The first few days after a break up are hard. One minute you have someone waiting for you every night, ready to make you laugh and cry all at the same time. The next, they’re gone out of your life forever. Or at least until next summer, which is when ITV has confirmed the show will return. But in the meantime, Love Island, it’s over. And what will I do without you?
Well, for starters, let’s fill some time working out why I liked you so much in the first place. On the surface, Love Island is not a show that any reasonable person would have expected to have dominated Twitter, summer, and our emotional lives for two whole months, and finally to have broken ITV records, clocking up the channel’s biggest ever Monday night audience for the final episode. The concept is ludicrous: at the beginning of June, a bunch of aesthetically pleasing singletons were voluntarily imprisoned in a camera-filled Spanish villa, with nothing to entertain them but some seriously revealing swimwear and their own questionable conversational skills, to entertain the grateful public for an hour every night. The aim – to find love. The incentive – £50, 000. So far, so bizarre.
But, as the weeks went by, the show built on its 2016 success and began to attract a cult following, pulling in over a million viewers each night. All my friends were talking about it. My newsfeed was clogged with it. I tried to take an intellectual stand against trashy TV, to rise loftily above the masses jabbering about ‘cracking on’ and ‘muggy Mike’, and instead fill my evenings with long and improving books. I really tried.
But then, obviously, I started watching it. And, obviously, I enjoyed it. A lot. And I have spent the last few weeks asking myself why. So, as under-35s across the country crack open the Ben & Jerry’s and struggle to see a future without Love Island, this is what I have concluded. This is why Love Island gets me every time. And, I suspect, why it gets you.
Love Island takes two hugely successful television formats – competition and reality – and combines them. The result is that viewers get to enjoy the structure, purpose and tension of shows like The X Factor, and the human-interest stories offered by Made in Chelsea. So all those deeply enjoyable but utterly pointless conversations you get on reality TV shows, in which people discuss their feelings towards for each other at agonizing length, are given a real and vital purpose. Does Camilla actually have feelings for Craig, or is she just vulnerable after being dumped by Jonny? If she gets the answer wrong, she risks entering a relationship that will see her ‘dumped’ from the show, or lose the opportunity to start something that might take her all the way to the final. Never has that chat with your friends – you know, the one in the smoking area, when you analyze the pros and cons of your chirpse – felt so important.
True, the combination of the two formats does have it risks. The gamification of human emotion can seem absolutely ludicrous. People won’t just fall in love because some TV producers are telling them too, even with a £50,000 incentive. Except, of course – and this is the genius of the show – they will, because that’s exactly what happens in real life. In any given society, attractive individuals are constantly competing to find their most compatible partner. From the purpose of chivalry in Arthurian romance, through the driving force of every Jane Austen novel, right up to Bridget Jones and her ever disappointed mother, the never ending popularity of the ‘love plot’ tells us all we need to know about what society wants and expects from its individuals. Sure, most of our communities aren’t confined to a few thousand square feet of Spanish real estate, and yes, mostly our prizes come in the more abstract forms of social affirmation, security, and indeed, happiness, than £50, 000 in cash, but, fundamentally, the game is exactly the same.
Love Island is like real life on crack, and the producers never forgot this, proving fantastically adept at creating situations that mirrored the obstacles faced by real relationships. There was separation: see Dom breaking down after Jess was sent home, and tearfully assuring the cameras that they, ‘can send me on whatever dates they want to send me on’, he will remain true. Nawwww. There was temptation: after being separated into two villas and each given a new group of girls or guys, the couples were asked to decide whether to remain with their original partner, or opt for some new eye candy. Tearful reunions and frosty face offs followed. There was that photo: caught in a club by a well meaning friend, or glimpsed on a blurry snap story, that makes you doubt everything you thought you knew about someone, and on the show recreated through compromising photos from one villa slipped under the front door of the other.
In two surreal, vaguely misogynistic, and satisfyingly sunscreen fueled months, Love Island blasted its viewers through the highs and lows of twenty-first century relationships.
I still think it’s totally ludicrous. I still take issue with that balloon-popping, slut dropping competition, and, just, well, a lot of the weird stuff they say…
But I’ll be tuning back in next year with everyone else. I wouldn’t give up Love Island. Not while it plays our own lives back to us from a poolside in Majorca.