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Love Island Season 7


Emoji summary: 🆘💔🤢

Have you ever dated someone and then felt suddenly repulsed by the way they look or speak or dress or move? It’s like in an instant, they’ve gone off. Expired, melted, began to rot. The mirage has disappeared. An imaginary smell is coming from somewhere, and even if you can put your finger on the problem, you’ll never see them in the same way again. It’s too late, it’s over, but thankfully you’ve already moved on. Love Island calls it ‘getting the ick,’ a term for a new and irreversible disgust that was shared with the public by Leanne in season six. I’ve had the ick before for dates but now I’ve got it for Love Island itself. Something inside me has shifted. It’s taken a bit of effort to even see the current season through to the end; I’ve been stuck hanging around in the bad smell waiting to see what happened so I could finally make my peace and go. I won’t be watching it anymore — I just don’t want to.

I used to love this show. In lighter times, I saw the villa like a modern soap for our generation. At first, I watched because I knew everybody else was watching and I wanted to be inside another one of our country’s national hobbies. I kept up to date because every night felt like the footy (how it is warm to be in the crowd or on the couch with other viewers even when neither team scores). Boring episodes, fiascos, middling to good to dramatic — whatever — the scale alone entertained me. And like sport, Love Island comes with plenty of commentary, and that is how I found my way inside of it, engaged and understanding. Iain Stirling’s remarks have been searing and cool from the start. But more than that, I would watch along and let blue-tick spirit guides give me opinions when I had none; comments projectile-tweeted by people who move faster than I can think. Storytelling in hot-takes brought the pace of the show up, and I enjoyed reacting to the drama through the lens of people with louder reactions than myself.

Plus, the format of Love Island was chaotic enough for me to want to stare at it and wonder about its effect. A dating game show that throws singles together in a Spanish villa for 8 weeks. Islanders have to be in strong, compatible, popular couples to stay in the game. New singles cat-walk in to threaten the sanctity of pre-existing couples, and there are rounds of voting that see people leave every week. The public can vote for their favourites at the very end of the 2 month ordeal and the winning pair have to decide whether to split or share a £50,000 cash prize.

It’s essentially a show that rewards the couple that falls in love the fastest and the deepest and in the most entertaining way — and how mystical is that. How risky, how embarrassing, and how seemingly impossible too. How can you fall for someone in such a bizarre set-up? But it happens every season in perfect reality TV fairytale endings. I am always proven wrong. Couples make it official in the villa, get married afterwards, have babies, get dogs and hamsters, and live happily ever after in brand deal style. It amazes me but maybe there’s something to be said for the way the show cages Islanders together. Sleeping in a bed with somebody they just met, existing without the internet or the news. They live half-naked in sponsored clothing, and give up lie-ins as far as we’re shown. Nothing to watch, nothing to read, nothing to do but vibe. A funny summer lockdown people actively apply to be a part of (long before we all felt the discipline of pandemic lockdowns ourselves). I think the setting and the premise are both fascinating. I think — no, I know — I’d go mad.

It is a game that barely admits it is a game at all. The prize money moment at the end is almost an afterthought because everything else has been presented to us like the show is a romantic docuseries, albeit with a few twists and turns. When we watch, we are watching their moves in the game though: their chats, sleeping arrangements, recouplings, choices made in challenges, Casa Amor goings-on, as well as anything out of line — you know, anyone moving mad. And people move mad all the time. The mad moments will bounce around my head forever. ‘It’ll be interesting to see if she’s all mouth or not,’ ‘chaldish,’ and ‘I was coming back here to tell you I loved you.’

The level of drama reached every now and then can make it feel less like a game show and more like dramatic improv. As a viewer over the past few years, I would easily forget the wider framework the contestants were being held in. I would be soppy and wait in amazement to see if anyone would actually manage to find love. I would hold my breath at the chaos along the way and then catch it again with the help of the commentary. And that was enough until now — that was enjoyable. Except it’s just not working for me anymore. The penny has dropped, I’ve seen the light, or whichever saying is most suitable. Throughout Season 7 of Love Island, I couldn’t help but imagine a zoomed-out version of what everybody else was seeing, and that’s when the ick appeared in my gut. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. I want different things. Well, I was being nice. It is you. I don’t like you anymore. Yeah, I’m sorry but I’m moving on.

Maybe it’s definitely because of the suicides connected to the show. Sophie, her boyfriend Aaron, Mike, and Caroline. Four suicides in such a short amount of time, and one psychiatric hospitalisation for Niall. Thinking about what has happened to all of these people makes my stomach drop, and it scares me that the number could rise again. It makes me want to renounce any enjoyment I have felt for the show in the past, even if doing so is useless. I want to take back anything that looks like co-signing the environment. And I feel like such a fucking buzzkill for even bringing it up because people don’t speak about their deaths nearly enough (because it is a buzzkill and the audience just wants to have their cake). But the entertainment gained from Love Island is not worth more than somebody’s life — the show is not even that good, not that it could ever be. It is a huge signal that something has gone wrong between the shape of the show itself, how it presents the Islanders, and the wider culture Love Island exists in.

I watched Season 7 wondering if the producers would soften at all, or if the public would be more careful given what has gone on but everything was just as painful. Ultimately, I became so uncomfortable with my own relationship to the content that I have ended up writing this strange break-up text to process my own closure. I think there are a few core issues to consider.

The first problem I have is in the editing, and I’m addressing the main Sunday-Friday instalments because I know that is what the majority of people watch, missing Unseen Bits completely. Once a day over the course of the 8 weeks, the audience is presented with a one hour edit of what’s been happening in compact, brief, exposition-only episodes. We are not given full accounts of every single person in the villa. We hardly ever watch unedited conversations, and we are lucky if a shot stays still long enough to show us the essence of somebody’s personality. The fun and the weird and the uncanny are cut and saved for Saturdays. Instead, we are given main plot points that move the producer’s story forward, and only the ones they think are interesting enough to leave in.

I understand why. Certain scenes are chosen so each episode achieves its arc within the hour, nice and tight and clean. I sympathise with the time constraints here but I also resent them because it makes Love Island sounds like a kid telling a story. Hasty, basic, charmless, short-sighted, and then suddenly dramatic out of nowhere. It’s a kid’s once upon a time tale populated with goodies and baddies, and that’s it. And sure, it makes for entertaining reality television in its drive-thru binary drama, but it’s a shitty way to treat the presentation of young adults who are making their debut to the nation. We aren’t given the fullness of these people, like I don’t have a clue who they are. And it stresses me out because I want to know them in order to understand why they do what they do. I need to know what they were thinking in order to sit with them in their feelings, in order to be attentive and kind. I don’t know them but I do know the extreme caricature that has been presented to me, the one that fits the storyline the producers have decided to tell. I know if they are a goodie or a baddie; a victim, a threat, a betrayer or the soon-to-be betrayed. And I act accordingly and mindlessly and I hate it.

It’s surreal to watch people refracted through the lens of ITV — a broadcaster that needs constant drama so they can keep up a big viewer count; something they need so they can make money in adverts and so on, and whatever, it’s life. It is kind of frightening to think about how our generation has enjoyed full editorial control around how we present ourselves online, and then seeing what happens to people once they have handed over that control to another form of media that has its own agenda. The roles Islanders are placed in can be so dehumanising, and as a viewer it has left me with so many unanswered questions. Because I watch but I can easily feel the gap between what probably happened and what was probably said in full, the edit we were shown, and the reaction the public has landed on — a public that wasn’t even there, and a public I cannot blame because of the filtered show they are seeing.

It’s sticky and I kick myself because if I am honest, I find Love Island most engaging when I believe what I am being told, and definitely not when I stop to question it. Nuance is too slow. Nuance is too grand to fit in a single hour-long episode. Nuance is so much harder to chew. And nuance is a buzzkill that makes it more difficult to know how to feel as the viewer, because accepting you don’t know the truth simply leaves you with no reaction at all. Easier to just accept the stage roles in front of us and cheer when we’re told to; easier to boo along with everybody else when that’s the noise that people are making. It’s rough.

I didn’t tweet about Love Island this year. Instead, I kept my unfounded opinions in a private group chat with friends. I didn’t feel comfortable that a comment I might make based on a refracted character could find its way back to the un-refracted subject by way of the internet. It didn’t feel fair. And actually, having a conversation in a group chat, away from the wilderness of Twitter, felt like something I could live with: the group chat was a consequence-free place to be the judgemental audience member the show was inviting me to be. It was a safer way to gossip about the flattened versions of the Islanders. And it was gossip that actually felt more like gossip — more catty and honest and unhinged — precisely because it was whispered amongst friends and not being said and remembered out loud under the clinical brightness of the internet. I could psychoanalyse to my heart’s content and enjoy my friend’s psychoanalysing too. Our watch party became a staple part of my day, and the jokes have been so good that we’re now wondering what else we can watch to keep the togetherness and the gossip going.

I have thought that if more people did group chats instead of the internet, maybe things would be safer when every Islander eventually leaves the villa and picks their phone up again. Imagine looking at the timeline for the first time after all that exposure. From the secret den of the group chat, I would look back at the Twitter authorities I used to enjoy and wonder how they could just guess at the truth like that in front of everyone, with those numbers too. None of it feels worth it when everyone tweeting together might come at the expense of someone’s actual life. Some of the shit I’ve seen people say. The thought alone makes me sweat. At least I know the shit I’ve said isn’t going anywhere. Just, the scale I used to adore alongside this show is now one of my biggest concerns.

The choked one-hour format is my main gripe and I think opening the show up and slowing it down would make the biggest difference in how the audience reacts (a force I think people take for granted, especially en masse). But I don’t think Love Island is looking to become double-team Big Brother, even if that would be a healthier way to go.

I can’t help comparing Love Island to other reality TV shows though, and I think making those comparisons has also led me to this ick moment of not wanting to watch it anymore. I’ve been marathoning Real Housewives in recent months and it’s interesting how Bravo are able to generate a much wilder and honestly violent tier of drama from their stars all within a framework that feels more accommodating and even representative. Confessionals are much more frequent throughout each episode, and importantly they are filmed in retrospect when the Housewives have had time to digest and reflect on their behaviour. At the end of every season, all the stars come together in multi-part Reunion episodes that grant final opportunities for stars to clarify themselves, explicitly discuss the edit, reply to audience comments, consider how the show landed in its public reception, and also to process their relationships with one another in the presence of a mediator. Love Island’s confessionals only ever push the exposition agenda — no one even confesses anything, it’s boring. But I guess the show doesn’t have the same timescale for filming in retrospect like that, so it just stays lite and dangerous instead.

Beyond the format, the reaction, and my worry for the Islanders’ wellbeing, I just felt disappointed by the effort the show failed to put in this year. I know the rest of my comments are going to sound petty in comparison to my points so far but it’s like Love Island has been wearing the same outfit for 7 seasons and just expected us not to notice. If you’re not going to put in the effort, why should we?

Contestants continue to be mostly white, skinny non-disabled people who are all straight according to the edit and that’s that. The rare dates they go on together look cheap as fuck. I can’t believe the producers are so intent on never letting these people have fun, never letting them do anything daring or memorable or spectacular. It’s like they think being on a TV show is enough, that’s all you’re getting. But whoever designs the dates should be replaced by someone with a bigger imagination. There should probably be a shake-up for the challenges team as well. 7 seasons in and we are seeing the same cookie-cutter challenges with different decoration. The challenges are skippable. Too repetitive, too boring, or too gross (and not in the fun I’m A Celeb way, like it’s just grim and a bit awkward). I am not quite sure what the challenges even bring to the table to be honest. Strange little colourful decoy performances of a game show inside the wider dating game show already going on, the one we are supposed to forget is happening. The challenges seem to be filler for the edit when a full hour hasn’t been achieved. I just wish the filler tried harder because it is dead space and a wasted opportunity that could help save the show’s face.

Dates, challenges, Islanders themselves, and the game(s) they take part in. This year, there was no innovation and it meant every public vote, every Islander vote, every newcomer, and every single move in the game was to be expected. ITV play all this emotional music and do close-ups expecting us to be moved but we already know who is going home so please, what is the point in over-compensating like that? It only works to emphasise the lack of surprise. Because everything is exposition-focused, there’s no chance or discovery left to play with; and no Islanders are ever wildcards that move sideways or talk tactically about the game itself, as though they’ve been told they’re not allowed to mention the fact they’re even on a show. I hate that. I wish they would. I wish someone would go in there and play the game in an insincere but open way; get a good friendship going on, stay coupled up as friends, and let the public in on the plan. Win some money for being brazen. Pierce the floaty pretence that love is all that’s going on.

Maybe the rules of the game are too dictating or maybe we just know them too well by now. But compare a game like Love Island to a classic such as spin the bottle where chance (or is it skill?) results in so many exciting outcomes for players. I know which one I would rather watch, and I wish Love Island could capture some of that giddiness around love and play. At the moment, that lightness is missing. Instead, there are screaming matches and tears, and of course the harshness of Casa Amor; against that backdrop, challenges don’t feel genuinely fun but like a cliche group activity to distract everyone from the drama. I wonder if Love Island should be speaking to game designers to consider a way to build a show that has care, fun, love, and excitement inside a more thoughtful design. Maybe a better story could be delivered through a new shape and maybe it could be told to us in a better way; received more safely too. And maybe if Love Island was more creative about its very own form as a dating game show, people wouldn’t get so bored they sought out commentary as a way to make up for the deficit of entertainment they felt they were owed (and therefore making the entertainment for themselves). That’s myself included in the group chat, and you as well I imagine on Twitter, the couch or otherwise.

I think that’s a big enough list to justify a break-up. The ick is overshadowing everything for me at this point. Can’t enjoy the funny scandal of them all doing pure Sims woo-hooing under the covers in a big dorm together, because honestly I’m thinking too much. Like, whatever happens on the show I worry about these people when they get out. And I never used to be able to conceptualise what the Islanders did before they arrived at the villa, only their existence inside of it. Now, terrified, I’m like: what evil or parasocial love will come to them through their phones? Is Faye going to survive the backlash? Is Jake going to be able to cope? What will happen if they don’t get the influencer career they might have been banking on? What happens when the brand deals, the external validation and the attention dry up and they’re left all alone? There have been so many seasons churning out people with a specific, time-sensitive cultural cachet into an over-saturated market, not to mention one that is struggling in a pandemic. And I worry! I worry about the Islanders graduating Season 7 and replacing the flagging influencers that came before them. The cycle will never end. So dark to think that as a result of a single TV show, there is the (un)planned obsolescence of people themselves. Sorry to sound like an old person but honestly, what has the world become.

I’m done with Love Island. I don’t even care who wins. I’ve got the ick and now I can never go back. I hope Kaz and Liberty have beautiful lives. But maybe I should wish that for all of them? I just don’t know who to trust.

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