Love Island is back – but is Britain over reality TV’s most controversial villa? | Emma Garland
We try to be better people. Every year we make fresh vows to eat healthier, scroll less, spend more time nurturing our inner children by taking up watercolours and reading books about foraging. And it works, for a while. We post our Strava achievements online and tell our followers how “sorry” we are to reveal that eating vegetables and not binge drinking makes you feel “good, actually”. Then June arrives. The adverts begin to appear on our timelines and in train stations; 10-foot digital billboards of Britain’s most waxed humans winking suggestively in bikinis. The concept of free time begins to wither before our eyes as we resign six hours a week to watching future ambassadors for Gymshark pretend to be unlucky in love. By the time that jingle hits the airwaves, like Pavlov’s bell for Twitter addicts – brrr br br br br BREE br br – escape is futile. Another summer, another eight weeks of Love Island to lead us astray.
As hundreds of elected representatives poured into the House of Commons on Monday evening to affirm or renounce their confidence in Boris Johnson, 11 random twentysomethings rode into Mallorca on jeeps to ascend to the position of national celebrity. At the exact hour the leadership of the United Kingdom teetered on the rocks, the top trending name on social media was Curtis Pritchard, a man famous for saying he likes to be “the person who gets up and makes everyone a coffee so that everyone is ready for the morning” three years ago. It was a strange contrast of events: the unfortunate cynicism of real-life politics meets the overblown fervour of semi-scripted entertainment. Does it make sense? Not one bit. Am I here for it anyway, despite proclaiming that Love Island was “over” not 12 months ago? Apparently yes.
Within minutes of last night’s episode, viewers were reminded why Love Island is one of the UK’s most-watched shows. With a revamped format that scrapped the tradition of having the male contestants “pick” from a lineup of glorious women in six-inch heels, put the audience in charge of the first coupling and sent in an Italian “snack” called Davide in place of their usual female “bombshell”, the producers have clearly heeded some of the criticisms of the last few years. This season also features Love Island’s first deaf contestant and a more relatable array of backgrounds, rather than a slew of ready-made influencers and estate agents. Ahead of the premiere, they dropped their usual fast fashion partner (responsible for clothing everyone) in favour of eBay, which could have interesting implications for the Love Island-to-brand-ambassador pipeline that relies mostly on deals with the likes of Missguided, Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo. It’ll be curious to see whether its audience responds in kind. Love Island exists as entertainment, yes, but also as a guaranteed career launcher for hopeful social media stars and entrepreneurs across fashion and fitness. If the tide is turning on fast fashion, taking the boat along with it, will
the contestants also have to adapt on the other side?
Most of these changes have been done out of necessity, obviously. The show has become something of a bellwether for national sentiment, pulled up on everything from onscreen racism and emotional manipulation to the poor duty of care it has previously shown towards contestants. It also indicates a change in what people want from entertainment. Criticism of Love Island reached such a fever pitch last year that it was forced to either adapt or die, but only time will tell if these adjustments will be enough to reel back the show’s peak viewing figures of 2019.
In the meantime, the first hour and a half of Love Island 2022 was pretty wholesome by recent standards – toe sucking and discussion of favourite sex positions notwithstanding. The girlies entered with instant declarations of “love” for one other and high ponytails swishing in the continental breeze, the lads entered in Crocs and “ugly trunks”. Liam from Newport admitted he thought Elton John was a duo (Elt and John), Paige from Swansea tried to chat up a man from Rome by gushing about her love of “mafia books”. All in all, it felt like an ever-so-slightly fresh start for reality TV’s most contentious villa. That said, on the island where nothing ever changes – and I’m talking about the UK here – it seems we’ll take anything we can get.
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