Voices: Love Island has got it completely wrong with this year’s contestants – especially Gemma Owen

·5-min read

I hate myself for watching it, but we are all a product of our own chaotic desires, aren’t we? And so, once again, I surrender myself to Love Island.

Take me, oh ITV2, let me worship at the altar of skyscraper heels, cut-out dresses featuring substantial underboob, cheap Prosecco and “OMG you look stunnin’!” and “oh interesting” when someone says they’re studying “strength and conditioning”, and someone else pretends they know exactly what it is, but they don’t, because it sounds made up, and probably is.

Allow me to prostrate myself at the pre-recorded feet of those who ask within two minutes of meeting each other what their “favourite sexual position is”, and actually have an answer for that – have an actual answer based on an actual bird of prey, an actual answer they can actually blurt out completely off the cuff like it’s some ancient lore that’s been passed down for centuries, generation to generation, around a fire: the mysterious (yet uncomfortable-sounding) “broken eagle”.

Forgive me for revelling in my own, sordid television debasement; watch me pledge allegiance to the cult of endlessly strapped bikinis that wouldn’t look out of place at Torture Garden, the ones that make you look like a deckchair, or a sun lounger. You know! The kind your mum and dad have in the back garden: white, cumbersome, plastic-slatted. Those kind of tan lines from those kinds of bikinis – the ephemeral, iconic Love Island hardcore bondage bikinis.

Bear with me while I weep with sheer joy reading along to people’s tweets of the show – because that’s the main draw, let’s be honest, Jason Okundaye’s Love Island tweets last year were better than any singular episode – and sob as the contestants speak to each other like ancient woodland sages: “Aye”, they intone. “My last serious relationship was a year and a half ago.”

They sigh, shake their heads at the ravages of time, the severity of it, the bitter unfairness of silly human mortality, of temporality; nod as they ponder the last epoch, the dark ages, the unthinkable time they last went on a date. They devastate each other with sordid confessions of precisely how long they’ve been single, but… hang on. What? For Gemma Owen’s last relationship to have ended 18 months ago means she split up with her last partner when she was 17, which also means – as almost the whole of Twitter pointed out, with the hashtag #shesnineteen – she was just 16 at the start of the pandemic.

Sorry, I just fainted.

It’s even sweeter and more brilliant when you see them clutching at straws to find love – “both our names begin with I!” Ikenna said to Indiyah in the opening episode. “And we’ve both only had one relationship! That is weird – don’t you think that’s weird?”

Oh, bless you my sweet, sweet boy, for it’s not weird, actually, it’s not weird at all because you are CHILDREN. Children. And this, you see, is entirely where the producers of the show are going so wrong.

This year, the line-up of young, bronzed hopefuls contains a smidgen more diversity with the ITV2 show’s first ever deaf contestant, Tasha Ghouri (though there are already concerns that she is being judged for her seemingly “invisible” disability); as well as a concerted effort not to reduce the entire show to being basically all-white for once – the contestants even went through “inclusion training” before flying out to Mallorca.

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There’s a smattering of “proper jobs” on screen as well (a paramedic, a nanny, a model, a senior microbiologist, a master’s student, a pharmaceuticals salesman, a championship dressage rider, an estate agent, a fishmonger) to break up the usual cohort of “influencers”, “vloggers” and “I’m in events” – but there’s one glaring omission, and it’s anyone above the age of 27.

In fact, in a cruel and merciless twist of fate (and TV production) the ancient grandad of the group is the hottest, the one who’s here to stir it all up, the self-titled “Italian stallion” Davide – a business owner, though the precise nature of his “business” remains as mysterious as how any mortal man can have such abs.

Age, though, it’s never felt so glaring. My own, theirs, yours – Gemma might well be “looking for the one” at 19, but why on earth would she want to find him (or her)? Nineteen is no age, it should be “go out with your mates, play stupid games, get drunk and tell your best friend you love them, still sleep with a favourite teddy, go home to your mum and dad’s for dinner on Sundays”. Nineteen should be all about getting a regrettable tattoo, drinking alcopops, first holidays with your mates, first jobs, university freshers’ week, terrible music taste like liking Ed Sheeran and not being remotely sure what you want to do “when you grow up”, and that’s OK.

On Twitter, someone floated the idea of Love Island for “bitter divorcees” – and I couldn’t agree more. Stop with the teenagers who haven’t had time to do anything yet, who haven’t (really) got many tales to tell, because they haven’t been alive long enough to have stupid adventures like The Great Tequila Disaster of 2016, or That Time I Nearly Got Kidnapped On The Back Of A Motorbike In Vietnam.

Bring on the thirtysomethings, fortysomethings and fiftysomethings instead; those who might be older, wiser, more wrinkled (yes, we’ll own it) but more confident and secure with it; the ones who might be arguably less at risk of the emotional or psychological fallout of being on a show like Love Island, because we (I must declare an interest here, being in my forties) have ourselves worked out – have worked on ourselves. We’ve had therapy, some of us might even have had children. We’ve lost count of lovers and lost people, too.

Those of us who have been married or had proper long-term relationships (not just going to the school prom with our first kiss, which is all Gemma has technically had time to do) have so much more to offer because, well, we know what love is, and what it isn’t. We’ve lived a little. We have something to say.

Love Island is made for people like us. Just forget the bondage bikinis.

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