The fifth series of Love Island, which aired last summer, crowned Amber and Greg as king and queen of the candy-coloured, neon-lit villa. Viewer ratings hit an all-time high with several episodes breaking 6 million views. One study reported that in 2019, more people applied to be on Love Island than to Cambridge or Oxford combined, and potential earnings from an 8-week stint on the show are much higher than what you could hope to earn as a graduate from either institution. 


If you, like myself, tuned into all 49 episodes of series five and maybe hung on once or twice to watch the post-game analysis on the spin-off series, Aftersun, you’ve surrendered about 60 hours of your life to ITV’s answer to the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival.


Airing of the first winter series began earlier this month, and with it, Love Island has once again wriggled its way into our living rooms, our feeds, and our everyday vocabulary. The question on everyone’s mind is the same: what is the secret ingredient that keeps us coming back for more?


Every year as the series kicks off, we know what we’re in for. Scantily clad models and influencers, being covered in god-knows-what as they take part in flirtatious challenges. We are all familiar with the phrase “sex sells”; could the key to Love Island’s success be that simple? Everything takes place in the bubble of a sunny holiday villa and the Islanders have no contact with the outside world. Love Island is light-hearted, candyfloss viewing. It is easy to see the appeal in a show which allows us to indulge in being shallow, shut off, relaxed, and escape from reality for an hour or two. 


Being a fly on the wall for girly chats in the dressing room or pep talks in the gym, we begin to feel like part of the group. As the weeks pass by, the Islanders’ personalities begin to shine through, we begin to identify with them and root for our favourites. The producers of the show are masters of suspense and create storylines that keep us hooked – the star crossed lovers, the heroes, and the villains who betray them. With a few episodes under your belt, it is hard to avoid being hooked.


A huge reason we watch and continue to watch is the fact that the show has such a strong presence across all social media. It’s a case of the chicken and the egg – do we post online about the show to connect with the millions of viewers of the show? Or do we watch the show because everyone is tweeting about it and we have to see what all the fuss is about? The show itself posts regularly on all platforms, often including clips that weren’t seen on TV, which only adds to the social media buzz and virality. There is an enormous community of people that just love to dissect and analyse every minute. It’s what everyone is talking about and what’s more, you had better be up to date because anything you’ve watched two days ago is old news. We all know how strong the desire can be to be in on the joke, to feel like part of a group, and to fit in. Maybe it is these feelings that keep us glued to the screen – the Love Island FOMO is definitely real!


Islanders try their best to navigate sudden twists, recouplings, and dumpings on their quest for love. If we go deeper, it could be argued that we watch Love Island to learn about the do’s and don’ts of both relationships and friendships. Islanders are in a sense, lab rats in a social experiment. From the comfort of our own couches, we can navigate human experiences such as love, heartbreak, loyalty, jealousy, trust, and many more – without any risk to ourselves. 


If we take everything with more than a pinch of salt and recognise that the reality for Islanders is probably a Boohoo deal rather than happily ever after, then there are many valuable lessons to be learned from Love Island. The show often touches on topics that can be a springboard for wider discussion. Take the refreshingly unreserved Maura Higgins of season five. Maurabroke down many gendered stereotypes as she spoke openly about sex and refused to accept misogynistic behaviour from her fellow male islanders.


Although, as the Islanders say, “it’s early days”, it feels like there is less excitement around the new winter series. Perhaps it’s the fact that we have barely recovered from the intense 8 weeks of viewing over the summer season. Or, the controversies around former presenter Caroline Flack being charged with assault, and former contestant Ollie receiving public backlash for participating in trophy hunting. Or, maybe viewers heading back into work or college simply don’t have 60 hours to spare this time around? We can only wait and see whether the magic formula of Love Island can manage to pull in viewers as it has in the past. 


Whatever your opinion of the show, whether it be a bit of harmless fun or a waste of your valuable time, Love Island has us talking. We can be cynical and dismissive, or we can accept that it is one of the hottest reality shows on television – and it didn’t get there for no reason.



Photo by ITV



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