No more bae-cation! Why we've fallen out of love with Love Island

Hannah J Davies
Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Winter Love Island. It sounded like the dream: the UK’s most popular reality show, only, er, in the winter. There would be snow, presumably, with Mallorca replaced by a Sloaney ski resort, perfect for fondue and fondling. What a vision, what a plan. Besides, it was surely time to shake up the show that turned ITV2 from an insomnia cure to a hit channel, as it morphed from niche concern to national obsession.

Alas, it has not come to pass: Winter Love Island ended up looking suspiciously like the Boohoo-clad, protein shake-fuelled Normal Love Island, except it was set in South Africa (not that you could tell from the identikit villa).

A lack of innovation was the first misstep. But it is far from the only problem, as a sense of fatigue begins to seep in to the biggest reality show since Big Brother. Caroline Flack’s departure – after she was involved in an assault case – was another opportunity to put a twist on what was fast becoming a ubiquitous format; Gemma Collins and Maya Jama were mooted to replace her, the former having a propensity for viral moments, the latter a millennial idol and Stormzy’s ex. Instead, ITV played it safe with Laura Whitmore, who seems lovely but could also very much be Flack with a dye job.

It’s unsurprising, then, that audiences dipped from the start, with figures down by 800,000 compared to the opening episode of the previous series. Last week’s instalment of companion show Unseen Bits was obliterated by How the Victorians Built Britain on Channel 5 (yes, really) and The Voice – the talent show surely nobody even knew was on.

Meanwhile, Ofcom received over 700 complaints about Love Island in the first 10 days alone. Digitally de-aged Boris Johnson Ollie Williams was the subject of most of the criticism, for posing alongside dead animals (he has denied claims of trophy hunting). Williams swiftly exited the villa, apparently due to unfinished business with his ex, which seemed rather convenient. There was also the case of Siannise Fudge – who, perhaps wanting to distract people from her own name – was accused of racism, after dubbing fellow contestant Nas Majeed “Aladdin”. It is far from the first time the show has courted controversy, but something about a privileged man showing off his hunting gear and a dubious comparison between a non-white cast member and a cartoon character felt particularly ill-advised. Connor Durman’s seemingly controlling behaviour towards Sophie Piper also caused concern, with last year’s winner Amber Gill commenting that Piper “[needed] to watch out” for his behaviour.

700 complaints in the first 10 days alone ... Love Island. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Problematic moments aside, perhaps there is something even worse going on here: maybe this series is actually – whisper it – boring. Moments of drama (Connor-with-the-teeth spurned for Connaugh-with-a-g, the addition of twins Jess and Eve Gale) were hyped up only to fizzle out, as though the show was aimed solely at viewers with amnesia. Even Mike Boateng and Leanne Amaning – the first black couple to grace the often racially problematic show – have had their romance undercut by the fact that, well, they don’t seem that into each other, and are perhaps more enamoured by the endless endorsement offers waiting in their inboxes. Online chat about the show seems sparser than usual, with a meme of Siannise’s shocked reaction to new girl Rebecca proving the only moderately viral moment so far. Similarly, the well-worn trope of the “celebrity” connection (see: Marcel from Blazing Squad, Dani Dyer) feels hollow, having extended here to Sophie, the sister of Rochelle from the Saturdays, and Paige, who previously dated singer Lewis Capaldi.

In any case, a couple of Twitter laughs might not suffice. There seems to be something missing from this year’s contestants, with no Anna/Amber/Yewande girl gang, Jack and Dani-style bond or Chris and Kem-a-like bromance. The “Poundland versions of previous contestants” feel only emphasises the show’s lack of diversity, this despite repeated rows over the unrealistic beauty standards the franchise promotes, and a recent YouGov survey finding that many viewers would support the inclusion of contestants with physical disabilities or different sexual orientations. Even the show’s latest catchphrase (“sauce”) sounds suspiciously like it was brainstormed in a Shoreditch marketing agency, ready to be printed on Primark pyjamas by the end of the week.

With the series thought to be running for six weeks, there’s more to come, too, and plenty of viewers who will likely continue to watch, with nothing better to do on cold, dark nights. But if Love Island carries on this way – tired, turgid and totally devoid of the team spirit that made it such a hit – by summer it may well have lost its place in our hearts.

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