‘A shallow new low’: Love Island All Stars is a miserable attempt to rewrite history

<span>‘Refusal to grow up’ … The cast of Love Island All Stars.</span><span>Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock</span>
‘Refusal to grow up’ … The cast of Love Island All Stars.Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

When it comes to reality shows, you can have too much of a good thing – just look at Love Island. The increasingly bloated franchise now features a mixed bag of international versions, the much-maligned winter edition and challenge-based spin-off series Love Island Games – none of which have succeeded in breathing new life into the show. The same is true of Love Island All Stars, and its line up composed solely of returning cast members (like Love Island Games, then). It has been unanimously deemed a flop; the second series of The Traitors scored four times its audience at one point, and even its accompanying companion TV show The Traitors: Uncloaked pulled in 200,000 more viewers.

All Stars has failed for a number of reasons. First of all, returnee contestants don’t always equal drama. Second, the show has such an identity crisis that viewers would be forgiven for mistaking it for Ex on the Beach given the amount of cast members that have previously dated. But the biggest criticism has been the show’s lack of the star power advertised in the title. There has been a total lack of household names such as Ovie Soko, Molly Mae, Maura Higgins and Olivia Attwood to name a few. These fan favourites have no need to return to the show, finding huge success outside the villa – and some of the most popular former contestants distance themselves from the brand outright. We’ve been left with a cast who didn’t get enough screen time in their own series or simply haven’t found the fame others from the franchise have.

Aside from the absence of major players, there is another glaring issue. The disconnect between this series and the real world is unprecedented. Love Island has been one of the most popular reality shows in the UK for the best part of a decade, and fascination with contestants’ personal lives has continued well beyond the final episode. While a great deal has happened in the lives of the All Stars cast, most of it has not been addressed on the programme. Take, for instance, the alleged off-screen feud between contestants Georgia Steel and Joanna Chimonides, which was noted by social media sleuths but completely ignored on the show itself. Or the fact that Joanna was coupled up with Chris Taylor, who currently lives with her ex Michael Griffiths. No mention was made of their awkward pre-existing connection.

There are more drastic omissions. Eagle-eyed viewers noticed that cast member Georgia Harrison didn’t take part in the notorious heart rate challenge, in which participants are tasked with raising each other’s heart-rates through sexy dance routines. Many deduced that this was due to her experience as a victim of “revenge porn” at the hands of her ex, the reality star Stephen Bear. He was jailed last year after uploading a video of him and Georgia having sex to OnlyFans, and has since been released after his sentence was cut to just 11 months. After actively campaigning on violence against women and helping change UK laws, Harrison has since become an inspiration to many and been in serious conversations about becoming an MP. Similarly, contestant Demi Jones made headlines in 2021 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at just 22 years old and was applauded for helping to raise awareness around the condition. It seems unlikely that no one from the show has asked either woman about their wellbeing after such ordeals – some of the contestants made it clear they haven’t seen each other in years. What’s more likely is that these conversations aren’t being aired in order to keep Love Island as lighthearted as possible.

This airbrushing speaks to the programme’s refusal to grow up alongside its cast; their lives have changed in many ways, but the show hasn’t moved on since it first aired. For longtime viewers, this makes for jarring viewing. It’s hard not to think of the fact that some contestants were on the same series as Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon, who both died by suicide. Many of them had Caroline Flack as their host, who also died by suicide. Despite this dominating the news cycle for months and undoubtedly having a huge impact on the cast, no mention of this has been aired. And while nobody watches Love Island for hard hitting commentary, the commitment to nothing but fluff doesn’t sit right. It’s no wonder we are seeing viewers’ tastes shift towards shows like Big Brother, in which no conversation is off limits and authenticity is prioritised by producers.

Love Island continues to don different guises, but refuses to evolve. Seeing Islanders play Snog, Marry, Pie for the umpteenth time lost its impact long ago, but feels even more reductive given the unaddressed elephants in the room. The show has missed a trick by prohibiting viewers from seeing a different side to contestants and though it has been on the decline for some time, the lack of growth in All Stars has made for a particularly shallow new low.