For those who may not be aware, the 2023 winter series of Love Island is now ending, with the final airing on March 13. The summer series last year saw record-breaking viewing figures and produced stars out of the line-up of contestants, including eventual winners Ekin-Su CülcüloÄlu and Davide Sanclimenti, as well as Michael Owen’s daughter Gemma Owen, who was runner up.
The reception to summer’s season would have spurred ITV on to repeat similar heights with their winter season, headed by new show host Maya Jama. However, the popularity of the show host seems not to have translated in this series of ITV’s hit reality show, which celebrated more lows than highs in terms of viewer ratings.
This series saw ten new hopeful’s seeking love in the second winter series of the show — with contestants heading to the show’s South African villa hoping for an African winter of love — and more importantly — the lucrative TV and brand deals that awaited previous contestants, including Molly-Mae Hague and Tommy Fury, who are no doubt the blueprint for many participants after successfully implanting themselves in British popular culture post- Love Island.
Any hopes for similar success, unfortunately, were not meant to be for this year’s crop of hopefuls, with ITV banning participants from social media until their exit from the villa, meaning many opportunities for social media engagements for contestants were missed. This meant that those that took part were left with strikingly low social media followings.
In fact, the show’s most followed contestant, Australian Jessie Wynter, who sits on 492k on Instagram at the time of writing, picked up the bulk of her following from appearing in the Australian edition of Love Island, with many of the original cast sitting around the 100-200k follower count — still a substantial number, but one that is usually reserved for those who enjoy short stints on the show.
The opener of the Love Island winter series drew an audience of just 1.2 million viewers, down more than a staggering one million viewers compared to its summer showing, which opened to 2.4 million viewers. The series launch was also plagued with technical difficulties, with jumpy visuals and sound cutting off.
The show ends in a similar vein, with Love Island host Maya Jama accidentally leaking that contestants Jessie Wynter and her partner Will Young received the boot by posting an Instagram story for the spin-off Sunday show, Love island: Aftersun, where the two were clearly visible — which was quickly deleted from her account.
So, with viewer figuers dropping, the question left lingering is, what exactly went wrong this time?
Well, for starters, timing may have been an issue. During a cost-of-living crisis, where many are struggling to afford food and heat their homes during winter, the optics of Instagram influencers, personal trainers and TV extras enjoying a sun-soaked free holiday in a luxury villa in South Africa, draped in designer clothing, may not have been the best-thought-out plan for the broadcaster.
Another issue is casting — though many previous contestants may have had a showbiz background of some sort, they still managed to provide unfiltered entertainment. This went doubly for those who were not from a media background and provided some of the most meme-able moments of the past, including Love Island’s 2018 contestant Hayley Hughes, whose confused Brexit conversation, and the consequences this would have for the UK’s trees (we’re still unsure of what that may be), provided an iconic moment for British reality TV.
This is where the current crop of contestants has an issue — they’re just not interesting enough. The series failed to provide any noteworthy moments that didn’t feel scripted — it’s almost as if many of the contestants felt they had to shy away from portraying any unguarded conversations, but, in reality TV, that’s what we want! The clue is in the name.
Founder of PR agency WPR and reality TV exert Lee Bennett identified the show’s casting as a reason he hasn’t followed the series with as much focus: “I watched the initial first few episodes and have dipped in and out since but as a whole, it hasn’t really held my interest as much as previous series have. Some of the castings don’t feel as strong this series”, though he added: “I thought farmer Will was a stroke of genius from the casting team.”
Bennett also thought that two series of the hit ITV show just proved too much for fans: “When do reality shows ever give viewers more than one series per year? I’m A Celeb, Dancing on Ice, The Apprentice, Married at First Sight, with the exception of Celebrity Big Brother alongside the civilian series which isn’t a fair comparison as they were different formats – the standard rule for reality TV is one series per year, anymore just becomes damaging and dilutes the brand.”
This years Love Island cast was also uncharacteristically young, with original castmate Olivia Hawkins being the oldest in the series opener, at just 27 years old. Comedian Katherine Ryan commented on how she “feels wrong” for “watching teenagers get off with each other,” in an interview with Metro, a sentiment ITV aims to tackle with upcoming spin-off show, Your Mum, My Dad — showcasing the love lives of middle-aged contestants in their 40s and 50s.
The shows format is also an area of conern — regularly attarcting the same kind of participants every year. Clinical psychologist Dr. Sarah Bishop shared her thoughts on this with the Standard: “Repeated exposure to overly predictable reality TV formulas and similar contestant types across series can mean we start to lose interest in certain shows. This is partly because there comes a point in our consumption of any topic where we reach “saturation”; that is where we reach a limit of in how much more we can take in of that subject. We tend to switch off when this happens — quite literally in the case of TV shows.
“The predictability of the contestants in terms of their behaviours, backgrounds, motivations for being on TV can leave viewers feeling like they have ‘seen it all before’. We know that soaps can maintain popularity over decades; this is because the storylines alter and the characters change. There is also a wide range of different characters in terms of age/backgrounds/motivations etc. If we compare this to reality TV this is usually not the case. The storylines and characters of reality TV remain remarkably similar over the years. It is this which can ultimately leave viewers feeling bored by or disconnected from such shows.“
She added: “While the shock value of certain storylines or casting in reality TV might hook in viewers initially, like any relationship; this is unlikely to be enough to maintain a stable interest over time. Once we get used to something being shocking it no longer shocks. If a TV show relies on this strategy, it will inevitably have a limited shelf life.”
Lee Bennett echoed this view, saying the show stands a much better chance of survival if it returns to its one series-per-year formula: “Two series per year creates a lot more Love Island cast members all gunning for the same opportunities, wanting to develop their careers as reality TV stars or springboard into whatever area they’re keen to develop into – the more contestants that appear on the show, the more celebrities it creates, the more diluted the brand becomes.”
In contrast to the fading glow of Love Island, new kid on the block The Traitors has reached glowing heights, with relatable contestants battling it out to win £100,000, in a test of trust and endurance, providing guaranteed drama. The show finished with whopping 3.2 million viewers tuning into the final, captivating the country’s reality TV audience, with the show still trending on social media days after the final.
One of last year’s contestants on The Traitors, Alex Gray, was offered a spot to appear on ITV’s Love Island but chose to appear on BBC’s hit reality show instead.
“That kind of genre of reality show where it is more about prancing around in a bikini and falling in love with other contestants, that wasn’t for me,” she said, speaking to SWNS.
“I’d always kind of shunned it and turned away from doing reality until I saw that the BBC were doing their first ever proper reality show. I liked the fact that it was with the BBC and the idea that it wasn’t about looks, it wasn’t about falling in love – these kinds of boring formats have been done over and over again.”
With even Love Island’s target contestant base shunning the show, it may be time for ITV to rethink their strategy going into their upcoming series, which is mere weeks away from the winter series final. Shows like The Traitors are proving that viewers want a slice of reality with their reality TV.
Winter Love Island final will be broadcast live on ITV2 and ITVX platforms at 9pm on March 13.