There are very few things that I dedicate as much time to as watching Love Island during the summer. For two months it’s on six nights a week, for at least an hour each time. I began watching it a few years ago, just because other people were doing it and I’m easily influenced, but now, in the third year of my Love Island lifetime, I found myself wanting to examine this behaviour a bit more closely. What is it that I enjoy so much about this programme? And why am I enjoying it so much this season in particular?
Partly it’s that its rigidly unchanging idiosyncrasies are now familiar and comfortable. The day-long suckling at the water bottles, the meandering “chats” they “pull” each other for, the oddly puritanical two glasses of wine in the evenings. The slices of iconic drama: moments that live forever in my mind, like Amy’s delivery of “I was coming back here to tell you I loved you”, and the time Anton cried when Craig David turned up at the villa. There are the friendships that seem destined to last way beyond the end of a summer. This season it’s Kaz and Liberty, in the past we had Amber and Anna, Dani and Samira. And occasionally, they find what all the contestants claim to be looking for (beyond the deals with fashion brands and the £50,000 prize): true love.
But if I dig down and take a frank look at my motivations for watching the show, there is unquestionably another, grubbier element. I enjoy Love Island so much partly because it’s fun to dislike people.
I would not argue this is a very noble part of the human experience. But I would argue that it’s a common one, and one that I hadn’t noticed until recently has been missing from many people’s lives over the past 15 months. We’ve been deprived of the events where you’d run into those recurring characters, the bit-part villains of life: someone’s creepy boyfriend, the nasal man who inexplicably turns up early to every house party, the beautiful, successful woman who can’t help but subtly refer to her beauty and success in every conversation. There is no joy without pain, and there is no full spectrum of social existence without that one guy who corners you in the pub once every six months to tell you, in expansive detail and very close to your face, about his podcast. I sort of miss these people, who provide essential fodder for the next day’s group chat debrief. And so hate is maybe too strong a word for the way I feel about them, and it’s certainly too strong a word for the way I feel about anyone on Love Island. But I do like to indulge in the polarisation a programme like Love Island encourages, the loathing as well as the affection.
Which then leads me to a curdling sort of feeling I have about the show. Is it OK to enjoy being a hater? With Casa Amor coming to an explosive close this weekend, traditionally a moment in the show when new villains make themselves known by betraying the partners they professed loyalty to, the question has only felt more pressing. Antagonists are key ingredients of all drama, but a highly manipulative reality show puts them in a different, less flattering light.
There are, of course, a thousand ways to take disliking a real person you see on TV too far. I don’t know any of the Love Island contestants, and what I think I know about them is filtered through the way they’re edited by the show’s producers and then filtered again through how they’re being received on social media. I’m sure that when I am sitting on my sofa gleefully fuming about the behaviour of someone’s PE teacher on the television, what I am seeing is behaviour provoked by the extremely weird circumstance of being locked inside a Spanish compound and being surveilled 24 hours a day. And there is a long and troubling history of contestants on this specific programme seriously struggling with their mental health in the aftermath of their time in the villa, finding the viciousness of public sentiment directed towards them too much to bear. “What am I doing?” I think as I tune in to enjoy my little anti-crushes, and bitch about them with my friends afterwards.
I suppose, short of not watching the show – and I am simply not willing to do that – the only answer is to bear the illusion in mind. There’s nothing wrong with a little gossip, in my view, and I think the way we interact with reality television is gossip of a kind. It’s normal. But in the same way as I don’t really know anything about the creepy boyfriend I’ve spoken to for eight minutes in total, I don’t really know anything about the Love Island contestants. And so I think that, even if I do feel a bit queasy about it sometimes, I can justify indulging in my dislike for some of them. What we see on a reality show isn’t particularly real, but it does reflect the reality that we’re a judgmental, nosy little species, and I wouldn’t personally have it any other way.
Then again, this is the conclusion that allows me to keep watching the programme I like, so it’s an easy one for me to reach. Maybe it is unjustifiable, and I have to make peace with the fact this is something I do that reflects badly on me. Maybe that in itself is fine. The Love Island contestants aren’t perfect, and neither am I.