Monday night’s Love Island final will bring down the curtain on what had the potential to be a seismic chapter in the history of reality television’s most divisive modern incarnation.
This, after all, is the first Love Island to air after the tragic death of Caroline Flack. And the first of the Covid era, when for most people a fortnight sitting by a hot-tub in the Balearics is not a holiday option so much as a Walter Mitty fever dream. And so there is a captive audience as never before.
And yet, Love Island 2021 has proved to be much like the old Love Island … only slightly more boring (with the exception of an explosive on-air sequence to be discussed below). As we look ahead to the grand decider, then, here are five questions to be answered.
1: Will the winner keep the cash?
Monday's episode is scheduled to run a feature-length 95 minutes and begins on Virgin Media One at 9pm. The four remaining couples are Millie and Liam, Toby and Chloe, Teddy and Faye and Kaz and Tyler.
In previous years, the public voted for the couple they wanted to win (although Irish viewers cannot participate). But even then, one challenge remains. One half of the winning couple will be handed the envelope with £50,000 – and given the option of pocketing the lot or sharing it with their partner. So it’s the ultimate test - love or lucre? To date nobody has trousered the winnings rather than splitting it 50: 50. So, after a relatively stolid season,there is space for one final upset.
2: Was the departure of Liberty and Jake the last dramatic moment?
Their love was meant to be, until suddenly it wasn't. The exit from Love Island in the penultimate week of Liberty Poole and Jake Cornish provided a rare moment of high-drama in a season that has often just felt like a plod along by the pool.
Liberty had ended the relationship, believing her feelings for Jake were not reciprocated. Many on social media were of the opinion that he had tried to subtly undermine her with negative comments. And that Jake had approached Love Island as a game-show and had his eye on the £50,000 first prize.
“I think only Jake can answer that question,” Liberty told the Sun after she and her ex voluntarily left the villa following their break-up. “When you love someone you don’t think of them playing a game. But only Jake can answer that….I do actually think his feelings were genuine. I think that the connection was genuine, but things went sour. But I do think he genuinely liked me. But I just was questioning whether obviously he loved me the way I loved him.”
3: Has the series learned from past mistakes?
Amid long-running concerns over the mental health of participants, Love Island producers had pledged to prioritise contestants' emotional well-being. But that was hard to square with the flashpoint in which Faye Winter embarked on a expletive-laden outburst when shown, without context, a clip of her partner Teddy Soares telling another contestant he found her attractive.
The first question this raised was if the producers were leaning back into the old reality TV strategy of manipulating the islanders and essentially using them as tattooed-and-tanned guinea pigs. The second was whether they should have stepped in to defuse the situation as Winter became increasingly distressed. As she grew more emotional, the promise of a new kinder Love Island rang increasingly hollow.
The public,at least, has made its mind up: the outburst drew 24,910 Ofcom complaints in the UK.
Will the producers opt for sensitivity or ratings on the show’s final night?
4: Are Kaz and Tyler destined to win?
Aside from Liberty and Jake, the couple that has arguably captured the heart of the public is Kaz and Tyler. "Kyler" is a trending hash-tag, and viewers have rooted for them amid complaints that their wholesome relationship has not received enough screen time. "Kaz and Tyler are meant for each other," commented Matt MacNaab, the Belfast Islander dumped by Kaz so that she could get together with Tyler.
5: Can Laura Whitmore end on a high?
Has the Bray presenter had a good Love Island? This is Whitmore ’s first stint as official Love Island host (she stepped in late in the day in 2020 after Caroline Flack was suspended from the series). And it hasn’t always been the smoothest of debuts. There were early grumblings on social media that she wasn’t in the villa enough – in the first three weeks of Love Island, for instance, she had just 12 minutes screen time.
Whitmore has divided her time between Majorca and London (where husband Iain Stirling is locked in a booth providing his trademark sarcastic voice-over).
However she has radiated big-sister vibes in her appearances at the villa – and it’s hardly her fault the show is unfolding against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
If she has a good final, she’s had a good series.