When I interned briefly at The Telegraph, I was lucky enough to sneak a piece on Love Island, only the best show on TV, into the paper. My editor, who had never watched the show, was masterful at helping craft this article into something that could be enjoyed by non-fans as well. The published article can be found here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/09/love-islanders-arent-separate-species-deep-just-like/
I couldn’t work out where I had seen Love Island’s Megan before. Engrossed in her tragicomic lust triangles with Eyal and Dr. Alex; then with Laura and Wes; then with Wes and speccy Alex; I felt a foreboding sense of familiarity. I know we’ve never met and yet there’s something about this girl, with her self-reverence, self-entitlement and ergonomically-impossible cleavage that just feels like deja-vu all over again. And then it hit me, I have met her before. I’ve met her a thousand times. She’s the girl that dumped me on her parents’ porch and wretched my heart out when I was 18. She’s the girl I fell for on my gap year who would breadcrumb me because she got her kicks from male attention. She’s the reflection from the stream of every girl that got away, every nearly-happened and every could-have-been. She’s the less and the more of the sum of every forgotten dream, all wrapped up in a Benidorm wink and a sundrenched smile.
Because Love Island isn’t really about the contestants. If it was, no one would ever invest the absurd amount of time it takes to watch the hourly updates night after night. Love Island is about you. Not the collective you. Just you. That’s why you like it.
Watching contestants have to make or fake romantic relationships or risk being kicked off the show, all to win fifty grand and a shot at a toothpaste ad, is as artificial as the girls’ lip-fillers and yet it strips the gamut of human relationships down to just its bra and thong.
It’s not just that we see in this cast of reprobates, chancers and preening prancers the cast of our own lives – our friends, frenemies and old flames. It’s not just that when raffish Adam, fresh from two-timing two girls, looked deep into his third victim Zara’s bambi-like eyes, promising this time he’ll be true and lying through his teeth, that we were all screaming at the telly, “no, he’s going to leave you to wander his well-trodden trail of broken hearts!” and he did before being booted off the show himself. Or that when Scottish always-the-bridesmaid Laura was unceremoniously ditched by her beau Wes for Megan, we instantly thought of those lamentable Lauras in our own lives who always fall for the wrong’uns and never learn.
No, what really keeps us in the addictive cycle of hit and relapse when it comes to Love Island is that we see ourselves in this show – our weaknesses when we’re being manipulated, our incapacity to just fancy that person who adores us, our regrets about how we’ve broken up with exes (or reacted when they broke up with us).
So we can criticise girl-next-door Ellie for cold-shouldering drippy Dr. Alex when her feelings for him were in rigor mortis, but haven’t we all turned on the old radio silence when some unwanted admirer has given us an SOS? And yes, estuary-accented Dani’s reaction to hearing her boyfriend Jack was shacked up for three days with his ex at the alternative villa Casa Amor was verging on G-force levels of woe-with-me self-martyrdom, but isn’t overwrought jealousy an inescapable part of our DNA? Love Island is a reflection from the Styx of our every relationship – the good, the bad and the ugly – only in light speed. It holds a vanity mirror up to all of us and asks, “does my vice look big in this?”
And where the producers have pulled a real blinder is in the love-hate relationship that they’ve created between us and the more morally devoid contestants. So we all love furiously tweeting night after night our unbridled, unabashed contempt for Adam’s philandering or never-faithful Josh’s wandering eye or Megan’s callousness, and yet … and yet … if we’re true to ourselves, isn’t there a teeny part of us, just an infinitesimal miniscule fibre, maybe even just a single atom of our being, that actually respects the villains? Respects their boldness, their rule-breaking and their devil-may-care approach to life? When Josh ditched tinkerbell-ish Georgia because he realised the grass was steamier with newbie Kaz, didn’t every person to a man who’s stuck in a loveless relationship think Josh is heartless but at least he’s free?
We all want to be angelic Jack and Dani, the loveable twosome whose devotion to each other from day dot warms our hearts; and yet sometimes we like to take a sneak peak at the dark side too and imagine what it would be like to be one of the naughtier contestants who’s always getting up to all manner of shenanigans. Perhaps we know that deep down we are like Jack and Dani, and we are like Adam and Josh, and we are the light and the dark of all we’re watching on the Island and we are, well, Islanders.