Where's all the actual “connecting” on Love Island?

tung magazine love island opinion

There’s so much coupling up, decoupling, and emotional drama packed into most nightly Love Island episodes it makes me wonder how the original voyeuristic reality TV show, Big Brother, was entertaining enough to have characters just sit around all day chatting. With no requirement written into the contracts to decimate other people’s sense of self, what kept us watching? 

The appeal of Big Brother was in the mundane interactions and character quirks that you loved, hated or, even better, loved to hate. On Love Island, the stakes are higher. Emotional humiliation broadcast live to the nation in return for minor fame, sexual capital, and a handful of business opportunities in the outside world is a bargain the Islanders deem worthwhile. The show focuses on the fine line between embarrassing rejection and a happily-ever-after ending. Unsurprisingly, big betrayals are the most captivating, divisive moments because, if we’re all really honest with ourselves, deep down we live for the drama.

But over a month into the show, with an almost non-stop vortex of recoupling and decouplings, the drama is starting to wear thin. We’ve seen remarkably little footage of the contestants hanging out, which means that viewers have received little to go on in terms of personality. The episodes are so busy teasing, exposing, and then debriefing after moments of romantic turmoil that viewers still know very little if anything about many of the Islanders' personalities, and the bond they have with their couples.

Josh’s betrayal of Georgia – the biggest storyline of last week – was premised on him “feeling a connection” with new girl Kaz more strongly after a couple of days than in the three weeks he spent with Georgia. But, aside from his attraction to Kaz’s beauty, evidenced by his thrashing on the bed in front of the lads when she walked out of the room, we had little idea what this connection was all about.

While “well, you look banging” is undoubtedly the basis for certain couplings on the show — and nobody should pretend they themselves are forever completely immune to that logic — the show’s decision to edit out a lot of the day-to-day chat means that each successive climactic break-up takes on less and less meaning.

Why did Samira like Frankie so much that she left the show? Why was Zara the one woman Adam seemed to view as more than just a passing conquest? Without seeing the actual “connections” that the Islanders constantly refer to, the act of viewing Love Island is reduced to little more than watching hyper-toned Sims jumping on and off a meaningless merry-go-round.

Sure, Love Island is a manufactured TV show where nothing can be truly organic, but the best reality shows create artificial scenarios for people’s genuine weirdness or likeability to shine through. It’s no coincidence that the couple in whom we have seen the most genuine bonding and character, Jack Mincham and Dani Dyer, are the most loved by the public. But they’re not the only contestants with personalities –  the boys’ roleplaying of absurd Yorkshire characters was genuinely funny, but it was only shown because, that day, the producers couldn’t manufacture drama while their partners were all out of the villa.

The Islanders' chiselled bodies already engender the idea that they are aesthetic objects first and foremost, the editors do them a disservice by largely erasing their humour and relatability. The producing tricks that the show uses, such as ordering characters to have certain conversations and re-shooting of scenes, are focused on creating as many of these big romantic moments as possible, making the show closer to the manufactured reality shows of Made in Chelsea or The Only Way Is Essex, than the much more successful Big Brother.

That the show has been characterised by some commenters as “televised Tinder” is on the money in one crucial sense - like app dates, the job interview style in which the contestants are made to hit on each other removes the vital element of ambiguity that you have when meeting someone organically. Clearly, the Islanders need to get a move on for the sake of the show, but the conversations from their dates are reduced to explaining what their “type” is, how long they’ve been single and who they most fancy – an almost perfect equivalent of the job interview conversation of skillset, job history and ambition.

Love Island’s portrayal of chirpsing is then reduced to a robotic pattern in which each Islander confronts a potential partner, tells them they fancy them, and invites them to enter into a mutually beneficial partnership for future happiness optimisation. Selling their own brand as a romantic subject — with a set of attributes improved and advertised by a coordinated social media output — is integral to certain Islanders’ success on the show and in forging their career after it’s over. But it also reflects an increasingly dominant and depressing dating paradigm in a platform economy.  Counter-intuitively, it’s a lifeless and ultimately unsexy portrayal of the most aesthetically eye-catching people in society.

Certainly there are bigger problems with a show that platforms colourism and gaslighting, and which aggressively markets body dysmorphia and heteronormativity to an impressionable young audience. But even on its own terms — its intention being to make viewers buy into genuine human interaction — the editors have overlooked the unglamorous normality that draws people to invest their time in strangers night after night. 

Follow Tom on Twitter @TomGoulding

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