Spicing It Up a Bit for In-Class Viewing

Spicy foods make for great content, it seems. Videos in the Hot Ones series, wherein celebrities eat hot wings and answer questions, regularly gain multiple million views. With almost 350 episodes in the First We Feast channel series, it shows no signs of slowing down.

The Paqui One Chip challenge, which features Carolina Reaper and Scorpion peppers, also appears in numerous videos by crazy-brave souls around the world. Some, again crazy-brave, souls attempt to eat Carolina Reapers themselves, which hold the world’s record for the highest Scoville heat units.

Out of curiosity, I looked up videos about the Carolina Reaper pepper and found two short documentaries about the pepper and its obsessed creator: Ed Currie.

One video came from the now-defunct Great Big Story titled “Breeding the World’s Hottest Pepper.” Typical of Great Big Story’s style, the three-minute documentary short is light, fast, and tight. It focuses on Currie and his obsession with not only the Carolina Reaper but also with cross-breeding even hotter and hotter peppers.

The second video came from Wired magazine. This ten-minute documentary short, with the click-baity title “How This Guy Made the World’s Hottest Peppers,” also delves into Currie’s story while providing more depth of information about Currie’s life, his businesses, and hot peppers more generally.

I showed both of these videos in my multimedia storytelling class and asked them to compare, looking for strengths and weaknesses. Part of my rationale here was to illustrate the concept of voice, or how a documentary takes a point of view and how included elements align with that point of view. Documentaries on the same topic can take multiple approaches, as these two shorts show.

Interestingly enough, the Great Big Story version was the majority class favorite. They liked the pacing and tight focus on just Currie. Lively music accompanied each segment in the short. Even with the tight length, this one still used specific information, noting that Currie worked with a chemist named Dr. Calloway at Winthrop University to determine the Scoville heat units on his peppers. The ending note with Currie mentioning that he pockets peppers that have double the heat of the Carolina Reaper was an intriguing one. Despite the brevity, some viewers wanted just a little more information about Currie and his life.

While the Great Big Story one was a bit too short, the Wired one was a bit too long. The extended details about his life, including his wife, drug period, businesses, breeding practices, seed saving, and just his overall obsession, were better received but they felt too much. This short offered some engaging visualizations of the Scoville measures, such as pairing one reaper with 10 habañeros or 600 jalapeño peppers, which were a great answer to the “What do you show?” question. The voiceover put off quite a few people as overwhelming and redundant at times. The short also addressed the Scoville units in two places — why not merge those two sections? Their separation felt like an editing mistake, not an intentional ordering choice. The short mentioned just a “local university” and no scientist name, which seemed out of place in a piece filled with specific details.

Overall, offering two shorts with the same subject for comparison worked well. It brought forward the formal techniques and the story choices better than showing just one of them. The fun topic helped a bit, too.

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