And so here we are. After six long weeks in the Majorcan sun, we’ll finally find out which couple is set to win Love Island 2017. Will it be on-and-off again Olivia and Chris? Blazin’ Squad member Marcel with his girl Gabby? The so-virtuous-it-looks-suspicious duo Jamie and Camilla? Or Amber and utterly loveable Kem the hairdresser?
If you’ve missed out on the Love Island phenomenon, the format works like this: singles spend a summer in a luxury villa, where each week they have to couple up with a partner with whom they have to share a bed and complete challenges, with new singles arriving every so often to shake things up. At the end of the series, the couple that the British public backs the most wins £50,000. That’s pretty much the entire game format – to win, you have to appear the most legitimately invested in your relationship compared to the other couples in the villa.
If you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds like any other sub-par reality tv show: obnoxiously lit, obnoxiously soundtracked, and obnoxiously casted, fear not. I was once an unbeliever like you. I had seen the trailers and the commentary online, seen the Essex tans and badly blended extensions, the tightest of toned bodies and the whitest of white teeth (on the whitest of white people) and assumed that this show wasn’t for me. I wasn’t the target audience. I had never really got the intrigue around that genre of South East celebrity, looked down on British reality tv stars with a weird sort of embarrassment (why can’t they at least try to compete with American exports like the Kardshian-Jenner’s?) and firmly believed that reality television peaked after Big Brother 7.
Then, last summer, everything changed. On the 23rd June, the UK voted in the EU referendum. I, along with 75% of 18-24 year old’s who voted, had voted to remain in the European Union, a vote in large part motivated by an aspiration to travel freely and a desire for more open borders. When it was announced that the voting outcome had swung in favour of Leave voters, I returned home sulking. I shut myself in the living room, my sour energy putting off the rest of my housemates from entering (housemates who were largely EU citizens and who I now felt a weird envy towards. Unlike them, I would never be able to pay an extortionate amount of money to live in a crumbling old houseshare in a foreign capital city, working exhausting hours doing bar work to survive. Didn’t they know how lucky they were?!)
“By day three, I had caught up on the whole series and was an avid fan”
I felt a genuine sadness and exhaustion, and didn’t socialise for three days. Day one I spent painting and watching old films as escapism until a friend texted me: “have you been watching Love Island?”
“No,” I said, “looks rubbish”. But they told me to trust them, and watch the first episode, and see what I thought. So I did. I watched the first episode, and, wholly unexpectedly, I didn’t hate it. So I watched a few more. By day three, I had caught up on the whole series and was an avid fan.
As the news was repetitively discussing what the UKs future would look like with apocalyptic glee, Love Island depicted a collective of Brits abroad, perfectly protected from the politics going on back home. As I watched them frolic around in the Spanish EU sun, I felt strangely comforted. Here is a world away from home, where the sun seems to be shining endlessly, the rooms cleaned automatically, the parties provided organically, and their only motivation is to find love. That’s it. They don’t have to stress about bills or buying groceries (unless for a challenge), they don’t have to worry about the state of their friends Visas or the future economy. Their only responsibility, for as long as there are viewers watching the screen, is to fancy someone and hope that person fancies them back.
Whilst watching the minutiae of their everyday decisions and dramas, I slowly found the strength to leave the living room. Where Love Island condensed life into only one major decision, who to couple up with, is where I began getting over my anxiety about the future. Yes, I could stress about what Brexit would actually mean and how it might impact my future or my children’s future or my children’s children’s future and so on until I convinced myself that all my future descendants would blame me for the result. Or, I could stress about what I’m going to message that person I’m kind of into, and pour all other anxieties towards that instead. Love Island presented me with a window to a parallel universe where nothing was stressful except love, but where love was the overruling motivational force. And there was something very peaceful about that.
“My votes counted for nothing in the general election, but they definitely contributed to the Love Island polls”
Beginning initially in 2005 as Celebrity Love Island, the show was revamped in 2015 where members of the public, instead of celebrities, were the contestants, the show is now in its third year of this format. And, just like last year, it’s popularity perhaps has something to do with nation’s collective post-vote uncertainty. This year’s series began on June 5th, just three days before a general election which left the UK without a government. And just like last year, we all turned to our screens to see this saucy, sunny, microcosm of the general public rather than face the chaos of our own making in the real world. I may have felt like my votes counted for nothing in the general election, but they definitely contributed to the Love Island polls conducted on their app, or for dumping my least favourite couple from the villa. And whilst the producers prod and poke at the Islanders, the outcomes of each week in the villa are still largely predictable. Sometimes I feel that the general public has far more control over what happens in Love Island than we do over the country’s politics.
Whilst the show isn’t a total utopia – it’s ableist and heteronormative, still prioritising the buffest cis bodies and awkwardly unsure of how to alter its game format when two bisexual women showed interest in each other last season. There is still yet to be a dark-skinned woman to enter the villa, and it’s guilty of over-sexualising the contestants with crass voice overs and commentary from panellists on their spin-off show Love Island: After Sun. But compared to Big Brother, a show which is often guilty of the same and which tends to ham up the discomfort of its housemates for views, the Love Island contestants (aside from their own “couple issues”) do, for the most part, seem to get on fine and without being greatly offensive. And that’s such a rare pleasure to watch.
So, it’s not perfect, and I do have idealised dreams of a more inclusive version (more genders, more ethnicities, more sexualities please), Love Island does serve its purpose. It’s reality television escapism boiled down to one of its most effective formats. And whilst we still don’t have a proper government, we do at least know that one couple will leave the Love Island villa tonight with an extra £50,000 thanks to the general public voting. I hope I never have to go through another election without it.