Too straight, too samey: How Love Island bored away millions of viewers

<span>Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock

It was only at 8.45pm, on Monday night, 15 minutes before it began, that I realised that Love Island’s summer launch was imminent. Which was weird. Usually, there’s a bit of fanfare beforehand: people on the timeline posting photos from Love Island viewing parties. Me being invited to Love Island viewing parties. A few think pieces and “what to expect from Love Island” content scattered about, with glistening, buff-bodied twentysomethings in swimsuits posing for glossy ITV press pics. This year, there was very little of that. All was quiet. Even when the show began, “Apple” and “Vision Pro” were trending on Twitter – no Love Island, as usual.

This lacklustre response was reflected in the viewing figures. Love Island was watched live on ITV2 by 1.3 million viewers on Monday night – a million down on the same time last year. Four years back, the show’s summer launch episode attracted 3.3 million viewers – 2 million more than this year. So, what gives? Is Love Island – the UK’s most well-known and catchphrasable reality show, now on its 10th season – finally losing its shine? Are people getting … bored?

You could argue that disillusionment with Love Island has been simmering for some time. Ever since Sophie Gradon – a former Love Island contestant – killed herself in 2018, there’s been a dark cloud hanging over a show that tends to whip up intense waves of media scrutiny and online harassment both during and after contestants’ participation. In 2019, another former contestant, Mike Thalassitis, killed himself. And then, of course, the show’s host, Caroline Flack, killed herself a year later. After Flack’s tragic death, many called for the show to be cancelled. But still, it persisted, often with just as much frenzy and social media critique buzzing around as in previous years (Coco Lodge, a 2022 contestant, recently told the Guardian how she was trolled relentlessly for her looks.)

Love Island contestant Coco Lodge at the premiere of The Menu in London.
Love Island 2022 contestant Coco Lodge at the premiere of The Menu in London. Photograph: Karwai Tang/WireImage

Still, viewers don’t tend to dip out of shows en masse purely for moral purposes (if they did, plenty of reality shows would have a hard time gaining popularity at all). Lauren O’Neill, cultural critic and former co-host of the podcast Vice Does Love Island, thinks the show is now simply overdone and oversaturated, with audiences growing increasingly fatigued. “ITV’s insistence on airing the show two times a year [in 2019, 2020 and 2023] has made it lose its potency. In its heyday, people really looked forward to it starting in summer – it felt like the first British reality event that we’ve had since the peak of Big Brother – so ITV have missed a trick in lowering its value.”

Abigail Louise Rawlings, who appeared on season seven of Love Island in 2021, echoed this sentiment. “There have been too many series too close together,” she told the Guardian. “I don’t think people have been given enough time to miss it, and it’s such a commitment watching the summer series. It really takes over your life. Love Island hasn’t got the same hype as it used to, I think.”

We’ve also seen an influx of fresher, more unique reality dating shows in the past couple of years. Take Love Is Blind, one of Netflix’s more unhinged offerings in which people propose to each other through a wall. Or The Ultimatum: Queer Love, which has been consuming the minds and timelines of queers across the globe this month. Many of these newer dating shows are more inclusive than Love Island ever was, with more imaginative formats. “This year, the show was immediately preceded by the BBC’s I Kissed a Boy, which felt like a direct riposte to Love Island considering the fact that it’s received criticism for not being LGBTQ inclusive,” says O’Neill, adding: “Love Island doesn’t feel as unique as it once did, unfortunately.”

And what about the actual show? I’ve been watching – it was new host Maya Jama that swung me – and so far it’s been exactly what you’d expect: tanned 23-year-olds in colourful, complicated swimwear asking each other if they usually go for blondes or brunettes, and if there’s anyone they’re interested in “getting to know”. But the regular setup and style of the show are definitely wearing thin, even with an initial “twist” in which the public voted on who should couple up, instead of contestants. “Please change the format,” complained one viewer on Twitter following launch night. “Not just the same old games, talent night, Casa Amor, babies, silly speeches – it needs a shake-up.”

Only time will tell whether Love Island will bounce back from a launch that appears to have elicited nothing more than a half-hearted nod among its usual dedicated crowd. We’re only a week in and, as history has shown us, television shows can sometimes generate a slow build as opposed to a major splash. “I’ve heard that the new one is good already,” said Rawlings, “so it might actually have a turnaround in views.”

But for a show that was once so popular that even Americans started using phrases like “my type on paper” and “a little bit of me”, its dwindling ratings are perhaps a sign that Love Island mania is now on its last legs. And, this time, maybe not even a fresh batch of fluoro-toothed singles with white jeans and influencing dreams are enough to save it.