Is the sun finally setting on one of Britain’s most iconic reality TV shows?
By Libby Pierzak-Pee
From describing our types on paper, putting all of our eggs in one basket, to pulling someone for a chat, it is fair to say Love Island has firmly cemented itself as a ubiquitous part of British popular culture. Iain Stirling only has to utter the words, ‘Tonight…oooonnnn Love Island’, for us to feel reassured that chaos is about to commence. But amongst the scripted conversations, endless controversies and PLT deals, after eight years and nine series (with another expected this summer), has our love affair with one of Britain’s most iconic reality TV shows started to simmer?
There was a brief moment in time when Love Island consumed everybody’s daily life. Office discussions fixated on people’s favourite couples, the latest recoupling and whether you were fully caught up. Bets were placed on islanders chances of winning, and the final was screened on projectors in pubs up and down the country, drawing in crowds similar to those witnessing England lose yet another penalty shoot-out at a World Cup.
In 2018, Love Island became ITV2’s most watched show in the network’s history. Series 5 (2019) was not only the series where Mollie-Mae Hague, Tommy Fury, and Ellie-Belly made us all believe that true love existed, but became the highest rated series ever, attracting a series average of 5.61 million viewers. Since then the reality show has steadily kept audiences engaged, with the launch shows for series 6-8 roughly bringing in 2.4 to 2.5 million viewers. However, this year’s opening episode only pulled in 1.4 million viewers, the lowest viewing figures in five years.
So why has there been such a significant drop in numbers? As this is only the second winter series to ever take place, maybe watching the show in our freezing homes rather than the blazing heat of summer just hits differently. Or maybe this is the beginning of the end, and we are simply witnessing the fall of Love Island.
This year’s series of Love Island has been pretty forgettable. From start to finish, series 9 has simply highlighted how incredibly predictable, tired, and staged the format of the show has become. Maya Jama couldn’t even salvage the series, and she’s Maya Jama! There have been zero couples to root for and no iconic friendships / bromances to rival the likes of Chris and Kem. The bombshells didn’t bombshell in the slightest and hardly made a Maura Higgins or Ovie Soko impact. The combination of producer contrived moments of drama alongside cringey romantic gestures, led islanders to deliver GCSE Drama performances that even Curtis and AJ Pritchard would be proud of.
Recent series have failed to capture the magic of earlier series. The predictable outset of the show is largely to blame, as islanders know exactly what they are signing up for. Even with the introduction of Casa Amor in Series 3 (2017) and Movie Night in Series 7 (2021), it has never been easier for islanders to construct game-plans to bag their ticket to the final, as the show’s format has hardly changed. The recycling of the same stereotypes year after year works to prospective islanders' advantages, as the key to getting cast on the show is to simply look and behave like the BTEC ghosts of islanders past. From the resident nice guys and queens of chaos to the Welsh brunettes, Essex cheeky chappies, ditsy blondes, Destiny’s Chaldish recruits and Nepo Babies, the casting formula is starting to wear a little thin.
As viewers, we also know exactly what to expect. Whilst familiarity can provide a sense of comfort for viewers, there is nothing we haven’t seen before. After eight years, who can blame us for being a little bit bored? When an islander shouts “I’ve got a text”, we prepare ourselves for the unnecessary challenges, awkward dates and vomit-inducing recoupling speeches that follow. We know which islanders are getting dumped based on how well they are fitting into the producer’s pre-planned story arc. Every year we get less excited about the final dates, remembering that whichever couple gets stuck with the boat date is doomed!
It should come as no surprise that Love Island has attracted a considerable amount of controversy. Following their stint on the show many contestants go on to launch successful social media careers, however they are faced with a barrage of daily trolling and online abuse. The level of abuse towards contestants is arguably much more rampant in comparison to other reality TV shows. Love Island’s aftercare and mental health support for contestants has come under scrutiny in recent years as two former contestants and original host Caroline Flack have tragically taken their own lives, and as a result there have been many calls for the programme to be cancelled.
However, the programme hasn’t been cancelled and sadly remains largely problematic. Love Island loves to glamorise both the attractiveness and stupidity of the islanders. Whilst the idea of watching attractive single people in a villa is quite appealing, we all desperately wish the islanders would take a quick flight to the nearest IKEA and assemble a personality. Despite throwing in the odd doctor and biomedical student, the lack of intelligence amongst the islanders is uncomfortable to watch. We’ve seen countless occasions where islanders express their inability to know basic facts, show off their shocking geography skills, and who can possibly forget the painfully awkward Brexit conversation between the girls in Series 4 (2018). Whilst people would argue that that’s not why we watch the show, why do we as a society insist on making completely braindead people famous? The glamorisation of attractiveness and stupidity simply emphasises the view that society merely values your appearance and nothing else.
If we’ve learnt anything from the success of hit series such as The Traitors (2022), it is that audiences crave a sense of normality combined with an exciting concept. In its very first series the final of the show attracted 3.2 million viewers. One of the reasons for its success was arguably the fact that the show was made up of ordinary people. And it was incredibly refreshing to watch. Real people, with real jobs and real personalities who were unused to cameras and had no idea what to expect from the show’s format. Because they were less focused on opportunities post TV and were simply focused on playing the game, this allowed contestants to remain largely unfiltered and as a result created fantastic TV.
Popular culture has an important role to play in challenging distorted body image expectations. Since it first aired, Love Island has consistently upheld an exclusivity of representation, setting unattainable beauty standards for both young men and women. Each year’s cast features slim toned women, and muscular men with one or two tick-box contestants thrown in for good measure, to uphold claims that the show is inclusive and racially diverse. Love Island bosses have continuously defended their decision not to include a broader range of both body and racially diverse islanders stating that the show is largely, “a very aspirational programme for our audience”.
Research has shown time and time again that the media directly influences the way people feel about their bodies, especially women, and subsequently causes dissatisfaction when it comes to the way they look. With the rise of social media and reality TV programmes like Love Island, the demand for plastic surgery amongst young women has never been higher. Each year, countless tabloid articles are posted showing each female islanders before and after transformations, detailing exactly what procedures they have had done, and how much they cost.
The desire to get the ‘Love Island body’ consisting of botox, boob jobs, cheek and lip fillers, has become a nationwide phenomenon. Arguments surrounding plastic surgery came to blows in Series 7 when Hugo Hammond was heavily criticised by Faye Winter and Sharon Gaffka during a couples challenge after he made a comment saying that he is not attracted to ‘fake’ women, shortly after both women confessed to having had cosmetic procedures. Despite their openness, they called on Hammond to apologise and get educated on the reasons why women feel the need to get work done in the first place.
But the arguments they made simply perpetuated the falsehood that having these procedures is somehow an empowering feminist act. This ideal image of ‘plastic’ women is created by and for men, and is facilitated by the media. Whilst women think getting surgery is an empowering act as they are making the decision to do this to their own bodies, nevertheless, they are still subscribing to patriarchal standards by attempting to achieve an unattainable level of beauty. As a viewer, to what extent you buy into this image is up to you, but the fact that so many women believe having surgery boosts their confidence and will give them more social standing in the world, shows how little society values women’s bodies in their natural state.
The show ultimately presents a microcosm of the many dysfunctional parts of modern dating. Head turning, test taking, and disloyalty appear to make up the official Love Island relationship textbook. Every year islanders are obsessed with being tested, thinking that this provides an indicator as to how much someone likes you. Not only is this a harmful idea to perpetuate, but it also plays into the toxic notion that these ‘tests’ actually make couples stronger because they have overcome obstacles in order to be together. But surely if you really like someone and are interested in getting to know them, you don’t need to check how you feel by kissing three other people. Rather than being open and honest about exploring your options, test taking is used by many islanders in order to not hold themselves accountable for their own behaviour. At the end of the day, the only thing you need to be getting tested for are STIs.
Furthermore, last year’s series raised serious concerns regarding the misogynistic and controlling behaviour of the boys towards the girls. From the boys encouraging and egging each other on for the disrespectful ways in which they acted during Casa Amor, to Dami and Luca’s treatment of Tasha, many of the girls were subjected to gaslighting, continually doubting their actions, reactions, and general behaviour. A number of women’s and domestic violence charities vocalised their concerns with Women’s Aid saying that “a programme based around the formation of romantic relationships must have guidelines on what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable in those relationships”. Despite the boys later apologising, their apologies felt forced and insincere. Love Island choosing to broadcast and normalise this type of behaviour as entertainment in front of an audience of young and impressionable viewers, is hardly something to celebrate and creates damaging perceptions of how relationships should function.
Despite its memorable moments, Influencer Island has well and truly had its moment in the sun…or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, Kai and Sanam were worthy winners but at this point do we really care? After nine series, the struggle to watch and sustain an interest in an attractive yet relatively boring group of people six nights a week is becoming tedious and tiresome, with wider issues regarding the show getting harder to ignore. With the double dose of islander overkill this year, and with new shows like The Traitors to keep us hooked, who can blame us for finally turning our heads and cracking on elsewhere?