests start to have difficulty concentrating on Evans’ questions. That’s what makes Hot Ones so brilliant: Being interviewed while eating hot wings doesn’t seem like an imposing proposition, but the capsaicin in the hot sauce causes one’s brain to release chemicals that cause some people to feel high and/or babble incoherently. And as the First We Feast YouTube channel proves, that clearly makes for good #content.

Before trying the wing, Embiid recalls a time when Ben Simmons had a bunch of people taste a particular brand of Australian hot sauce on a dare. Bunster’s Black Label just so happens to be from the Land Down Under, and based on Joel’s reaction after eating the wing, it was probably the same sauce Simmons tried to get him to sample before.

Evans: “Alright, Joel... are you ready to move on?”

Embiid: “Not yet.”

8) Da Bomb (Scoville Rating: 135,600; similar to a habanero pepper)

Take a moment and try to imagine what Death tastes like. Now imagine if you put Death in a black plastic garbage bag, tossed in some pig intestines, a few fish carcasses, and a half-dozen rotten eggs, and allowed that bag to sit in the midday sun for nine hours. Now imagine dumping the contents of that bag into a Vitamix, letting that thing churn for a few minutes, and then taking a large gulp of the resulting concoction.

Da Bomb tastes worse than that.

Some hot sauces are crafted with the intent to provide an extra little kick to chili, burgers, and other foods. And other hot sauces are made by sadists whose raison d’etre is to watch celebrities writhe in pain while eating chicken wings on a YouTube food show. Da Bomb clearly falls into da latter category.

Da Bomb is just hot for the sake of being hot. It doesn’t have any redeeming flavor, and you wouldn’t put it on a chicken wing unless you’re a masochist. Or unless you want a 7-2 basketball player to tell you his deepest and darkest secrets.

Evans valiantly tries to ask Embiid about his online courtship with Rihanna, but The Process is slightly checked out at this point... coughing, sweating, and wiping his face with a napkin. But, to his credit, Embiid handles Da Bomb better than 95 percent of the people who have appeared on the show. And, despite his discomfort, he admits that “Rude Boy” is the best Rihanna song to make sweet love to.

9) Hellfire Fiery Fool (Scoville rating: 550,000; 3-4 times hotter than a habanero pepper)

Hot Ones Pro Tip: Once you make it to this point, it’s relatively smooth sailing until the finish line. Sure... the other sauces are technically hotter per the Scoville scale, but Da Bomb is so disgusting/off-putting that it makes you reconsider your life choices in totality.

It takes Embiid about a minute or so to compose himself after Da Bomb, and psyches himself up before Wing No. 9...

”Fourth quarter, last two minutes... gotta get a bucket. Who do they go to? Joel Embiid - The Process. Is he going to come out on top or not? Let’s see.”

(Embiid’s continued practice to refer to himself in the third person while using both his government name AND his self-given nickname is simply delightful.)

After doing this over one hundred times, Evans is at the point now where he rarely displays any ill effects from the Hot Ones challenge. But hot wings are hot wings, and sometimes, you want to counter act the effects of the capsaicin.

”Oh, you needed some milk?” asks Embiid when Evans reaches for some liquid refreshment.

10) Hot Ones The Last Dab Reduxx (Scoville rating: 2,000,000+; hotter than the Carolina Reaper)

The name of the sauce refers to the ceremonial last dab that Evans and the celebrity du jour put on the final wing, a culinary flourish signifying victory. Some people (read: Coolio) take the last dab a bit too far and douse the last wing with the final sauce. That undoubtedly causes issues later in the day. And for several days after that.

”Gotta trust the process,” says Embiid as he prepares to clear the board. The only problem is that he accidentally adds a Coolio amount of sauce on the final piece of chicken. But he takes down the wing in a couple of bites and surveys the line of sauces to pick out which one caused the most distress.

”First of all, that’s a dumbass name...” said Embiid in regards to sauce No. 9, Hellfire Fiery Fool. Evans asks the Cameroonian center to talk trash to the sauce, but Embiid defers: “I can’t really think straight right now.”

Joel then proceeds to see how many bottles of hot sauce he can hold in one hand at the same time (eight, a new Hot Ones record given the fact that no one had ever tried it before) and gives a brief promo for NBA Live 19.

How many more copies will EA Sports sell as a result of Embiid’s appearance? Not many. How many hearts of Sixers’ fans has Joel Embiid won over after eating 10 chicken wings on a YouTube show? ALL OF THEM.

Trust the sauces.