13 things I finally understand about Love Island

Love IslandBy the time Love Island fever had gripped the nation last year, it was too late for me to join in. I tried my best to understand what it was all about, but I had many questions that could not be answered without watching it for myself.

Six weeks into the current series, here’s what I’ve learned…

Q: How does anyone have time to watch this every single day for weeks and weeks at the height of summer?
A: Well, it’s not on every day – there’s no Saturday show. Which at first seems sensible and conducive to maintaining a social life, but after a few weeks the hours between 10pm on Friday and 9pm on Sunday seem to last forever. Which is of course a boon in every other respect.

Q: The participants are just pretending to fall in love, right?
A: For the most part, I honestly don’t think so. OK, love might be too strong a word, but if all the romantic feelings are faked then they’re all bloody good actors-slash-softcore porn performers. While it might seem ridiculous that strong, genuine feelings would really develop in this contrived and artificial setting, in the space of a few weeks the participants spend a LOT of time together.

Q: Isn’t the whole thing a bit brutal?
Yes, it is. The entire concept of the show is bound to make even the most confident of participants doubt themselves and others. Linking survival in the villa to being in a couple provides a clear incentive for islanders to feign interest in each other where there is no genuine spark, and either keep up a charade or keep their options open with a view to recoupling with someone else. Although of course, it’s possible conversations take place in which pragmatic strategies are openly discussed, and we just don’t see them…

Q: Is it fixed?
Yes and no. On one level, the islanders are the puppets and the producers have huge power to influence how they are perceived, who stays and who goes. But there are limits to how much can be manipulated, and indeed how much can be edited out. There are glaring “plot holes” in this season’s show, which means relationship dynamics don’t always seem to make sense. The circumstances surrounding the early departure of Niall for personal reasons (which turned out to be related to his Asperger’s Syndrome – or at least that’s the official line) were unclear, with comments here and there from other islanders suggesting Josh’s behaviour might have been a factor. And Samira’s reaction to Frankie’s departure didn’t make sense to viewers as their budding relationship was hardly shown. A trip the pair made to notorious shag-pad The Hideaway was never even referenced.

Q: Do they have sex on camera?
Yes and no. The cameras are there, but almost nothing is shown – the most we see is generic fumbling under the covers. Really we’re reliant on what the islanders tell each other about what they’ve got up to – and of course we’re also reliant on the producers showing those conversations. I have a feeling plenty happens (and is recorded) over the covers in The Hideaway.

Q: So the editors must tightly control what the viewers see, right?
Again, yes and no. If something happens in the villa that causes ructions, decouplings and recouplings, it really has to be shown. The editors couldn’t simply have opted not to screen this season’s hotly debated kiss between Georgia and the new Jack on their date, because subsequent bust-ups and break-ups in the villa directly resulted from it. Eagle-eyed viewers noted that action replays of that kiss suggest it was actually filmed more than once, which calls into question whether what we see is “real”.

Q: What are the rules around recoupling?
This is where is gets confusing as there don’t appear to be any firm rules whatsoever – ie, the producers make them up as they go along depending on what drama they wish to generate. At first I assumed Friday was either dumping day (ie echoing Big Brother’s eviction night) or recoupling day, but it turns out people can be dumped at any moment, even if there’s been no public vote the day before. Also, if a couple really aren’t getting on, they can decouple and unofficially couple up with other people*. Early on, being without an “official” partner meant an islander was vulnerable to getting dumped. Later, being single granted immunity. Confused? I don’t think the show really benefits from his level of manipulation, and it must add to the psychological strain for the islanders not knowing if they could be leaving at any moment. If indeed that is ever really the case…

*Now that Georgia and Sam have been forced to “uncouple”, it’ll be interesting to see how things actually play out. Georgia doesn’t seem to believe this prevents them from spending time together, chatting, kissing … basically doing exactly what they were doing before. Dani disagrees

Q: What does Caroline Flack have to do with all this?
Not very much really. She’s usually there for the dumping/recoupling (but not always – she was notably absent for one session this season that was conducted entirely via text instead) and she interviews dumped islanders on Sunday night’s Aftersun show.

Q: Why would anyone agree to go on this?
The reasons have clearly changed as the show has grown in popularity. It appears many if not most of this year’s islanders didn’t actually apply to go on it, but rather were scouted via Instagram. Of course they all claim they have come to the island to find love, but most are presumably seeking a boost to their profiles.

Q: What is the prize?
Love, of course! Oh, and an actual cash prize of £50,000 for the winning couple, but it seems unlikely that’s  anyone’s real target (and I suspect everyone is paid a day rate to participate). There’s clearly a lot more money to be made from the sponsorship deals, nightclub tours and full-blown TV careers than can potentially follow an appearance on the show. At first I questioned whether any of the less likeable characters would be able to profit in this way, but the producers seem to ensure no-one remains a villain for long. (I wrote this before they upped the ante to push Georgia’s buttons and not just threaten her relationship with Sam but all her friendships in the villa too  – I’m not convinced there’s enough time left for her to be rehabilitated and I really hope she fades into obscurity rather than being bullied. They should make the age requirement 21+ for future seasons).

Q: Doesn’t the whole coupling/recoupling concept create a lot of bad feeling?
You’d think, and there are certainly flashpoints, but bizarrely even the biggest bust-ups seem to be resolved very quickly. I suspect this is strongly influenced by the psychologists who are on hand 24 hours a day.  I never previously understood how anyone could form friendships in this context, knowing there’s a chance their partner could be “stolen” from them at any moment. But once people settle into solid couples, it seems old rivalries are quick to dissolve. Arguments tend not to go out of control in the way they do on other reality shows, partly perhaps because there’s very little alcohol in the villa.

Q: So they’re definitely not actors?
I have my doubts about Alexandra to be honest, though it does appear that Alex has become significantly better at communicating with women thanks to guidance from the other boys so perhaps it’s no fair to suggest it’s totally implausible that any girl would be genuinely into him. Would someone go on this show and indulge in some PG canoodling to boost their profile? Yes, especially if there were only a few weeks left and especially if they were accustomed to working as a stripper (or in a related field…)

Q: Why is it so popular?
I reckon people are just fascinated by other people’s relationships. It’s unusual to be able to watch a real (or at least semi-real) romance blossom before your eyes, and pore over the rights and wrongs of their tiffs and fall-outs, break-ups and make-ups. I feel as though there’s a thirst for more footage of the couples just hanging out though, rather than competing in challenges that sometimes cause controversy or reveal home truths but often just take up screen time that would be better spent on neglected islanders. But as much as the viewers complain about various aspects – and are quick to point out suspicious continuity errors on Twitter – they’re not about to stop watching. There was outrage when fan favourite Dani was brought to tears over a misleading clip showing Jack encountering an ex-girlfriend, and I thought seriously about bailing out when poor Laura seemed ready to unravel over that Jack-Georgia kiss, but who were we trying to kid? It’s cruel, it’s “real” in a strictly limited sense, and it’s distressing watching Alex getting more and more sunburnt by the day (don’t they teach about skin cancer at medical school?!) but it’s bloody addictive.

Do you agree with my answers? Do you have any more questions? Post them in the comments below or DM me @shonacraven!

Published by Shona Craven

Writer, editor, talking head

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