By Kimberley Bond
The ITV spring schedule was released last week, seeing a hefty raft of dramas, documentaries and shiny floor formats announced for the next few months. While the schedule pointed to a number of fascinating new formats which are set to captivate our attention later this year, it was the confirmation of an old favourite – Love Island – which really set tongues wagging.
Yes, after a much-needed rest due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the ITV dating series is officially returning for season seven. Details about the show’s return are still quite sketchy, with no official return date or even word on whether our new set of singletons will be packing their sun-cream and Speedos for summer in Spain – or staying put here in Blighty.
Tabloid rumours circulating that the new series may even be taking place in Jersey would have been laughable had they emerged before COVID-19 – however, after the success of Welsh I’m A Celebrity, perhaps a more home-grown edition of Love Island is not such a bad idea. At this point, we’d be happy to take a version of Love Island set in Slough as long as we actually get a new series.
When the most recent iteration of Love Island (which was also our first ever ‘Winter Love Island’) drew to a close in February 2020, it was clear the franchise was in desperate need of a break, even before the coronavirus pandemic began to wreak havoc. Following the tragic death of Caroline Flack, the emotional strain it took on the team to lose someone they had worked with closely was palpable.
It’s something that host Laura Whitmore herself commented on in a recent interview. “I actually think it’s been good to have had that break, for everyone who works on it, because we all went through a loss,” she told Stella magazine. “It’s nice to realise how much people missed the show. Apparently applications are crazy this year.”
Of course, reality TV fans are thrilled to have its Goliath return for the summer, with excitement and anticipation already building around the new series (finally giving us something to talk about). While it’s a welcome return for one of the nation’s most-discussed shows, it’s also about time some of Love Island’s most controversial and glaring discrepancies are finally put in order.
Firstly, the mental wellbeing to their contestants needs to be absolutely paramount when filming season seven.
The show’s changes to their previous welfare system has been well-documented, with Love Island executives introducing an “evolved and enhanced” duty of care in 2019 following the deaths of previous contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis.
The show’s rigorous duty of care guidance, which you can read in full here, is designed to safeguard contestants, and is undoubtedly thorough. However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic making all of us more aware than ever of mental health and our wellbeing, some of Love Island’s challenges, such as its often misleading ‘Headline’ challenge, may leave more of a bad taste.
Last year’s runner-up Siannise Fudge has previously hinted at “regretting” her time on the show, and other contestants have highlighted aspects of the villa they have found a struggle. Love Island has previously axed tasks that have been deemed controversial (remember the lie detector?) and the show hasn’t suffered without them.
It’s now also time for Love Island to well and truly diversify its cast. Love Island has been under-fire for quite some time now for its line-up to be made up predominantly of slim, white, ‘influencer’ types with day-glow tans and sparkling white veneers.
Executive Producer Richard Cowles raised eyebrows in 2019 when he defended the line-up, telling journalists out in Majorca: “First and foremost, it’s an entertainment show and it’s about people wanting to watch who you’ve got on screen falling in love with one another.
“Yes, we want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another. We’re saying here’s a group of people that we want to watch for eight weeks, and we want to watch them fall in love.”
But this insinuation that we only want to see traditionally ‘good looking’, slim and straight people couple up is just wrong. Shows such as First Dates and Married At First Sight have been huge successes and have featured a range of singletons from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities and body types and have still seen ratings successes. A diverse cast of Islanders shouldn’t be too difficult, so there’s no reason why Love Island can’t feature people from all walks of life upon its return.
Changing up the cast would certainly be a breath of fresh air for a show that was in danger of becoming the tiniest bit stale. ‘Winter Love Island’ saw the first signs of fatigue set in for the hugely popular franchise. Encouraging us all to invest in a new cohort of singletons for nearly two months just half a year after we got sucked into series five was just a bridge too far for some fans. In a way, the show almost became a parody of itself, with the thrust of the early episodes of the series mainly consisting of people “pulling each other for a chat” and “sticking it on” each other.
As Love Island is primarily a show about ‘love’ (theoretically) it’s understandable that producers would want to put an emphasis on the ‘coupling up’ and the conversations between singletons, even if they do seem a bit stilted and manufactured.
But the show seemed to have lost sight of some of what made us fall in love with Love Island in the first place. It was Kem and Chris’s bromance we remember from season three, not Kem’s relationship with Amber. Likewise, the ‘Do Bits Society’ and their post-Hideaway debriefs in series four were more entertaining than the actual moments trying to ascertain whether couples have had sex or not.
Producers need to stop trying to make more explosive content happen – just left to their own devices, Islanders will produce must-see footage on their own, just maybe not in the way we’re expecting.
Any signs of staleness could also be remedied if Love Island is forced to film at a brand new villa. A change in location may be a blessing in disguise if Love Island had to say film in the UK for 2021 (again, remember how popular I’m a Celeb was last year in Wales?).
Long-time viewers are already so well-versed to the show’s usual beats that we can pretty much predict exactly what will happen and when. Casa Amor was a great twist in series three, but when we were still seeing it in the same iteration in series five, it felt a little passé. New challenges and new ideas will help keep the show fresh, and stop viewers watching at home predicting exactly what’s happening as the show progresses.
Of course, as the series draws towards a climax, naturally so do the relationships of the Islanders. Love Island has never shied away from sex, which is part of the many reasons why we all get so invested. But with the show attracting six million viewers at its peak, and with a vast number of viewers being teenagers and young women, some of the conversations around sex are so chauvinistic it’s practically prehistoric to watch.
The boys discussing their “body count” of partners, sometimes even into the hundreds, is often applauded, while the girls are quick to praise each other when their “number” is low. (I still haven’t forgiven Molly-Mae Hague for telling Maura Higgins “well done” for having had sex with less than 10 partners like this was some sort of achievement.)
For all the good examples Love Island sets when it comes to dating and relationships (highlighting gaslighting and coercive behaviour are just two examples from previous series), the show is also guilty for perpetuating the toxic belief that a woman has less “worth” for having had sex with multiple people. It’s such an unnecessary and small part of the programme, so please just leave any discussion about body count on the cutting room floor where it belongs.