Before this year’s season, I had not seen a single episode of Love Island. Not even a single second.
It’s not my sort of thing, watching 20-somethings in swimwear lounging around talking in cringey slang before being prodded by text to ‘move mad’ and ‘do bits’ (gag) with a member of the opposite sex to compete for a £50,000 prize.
The dumpings, the re-couplings, the immature challenges, the having sex on national TV, the fierce social media backlash – all of this just sounded like a horrible headache that I could easily avoid by not tuning in.
But then I got a new job. Unsurprisingly, Love Island falls firmly under the remit of an entertainment reporter. Also, it’s hard to keep up with who’s who when a lot of them look the same and new bombshells enter at regular intervals – so I made the decision early on to buckle up, catch up and dive in.
At first, I was purely watching Love Island outside of my late shifts to ‘help’ with work, but then I found myself quite happily gravitating towards the TV at 9pm each night. I’d struggle picking out any past Islanders from a line-up, but suddenly I’d followed my faves from this series on Instagram (Liberty Poole and Teddy Soares, obviously).
It seemed like I’d been lulled into this place where I was desensitised to a lot of the drama I’d previously despised. I didn’t bat an eyelid when they all inevitably did the deed (synchronised!) during the show, something I had previously dismissed as… tacky.
I was an eager viewer of all those moments of natural drama and sass – when Kaz Kamwi winked at Tyler Cruickshank after dumping him to couple up with Matthew MacNabb, Hugo Hammond’s toe-curling ‘job done’ comment after finally kissing Amy Day, Lillie Haynes deciding to dob Liam Reardon in it with Millie Court for his flirtatious ways when he was in Casa Amor, and the brutality of getting the Islanders to sometimes choose who would be sent home. Even the inevitable downfall of Jake; I was hung on his awful ‘I wifed you, didn’t I?’ defence when Liberty questioned him after seeing him confess he didn’t want to ‘rip her clothes off’.
All of these moments fed into the narrative I knew of the show, before I got hooked, as car crash TV. Somewhere along the line that became OK for me – until it suddenly wasn’t.
I think we all know the point to which I’m referring: Faye Winter’s meltdown over the clip during movie night, when Tyler admitted he found Clarisse Juliette sexually attractive – and everything that has spiralled since.
Her furious rants were not only difficult to watch as she went on the warpath, but quite honestly, exhausting. Teddy’s calm, patient response was admirable, but it didn’t excuse her behaviour as she cursed and shouted and repeated herself ad nauseum, resulting in a record-breaking number of complaints to Ofcom – nearly 25,000.
Although Faye later apologised, the damage was done for both herself and viewers. For me, the manipulation from producers started to alter how comfortably I could watch the show. Faye might have kissed and made up with Teddy, but the insecurity that the programme tapped into to spark her reaction was laid bare.
She remained spoiling for a fight with Jake and had another negative over-reaction when Islanders were forced to vote for the least compatible couples, hounding her friends until she could sniff out who had dared express doubt in her and Teddy.
However, this is the girl that had fretted over Teddy while he was in Casa Amor, constantly deep diving into how she felt with Millie, who was anxious over Liam. She was clearly someone struggling with insecurity and yet the producers were OK sending both a postcard from Casa Amor and then airing clips for the movie night, which could easily suggest to someone as highly-strung as Faye that she had something to worry about.
It painted other relationship drama in an unpleasant way too, such as Millie’s tears following Lillie’s Casa Amor revelations and Liberty’s confidence being slowly chipped away by Jake’s lukewarm behaviour. The initial moments of drama might have been delicious but watching the human fall out on screen, quite frankly, gave me ‘the ick’.
The thing that offers me some solace is knowing that ITV has sworn to support islanders. In a statement to Metro.co.uk, it said: ‘Welfare and duty of care towards our contributors is always our primary concern, and we have extensive measures in place to support the islanders before, during and after their participation on the show.’
And of course, all contestants who choose to take part in the programme are adults too; they know that these sorts of twists and turns are Love Island’s bread and butter.
Still, it’s more uplifting, I’m sure for most of us, to watch contestants when they are at their best, rather than their worst. Over the past eight weeks, the best nights have been when we’re enjoying their highs rather than watching them in tears.
So despite the strings-pulling that sometimes keeps a show like this moving, I still feel the positives outweigh the negatives and the Islanders get their moments to shine. For that reason, I already know I’ll be tuning in again next year.
For this season, stand-out moments for me came from Teddy, Toby and Liberty. The flipside of Faye’s anger was discovering what an understanding gentleman Teddy was, willing to put in the work to reassure Faye and valuing her as a partner worth fighting for.
Toby’s baffling change of heart with his ‘it’s ……….Chloe’ revelation, after he’d gone through Abi and Mary, just to check, and almost got Chloe dumped from the show, could never have been written. As Chloe gave him a second chance and they coupled up once more, Toby went on a journey from almost-villain to king of many hearts as he learned what being in a relationship was like for the first time, and the importance of communication.
And then Lady Liberty. The decision Jiberty made to leave the show just ahead of the final, to avoid being a dampener on the other remaining loved-up couples, was so powerful. It also acted as the crowning achievement on Liberty’s journey of growth and self-discovery through her weeks in the villa. That, quite frankly, is possibly this season’s greatest love story. At only 21, leaving with her head held high, and knowing how to value herself in the future, was inspirational.
It’s easy to think Love Island contestants are solely there for the quick-fix life transformation and subsequent brand deals and Instagram clout, but the Islanders do go on meaningful journeys of growth, sometimes together and sometimes apart.
Call me soppy, but I was here for the love declarations in Monday’s final. I ate it all up and was touched by some of the eloquence on display. Every one of the eight finalists had spent time on their words, and it showed. Liam may not have used a pen since he was 16, but that didn’t hold him back from lavishing Millie with heartfelt praise, before they went on to be crowned winners.
From friends’ murmurs, I have gathered that this hasn’t perhaps been a vintage series of Love Island. With the past 18 months we’ve had though, the show has offered escapism in more than one form.
As travel restrictions remain, it has offered a portal to holiday conditions (yes please) as well as a distraction from the chaos of the world around us.
I’ve been well and truly sucked into the Love Island machine. Despite my grievances, I have fallen hook, line and sinker for that sunny, multimillion pound lifestyle ITV is selling to us.
Despite the potential pitfalls contestants may face, they are contractually obliged to look hot, sunbathe, eat, drink and date – and try to be themselves. Isn’t that the dream job? For multiple weeks they are placed in a bubble away from bills, cleaning and work, as well as this year mask-wearing, Covid cases (hopefully!) and the faff of deciding whether or not you should take a holiday abroad.
Yes, I want to watch that and enjoy a little vicarious living through the Islanders.
I also enjoyed getting to know the Islanders as individuals, from fiery Faye and lovely Liberty to the fun edge of chaos with Chloe, Kaz’s strength and maturity and Millie’s good vibes. Plus the genuine bonding between all of the Islanders, as they struck up close friendships (Tyler making up the day bed for Kaz and Liberty was so pure).
I appreciated that the Islanders took the show seriously and used its opportunity to find potential love. Liam was vindicated after Casa Amor (at least partly) in my eyes because of his genuine affection for Millie, while Toby’s journey to boyfriend material was an unexpected delight. I will definitely be following all of their relationships as they leave the villa, although trying, probably unsuccessfully, to not get too personally invested. And I’ll be following Liberty – did I mention that?
Love Island’s community on social media is a real plus, too. There’s trolling, yes, but there’s also family and colleagues to join in tweeting along to episodes in real time, engaging in discussions and picking up on (and apart) the minutest details. A shared national obsession is always fun, and has inspired me to get more stuck in with that side of things for Strictly Come Dancing’s debut next month.
So next year, I know I’ll be ready to tune in again. And it’s safe to say that I don’t judge Love Island viewers anymore.
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