Love Island is exactly the brain holiday you need right now

While most TV these days is anxiety-laden, Love Island is vacuous bliss – with a great subplot of female empowerment

A short clip from the ITV2 series, Love Island. Video: ITV2


This summer we’ve all run away to Love Island, and why not? Viewers are crying out for a well-deserved break from the anxiety-laden, unpredictable global news and the nervo-inducing fictional world of prestige telly.

If it’s not David Lynch trying to make you shred your eyes with a cheese grater, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale offering up a vision of the future where sweet Rory Gilmore has ended up a shaking, saucer-eyed zombie praying for an easeful death.

Even the most reliable of escapist reality shows have succumbed to a new, unwelcomed seriousness. This year’s Big Brother has suffocated under a cloud of toxic masculinity, and the latest Kardashians series weighs heavy with the aftermath of Kim’s traumatic experience in Paris and her PTSD. There’s no release.

Which is why the ridiculous goings-on in Love Island have been a welcome brain holiday for its ever-expanding viewership. The sheer bliss of its vacuity spread through social media like a particularly aggressive STD and now you can’t log on without seeing someone chatting about a contestant being “pied” or accusing another of being “mugged off”.

The communal exchange of fans has been a welcome relief from binge-watching paranoia, where you must siphon off a chunk of time to be up to date with the latest intense dramas. With Love Island, you get your nightly dose and can chat happily free from the fear of someone dropping a massive spoiler – the soiled nappy of social media.

Ostensibly, it’s early noughties fun-in-the-sun dating show The Villa but with a glam upgrade. A batch of guys and girls (within the standard aesthetic criteria of reality TV obviously) are ensconced in a luxurious property in Mallorca and paired off to find “love”or something like it.

These couples can be broken up and can re-couple with other islanders introduced into the show, but in the finale the public vote for their favourite existing couple to win a cash prize. It might sound as appealing as being made down Domestos shots at a stag night, but there is an inexplicable joy to be found in watching a perma-tanned Essex hairdresser ham-fistedly flirt with a Welsh glamour model.

Last year

Whereas last year’s series suffered from controversy stemming from then Miss Great Britain Zara Holland being stripped of her title for sleeping with the gaping chasm of nothingness that was scaffolder Alex Bowen. Depressing sexual double standards were rampant with Zara being slut-shamed online whilst Alex fell into bed with another islander within 24 hours.

After the tryst, the female contestants isolated her from the group and she ended up leaving the show as a shame-faced scarlet woman. This year thankfully, the female contestants are a triumphant girl gang, like a pack of Sugababes rejects, they roam the villa, eyes moving like flick-knives over the boys, observing their every gesture as the lads stew in a paranoid sweat-soup.

They are a jumble of Boohoo-sponsored teeny-bikinis knocking back sangria, cackling, crying and commiserating together. They are protective of each other, with salty blonde Olivia taking the role of no-nonsense, commander-in -chief, quickly assessing the recruits and managing to rumble newbie Craig’s dishonest intentions with villa sweetheart, gentle posho Camilla, within a millisecond of him setting foot on the veranda.

Boys of summer: Kem and Dom. Photograph: ITV
Boys of summer: Kem and Dom. Photograph: ITV

There is a real sense that these girls have learned from shows such as Geordie Shore, which exploited its working-class female cast, plying them with drink and waiting for the mistakes to be made as the cameras rolled. The Love Island girls are conscious of not wanting any of their group to be “stitched up” on TV, so giant water bottles are chugged throughout the day and night. And if a mister manages to mess with a sister, there’s hell to pay, as island idiot Muggy Mike found out to his detriment when he launched an attack on tough-girl Olivia in a “private” chat with young firebrand Chloe, who promptly relayed all this to Olivia within seconds, as Mike stood with his mouth agape learning far too late that you cannot pit these girls against each other.

Hollow banter

The solidarity of the girls casts a shadow on the fractious relationships within the boys group, with most conversations full of blustering bravado and hollow “banter”. Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away looks like a more viable option than these preening, tattooed peacocks tremulous with unexpressed insecurities.

No-one is more wondrously confused as Kem, the breakout star with his bountiful hair, his arena-sized self-confidence and his complete lack of self-awareness. His Den and Angie-style relationship with Amber has dominated the show, where one minute he is pledging his faithfulness, and after the ad break, acts like an over excited kid in a chipper given too much choice.

Although secretly fans would rather the heroic Montana win the lot with perhaps Camilla as her partner in a Thelma and Louise-style pact. Montana is the show’s everywoman (well, as everywoman as a stunning model can be). She started on Love Island treating it as an extended holiday, batting away the boys’ advances and setting them straight if they went too far. Now, after four weeks of doubts and rejection, she’s finally coupled up with studly shyboy Alex, as women cheered across the land when she giggled and confessed how much she liked him morphing into a schoolgirl at a slumber party.

High score: Montana during one of the shows challenges. Photograph: ITV
High score: Montana during one of the shows challenges. Photograph: ITV

For Love Island isn’t really about shagging. Sure, there are rumbles under the covers, hands dropped and midnight encounters on the couches (with night-vision cameras coming to life just to make viewers feel even more grubby and voyeuristic).

But the bulk of the show concentrates on the virus that is “catching feelings”. It’s like an hour-long best bits of conversations in nightclub toilets and smoking areas around the world. It’s about the anxiety of being rejected, the fear of being vulnerable, the unexpected psychosis that these emotions can bring.

Maybe Love Island truly is about love? Maybe the heat is scrambling everyone’s senses. Who knows? The only thing we know for sure is that more than two million viewers set themselves adrift on this cheap lilo of telly every night and relax. The arduous work of shows like House of Cards will still be there when they return, but for now it’s all about guilt-free fun-times in the sun.

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