Each year it returns to screens, and each year the excitement seems to heighten. A stark, stark contrast to the other show on everyone’s lips these days - Chernobyl (HBO’s latest series, based on the 1986 Soviet Union Nuclear disaster, which recently soared to 1st place on IMDB’s TV show ratings) - Love Island is a British reality TV show. It involves a gang of young attractive singletons looking to find love. The show’s 5th season opening episode just garnered ITV2’s highest-ever opening figures, 3.3 million.
Echoing the return of Love Island in 2018, controversy is colouring a lot of the conversation around the show this year, with many asking why the show is still on air. Has the format gone stale? Arguably. From lack of diversity and inauthenticity to racism, racial bias and mental health, various problematic themes have arisen from the show. This year the show ‘branded’ one participant as ‘plus size.’ Viewers were quick to ridicule this proclamation, noting that the individual was not plus size at all.
Essentially, to many young people, the show seems to simply not be representative of modern times (despite the fact that the show has claimed to be working on these issues, following criticism).
“I refuse to watch it this year because it plays with people’s minds and insecurities. I watched last years and was definitely entertaining at times, but at the end of the day I think it’s very focused on looks... People question when the guy or girl move on to the next ‘best thing’ and that’s kinda gross to me.” Katie, 28.
“It’s all so fake - and when they finish they just advertise loads of crap. To me, the suicides also show how vulnerable these people are and they seem to be exploiting it. More of an aside, but there’s also only heterosexual relationships, if you had that many people in a room statistically, you shouldn’t get that.” Tara, 25.
Contestants from previous seasons, who became instant stars because of the show, have struggled with their mental health and two have tragically died by suicide. A presenter from the show however, has hit back at critics who were quick to blame the show for the deaths:
"It's dangerous and I'm really, really angry. It's not just that you're blaming a TV show, you're blaming people and their jobs. In life, we all have a duty of care to look out for each other, but I don't think it's fair to point fingers of blame. This is a much bigger issue than just a reality TV show." Caroline Flack, 39.
The show now has now begun a redemption journey of sorts. It’s evolved to include a duty of care regime for contestants. Now, a minimum of 8 therapy sessions will be provided to each Islander when they return home and “proactive contact” will be maintained with the contestants for a period of 14 months after the series has ended.
While all of this puts pressure on the show and its producers, it hasn’t had an impact on viewing figures, or indeed daily online fan engagement with the show and its characters.
Why? If young people today are so ‘woke’, surely that would inspire a mass rejection of a form of entertainment that, at least on the surface, appears to be stuck in the past and offensive to many viewers.
“Because it’s still entertaining. It’s like base level brilliant reality TV - First-Dates meets Tinder. Yes it’s flawed, and the producers must know it. But I don’t think they care. More of an effort should be made on television and in media in general for diversity and Love Island is the lowest of the low. EXCEPT it’s like junk food TV... We know it’s bad for us and there are plenty of other options, but it’s just incredibly dramatic. And hilarious. And awful. All at once.” Michelle, 27.
Some viewers even openly admit that they don’t know why they like watching it:
“I actually don’t know why I like watching it. I’ve realized over the past 4 nights now that I certainly don’t like the drama and think it is really really shit - and upsetting to the contestants mental health. I couldn’t go on it. I’d break down. Honestly. I wouldn’t be able to cope with someone cheating on me in front of my eyes.” Mark, 27
It’s so extreme, the show’s almost like a parody of real life… But it’s reality TV.
Much of the drama, of course, stems from the intimate nature of the relationships playing out on screen. Fans appeared to crash websites searching for explanations of a sex position referenced by one of the contestants. Plus, not to be understated, the frequency of the show provides fresh content for fans every day - the show airs every day of the week (save for Saturday’s). Each evening, all you have to do is follow #LoveIsland to see how big social media interaction is for the show. It enhances people’s experience and drives further commentary and analysis.
Some brands have already engaged with the show - recognising the potential to connect with its fans through it on social media. While many are happy to indulge in the drama it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. As a brand or organisation looking to engage with young people, consider your duty of care to youth too, before entering into conversation in contexts like these.
One thing is indisputable - Love Island, at its essence is very simple. It’s based on a universally understood pursuit, the search for love. While it is universal, it is extremely personal (drama) - and that, it seems, is a magic formula for entertaining storytelling.