Love Island tribute to Caroline Flack hides the truth

ITV tried to present Love Island as a force for good, but that is far from a true representation of the show and the culture that surrounds it

The shock death of Caroline Flack left many wondering what would be next for the Love Island villa. This year's contestants are one week away from the end of the first ever winter edition of the hit reality contest and two broadcasts – Saturday's Unseen Bits and Sunday's main show – had already been halted.

While ITV are yet to confirm whether this year’s Islanders had been informed about the death of the show’s former presenter on Saturday, they released a statement on Monday saying that a tribute to Flack would air during Monday’s episode. The broadcaster also added that they and their sponsor – the food delivery company Just Eat – had worked with the Samaritans to replace the show’s idents with information on mental health support.

Despite these adjustments, prior to broadcast it remained unclear exactly how ITV would handle Flack’s death while also returning to the often drama-fuelled villa. Tensions often run high and now-eliminated contestant Shaughna Phillips had already been shown under visible mental strain in the past few weeks. Even if ITV acknowledged Flack’s suicide, the fourth associated with the series, was it not a message that would be totally incompatible with the mood of their most popular reality show, which can jolt unexpectedly from flippancy to heartache?

The programme began not with a montage of Flack's "best bits," as many viewers had expected. Rather, in a sombre voiceover accompanied by footage of lapping waves, Iain Stirling, the show's narrator, declared that the Love Island team were "absolutely devastated" by Flack's death. He went on to praise the presenter's "passion, warmth and infectious enthusiasm," before imploring viewers to "be kinder, always show love and listen to one another". Far from his usual sardonic commentary, Stirling's voice cracked as he delivered the final line of the tribute: "I'm going to miss you, Caz".

It felt somewhat strange, then, to segue from this tribute straight into the episode, with footage seemingly intended for Sunday’s show and presumably filmed on Friday (the Islanders have the day off each Saturday). However, the producers had clearly tempered the mood to fit with the circumstances; a game where the Islanders’ had to answer provocative questions, among them “which couple is the laziest” was edited into a largely frivolous section, with far more laughter and less backbiting than one might expect. Stirling, clearly grieving his colleague, did not provide his usual dry, witty asides, instead providing more of a functional audio description than a narration. Until the final scene – where couples had to choose two other pairs to send home – the entire show felt both strangely light-hearted and unusually subdued, an uncanny version of its usual self.

Whether ITV had done what they chose to and air the show in an altered form, or pay tribute to Flack in a more extensive way before bringing the show back later in the week, they were bound to strike the wrong tone for some viewers. While some online found the contrast between the #bekind idents and the programme itself jarring, many praised the channel for finding a way to continue the series while also referencing the wider context of social media trolling and media harassment which contributed to its former presenter’s death.

However, difficult questions abound – ones that even a good edit cannot fix. In an arguably impossible situation, ITV put together a show that tried hard to present Love Island as a force for good, and which honoured Flack’s contribution. But it was far from a true representation of the show, for better or worse, or the culture which surrounds it. If it is to have any chance at a future, then more honesty – and a larger tribute to Flack, whose presence was so key to its success – feels like the only way forward. – Guardian