Why are we still watching Love Island?

Is the reality dating show what it used to be?
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Created by VoiceBox

Published on Jun 24, 2022
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Love Island. The daily hour of escapism most people in the UK subject themselves to every evening at 9pm. 

When it first hit our screens in the summer of 2015, it was almost revolutionary. A villa full of young singles; smoking, drinking, fighting and navigating new social and sexual relationships all while living together 24/7 with cameras rolling for 23 hours a day. 

Their seemingly trivial yet intense arguments were lapped up by British viewers who – myself included – took almost too much pleasure in watching. A group of generically “hot” people finally being shown rejection? Yes please.

As each year has progressed, the contestants have evolved from hand-plucked beauticians, bar staff, plasterers and personal trainers to a cohort of Instagram influencers who are only in the competition with one goal: a business deal. 

With the show’s initial rugged charm replaced with a new form of business rivalry – it makes you wonder what the point is of watching it. And yet, I can’t help but tune in every night for that one hour where suddenly nothing but “whose coupling up with who” matters. 

For the viewer, it’s escapism. For the contestants, there’s no escape. Love Island have been criticised in the past for their lacklustre approach to wellbeing, having failed to support Islanders in and out of the show. Following two suicides and one psychotic breakdown, plus the constant online abuse contestants have to endure once they’ve left the villa – Love Island has faced plenty of judgment for it’s lack of emotional protection. 

Interestingly, despite this criticism, Love Island is equally publicised for doing what many would argue is the bare minimum. When the “first” disabled contestant entered the villa last year (“first” is technically untrue as they had an autistic contestant a few years prior), it became one of the show's biggest talking points. Similarly, when it was announced that this year they were partnering with ebay to kit contestants out in second-hand clothes, many argued that fast fashion has been a problem for years, and that it was “too little, too late”. 

This rather ham-fisted approach to the visibility of social movements is supported by the old-fashioned, gender-specific norms that contestants adopt during their time in the villa. Of course, it is the macho, muscular men and feminine, gossipy women who are the secret ingredient to the success of the show. Would it become boring if Love Island dared to promote any form of physical diversity, or gender and sexual disparity? The “boy meets girl” format has been almost entirely unbroken by Love Island for seven years, becoming a fascinating viewer experience as we watch these “societally normal” relationships and personalities crumble under pressure. 

As a queer person, I will be the first to admit that I find these seemingly commonplace connections between a group of straight people amusing. It’s what makes the show a popular week-night choice for many young people in the UK and beyond – and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. 

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