What Only The Biggest Fans Know About The White Lotus

Making its premiere in the summer of 2021, HBO's "The White Lotus" took viewers inside an exclusive Hawaiian resort, laying bare the foibles of the wealthy clientele and the beleaguered staff who cater to their every whim. The series became an instant hit, racking up glowing reviews ("2021's best, and most uncomfortable, TV show," trumpeted The Guardian) and sweeping the 2022 Emmys by winning a whopping 10 awards out of 20 nominations.

While "The White Lotus" was initially intended to be a limited series, the show's success changed those plans. When HBO announced the series would be returning for a second season, however, the news carried a twist. As Variety reported, the second season would be set in an entirely different location (another White Lotus luxury resort in a new locale) with a whole new cast. When the second season premiered, the Hawaiian tropics had been substituted for the sunny coast of Sicily, with new actors including "Parks and Recreation" alum Aubrey Plaza, former "Sopranos" star Michael Imperioli, Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, and Theo James of "Divergent" fame. 

With the second season captivating viewers even more than the first (the series has already been renewed for a third season), read on to discover what only the biggest fans know about The White Lotus.

Why series creator Mike White credits a dead body for the show's success

The first season of "The White Lotus" was not only a darkly comedic social satire targeting the super-wealthy, but it was also something of a "whodunit." In the series' opening scene, a coffin is seen being loaded onto an airplane, thus drawing viewers into the season-long mystery of who was in the coffin and how that person came to be there.

Film and television writer-producer Mike White is no Hollywood neophyte; in addition to writing the screenplays for such films as "The School of Rock" and "Pitch Perfect 3," he also created the acclaimed TV series "Enlightened," starring Laura Dern. However, as White admitted in an interview with NPR's "Fresh Air," the success of "The White Lotus" was far beyond anything he'd experienced before. "I just feel like I'm like a surfer who's been in the ocean for, like, 25 years and suddenly caught a wave," he quipped.

White credited the show's mass appeal to that dead body. "When that first season became such a water cooler show [that] people were talking about, I was like, had I only known if I'd put a dead body at the beginning of 'Enlightened,' maybe people would've watched 'Enlightened,'" he mused. "You realize these kinds of hooks do actually get viewers."

The reason why The White Lotus features those Survivor cameos

A scene in the premiere episode of the second season of "The White Lotus" features American tourist Daphne (Meghann Fahy) chatting with two women on the beach. Fans of "Survivor" who watched that scene were quick to identify the women as Kara Kay and Angelina Keeley, who competed in the 37th season of the venerable reality competition. 

Those cameos weren't random, given that "The White Lotus" creator Mike White is not only a "Survivor" fan, but he also competed in the "David vs. Goliath" season in 2018 alongside Kay and Keeley (he also partnered with his father in two seasons of "The Amazing Race"). "There's definitely some 'Survivor' weaved into the show, that's for sure," White told Variety of how his reality show experience influenced "The White Lotus."

As Kay told Vulture, White had approached her and Keeley about making a cameo in the show. "Pretty early on, we knew there was American Woman No. 1 and American Woman No. 2," she explained. "He kept saying 'opening scene;' I was like, 'Maybe we're in the background, waving, drinking some cocktails.' Then we got a draft of the script and realized, 'Oh we have lines, we're going to say something. We're going to be acting.'"

Only one star of the first season returned for the second

Prior to the announcement that "The White Lotus" would be returning for a second season, series creator Mike White teased his potential plans in an interview with IndieWire, confirming that a second season would feature new actors in a new locale. "But maybe it could be a Marvel universe type thing, where some of them would come back," he noted at the time.

As it turned out, the key actor to return for the second season was Jennifer Coolidge, reprising her Emmy-winning role as socialite Tanya McQuoid. "I think people are really going to be riveted," Coolidge told TVLine of the second season.

According to Coolidge, whose roster of iconic screen characters includes Paulette Bonafonté in "Legally Blonde" and Stifler's mom in the "American Pie" films, the narcissistic, navel-gazing Tanya could have easily become a caricature. "It is the ride of a lifetime and I got to play this incredible part and play this very complicated, tortured person, but there is something cool where you do see Tanya's sort of evolution," she shared in an interview with Forbes. "You see her as best as someone like that could be, who's so limited in so many ways. A small thing is a big deal for someone who is that self-obsessed and damaged — and sometimes, that little thing is a huge victory."

The second season of The White Lotus is loaded with Easter eggs

Sharp-eyed viewers of "The White Lotus" have noticed various "Easter eggs" concealed in the second season, and that's definitely not by chance. Vanity Fair compiled a lengthy list, and some of them are quite intriguing. One, in particular, is the starfish pin that White Lotus Sicily manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) gifts to her employee Isabella (Eleonora Romandini), with whom she is clearly besotted. The starfish, it turns out, symbolizes "infinite divine love."

Then there's the scene in which Harper (Aubrey Plaza) reluctantly accompanies Daphne (Meghann Fahy) to the quaint village of Noto, where Harper is seemingly swarmed by a number of predatory, amorous men. That scene, series creator Mike White told Variety, was actually an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 movie "L'Avventura," recreating a similar scene filmed in the exact same location, on the steps of the Noto Cathedral.

White also makes a nod to his previous HBO series "Enlightened." According to Vulture, a scene in the season premiere features Dominic (Michael Imperioli) speaking on the phone with his ticked-off estranged wife — whose voice is supplied by "Enlightened" star Laura Dern.

One of the series' most memorable scenes required a 'pee pee prosthetic'

Another memorable scene in the debut episode of the second "White Lotus" season involved Theo James' character, Cameron, changing out of a wet bathing suit in view of his friend's wife, Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Viewers received an eyeful of James in that full-frontal nude scene — or so they thought. 

Appearing on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," James revealed that wasn't actually his anatomy that viewers saw. "It's a pee-pee prosthetic," he said. In fact, he explained, he had specifically requested that the prosthetic member be an average size — which turned out not to be the case. "We get to set and she's got, like, a hammer or something," James recalled. "I mean, it's bigger than that. It's like she stole it off a donkey in the field. The thing is ginormous. And me and the director, Mike White, are sitting there going, 'That's ... average, is it?'"

As James told Entertainment Weekly, the prosthetically enhanced full-frontal nude scene was also filmed in a far more explicit manner than what eventually ended up onscreen. "We shot that and it felt too much, too aggressive," he explained. "What we came to is a bit more opaque, and that's exactly what Mike does so well. You're never sure 100% of the characters' intentions."

There are hidden clues packed within the opening credits

The opening credits of "The White Lotus" Season 2 are inspired by Italian frescoes, and those who watch closely will notice some weird stuff going on. In fact, noted Artnet News, the title sequence was created by Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore of design studio Plains of Yonder, who also developed the vintage wallpaper-inspired credits for the first season. "Part of why Mike White really liked the frescos was that they were trompe-l'oeil," Crawford explained of the images, which were based on actual 16th-century frescoes. "It was a good theme for the show — this idea of tricking the eye or what's on the surface isn't reality."

As sharp-eyed viewers have certainly noticed, each time the name of one of the actors appears, it's accompanied by an image that relates to that actor's character. For example, Jennifer Coolidge's name was accompanied by a monkey in the credits for both seasons, but in Season 2 the monkey has a collar around its neck, attached to a chain held by a blonde woman in a castle tower — perhaps symbolizing the relationship between Coolidge and her beleaguered assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).

In any case, there's a definite sexual vibe woven throughout the 90-second sequence. "Even the architecture becomes erotic and sexualized," Bashore explained to Fast Company.

Location scouts visited many hotels before settling on Taormina's Four Seasons

While the Four Seasons in Maui doubled for The White Lotus in the first season, the second season utilized another resort from the same chain, the Four Seasons in Taormina, aka the San Domenico Palace. That wasn't necessarily the plan, however. As the real-life hotel's public relations coordinator, Sonia Bonamassa, told The Guardian, there were scores of other resorts under consideration. "The producers of 'The White Lotus' visited about 70 hotels before choosing ours," she said. The fact that the hotel had historically been a convent dating back to the 1300s sealed the deal. "And, for them, it was love at first sight," said Bonamassa of the producers' decision to film there.

In fact, the hotel's general manager, Lorenzo Maraviglia, admitted he was impressed with the attention to detail that went into the show when it came to depicting the realities of how a luxury resort is run. "It's impressive how Mike White [the show's creator] managed to get into the details of the life of a large hotel," he said, noting that the interpersonal dynamics between hotel staff and moneyed guests were accurate, if accentuated. "I repeat, these excesses do not reflect reality, fortunately, but many things are true," he added.

The series spawned a seminar detailing the filming locations in Sicily

In addition to the hotel itself, the second season of "The White Lotus" made the most of filming in the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina by utilizing many of the local landmarks as settings for various scenes. Filming also took place beyond Taormino itself. As Cosmopolitan pointed out, some of the exterior shots were filmed in Palermo and Noto (although certain scenes, in which sets needed to be built, were shot in a soundstage outside of Rome).

For those interested in learning more about the real-life locations where "The White Lotus" was filmed, a seminar has been created that offers an educational look at those sites in terms of their historical significance. The seminar, titled "Revealing the Secrets of 'The White Lotus 2' Filming Locations," is presented by Dr. Dinara Saleeva, who has a Ph.D. in comparative linguistics. "Led by the local tourist guide Dinara Saleeva, this seminar will reveal the secrets of the movie locations and whet your appetite for all things Taormina and Sicily at large," promotional verbiage for the seminar promises.

Aubrey Plaza pulled a prank that freaked out a co-star

As TimeOut pointed out, filming of the second season of "The White Lotus" spanned several months. During this time, Aubrey Plaza amused herself by terrorizing her co-stars with an elaborate prank.

As it turned out, some members of the cast believed that the historic hotel, which dates back to the 14th century, was haunted ("I had dreams of people standing at the end of my bed in that hotel room, dressed from a whole other era, turning and looking at me," cast member John Gries confided to Vulture). To capitalize on those fears, Plaza snuck into the dressing rooms of some of her co-stars and arranged some of the hotel's omnipresent reed diffusers as if they were piled-up sticks in "The Blair Witch Project."

While she became the chief suspect, Plaza denied being the culprit, even as she took things even further by slipping cryptic notes under her co-stars' doors. Actor Adam DiMarco, in fact, had become particularly disturbed by the "hauntings" — something that filled Plaza with glee. "Adam was so innocent, like a baby bird," Plaza recalled in an interview with GQ. "It was really sick, what I was doing to him. I got him to the brink of a psychological break." 

The sex-worker sub-plot is barely fictional

One of the subplots in the second season of "The White Lotus" features local sex worker Lucia (Simona Tabasco), who's hired by sex-addicted Dominic (Michael Imperioli). Her decision to become an escort, Tabasco told Jezebel of her character, is the result of Lucia's ambition. "It's a means to an end for her," Tabasco explained. "She thinks that going to the White Lotus and being around these powerful, rich men is the way that she's going to get her goal in the end."

While Lucia is continually reprimanded by the hotel's manager for lurking about in search of men who will pay for her services, the scenario depicted in the series is far more realistic than viewers may realize. In an essay she wrote for The Times, Imogen Edwards-Jones — who spent a year researching the world of luxury resorts for her book "Hotel Babylon" — revealed that sex workers are indeed a constant problem that staff at luxury resorts found themselves dealing with on an ongoing basis. "It rings true," Edwards-Jones explained. "Over the hours of interviews I conducted for 'Hotel Babylon,' it soon became apparent that managing the hooker problem was the bane of any concierge's life and also the hotel manager's."

The glaring issue that foodies had with The White Lotus

While many aspects of "The White Lotus" have been lauded for realistically depicting what goes on within a luxury resort, there was one that devoted foodies took issue with. Throughout the episodes, guests at the hotel are seen consistently having their meals in one of its restaurants, rather than going off-resort to check out one of Taormina's fine dining establishments and experiencing authentic Sicilian cuisine. 

One viewer crystallized that problem by tweeting, "Why does everyone at The White Lotus eat at the hotel every night? YOU'RE IN ITALY!!!!!"

"For food lovers who travel to eat, it's maddening to see the characters of 'White Lotus' blithely ignore the spectacular Sicilian cuisine that surrounds them," wrote food writer Sam Stone in a piece for Bon Appetit, decrying the characters' insistence on dining at the hotel for the entirety of their stay. "And in reality, many wealthy diners love to chase exclusive reservations at new restaurants and once-in-a-lifetime dining experiences." 

Season 2 of The White Lotus spawned lots of fan theories

The second season of "The White Lotus," like the first, unfolds like a puzzle slowly being solved. As a result, viewers have not been shy about taking to social media to share their various theories.

One fan theory that gained traction, noted Variety, was that British expat Quentin (Tom Hollander) is somehow involved with Tanya's (Jennifer Coolidge) husband Greg (John Gries) in an elaborate con to grift her out of at least some of her millions. Another theory, however, posits that Quentin is involved in an entirely different con, to covertly film Tanya having sex with Niccoló (Stefano Gianino) in order to blackmail her. Meanwhile, the AV Club detailed some additional theories, including one guessing that Cameron (Theo James) is secretly broke, which is why he's so desperate to manage the newfound wealth of his pal Ethan (Will Sharpe).

Meanwhile, the wildest theory holds that Laura Dern (whose voice was heard in that first-episode phone call) will make a surprise cameo in the season finale.