‘Love Island’ returned to TV screens earlier last week, introducing the world to a whole new batch of swimsuit-clad islanders.
We’re almost one full week into Love Island 2021 and it’s been one hell of a ride so far. Back on our screens after an almost two-year-long hiatus, this season was always going to be a big ‘un… and yes, we’re already hooked.
No one believed us when we said we wouldn’t be tuning in this year – we didn’t even believe us – but our nightly 9 pm sitting room watch parties have quickly become the highlight of my week.
While some might write the show off as vapid and superficial, I disagree. Sure, it has its moments and there are definitely times when one might question the relevance of watching grown adults squabble on TV, but (and that’s a big but), this year’s show feels more important than ever.
Hear me out.
The past year and a bit has been characterised by unimaginable pain, chaos, and suffering. No one could have foreseen the repercussions that a global pandemic would have and we’re far from out of the woods yet. Forced to spend the large majority of both 2020 and 2021 confined to the four walls of our homes, we’ve lost out on a lot. From family gatherings to catch-ups with friends to important career milestones – there’s been little to differentiate one day from the next, and Zoom just won’t cut it when it comes to marking those important occasions.
The return of Love Island signifies that things are slowly getting back to normal though, or some semblance of it at least. Not only that, but it finally gives us something topical to talk about too. Something that isn’t too serious, doesn’t involve case numbers or hospital admissions and that allows us to remember what it’s like to go out and flirt with strangers. It’s the simple things these days, isn’t it?!
It may make me miss the daily office play-by-play a little more than usual, but at least the work WhatsApp group is alive and well again.
Less than seven days in and the show has already caused some divisions though. In fact, some might say that it’s already resorted to some rather unkind strategies. First off there was Shannon’s brutal dumping from the villa on just her second night there. While that may not strike you as all that unkind from the outside looking in – it is essentially what the whole premise of the show revolves around – it did seem a little cutthroat to boot her off after so little airtime.
Assumingly already having gone through quite a rigorous casting process, she, like all the other islanders, pretty much gave up her entire life to partake in the competition. Public reaction to Shannon’s shock departure was very in her favour initially, but then details about her job and former relationship status emerged and people soon turned against her. Not only did she have the audacity to be in a relationship prior to entering the villa but she was also an influencer (amongst other things), so I guess she had it coming? Well, that’s what one corner of the internet certainly seems to think.
A show often clouded in controversy, producers have come under fire for their manipulative tactics on more than one occasion. Three years ago all hell broke loose after misleading footage made one contestant believe that her boyfriend had cheated on her.
Longstanding viewers of the reality dating series will remember but if you need a recap, basically Dani Dwyer was seen breaking down in tears after she was shown a video that made it seem as though her partner Jack Fincham had been unfaithful to her. A pretty nasty thing to do given that he was in Casa Amor and Dani hadn’t been able to contact him for several days. Ofcom received several thousand complaints over the incident with many viewers threatening to stop watching the show altogether… but it doesn’t appear that much has changed since then.
Granted, it’s very early days but producers still seem to be up to the same devious antics – at least if the recent game of beer pong is anything to go by. In this challenge, islanders were divided into two teams with the only difference between it and regular beer pong being the addition of various tasks on the bottom of each cup.
Competing against each other, contestants had to down the contents of their cup once the ping pong landed in it before reading out the dare and doing whatever it instructed them to do. Challenges ranged from tame (“show us your best party trick”) to embarrassing (“get into three different sex positions with a member of the opposite sex”) to slightly cringey (“seductively chat up an islander of the opposite sex”).
One dare stood out above the rest though and that was “snog the islander you fancy the most and the islander you fancy the least”. Described by Sharon as “savage”, it really was a cut above the rest. Unfortunately, it was Brad who found himself facing the unenviable task, and safe to say, he really put his foot in it.
Kissing Chloe and later Faye (the latter unawares that he was no longer interested in her), to quote our own Greg O’Shea we’d love to know what his thought process behind that was. But while he’s definitely partly to blame, ultimately, the fault falls on producers’ shoulders. The task was there because show bosses included it in the hopes of ruffling some feathers… at the expense of other people’s feelings.
As our beauty editor Holly O’Neill pointed out, it didn’t matter who received that task as it was a cheap, unkind shot by the Love Island team regardless of the Brad-Faye-Chloe situation. And it served its purpose; Brad took the bait to be unkind, Faye felt hurt and was unkind in return. Nobody wins.
The drama doesn’t stop there either as former contestant Yewande Biala has also recently spoken out about the show and it’s given us serious food for thought. Continuously criticised for its lack of diversity, Biala admitted that she found it hard to watch the first episode as things were a little too familiar. Commenting on how Kaz Kamwi wasn’t picked in the initial coupling, the Dubliner said that the same has happened to several other Black female contestants in the past – herself and Samira Mighty included.
Speaking to Will Njobvu on his show Capital Xtra, Yewande said that she related to Kaz, adding that it was “really sad to see” because she had found herself in a similar situation when she was on the show. “I was kind of praying for a different outcome for Kaz,” she told him.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realise about Love Island is that, I always say it’s a mirror image of the society we live in now, where Black women are never really seen or admired by Black men or any other kind of race,” she continued. “We’re always pushed to the sideline and it’s obviously highlighted on a show like Love Island where there’s obviously only like 12, 10 contestants, and one of them is Black, and it kind of shows the society we live in at the moment.”
Noting that casting more men interested in dating Black women would be “a start”, she also said that there needs to be more representation behind the scenes as well. According to her, “Hiring more Black producers who can cast these contestants probably would help as well.”
So, yes, while it’s definitely the light-hearted escapism many of us have been craving over the past few months, the show is not without its problems either and it’s important to remember that behind the perfectly-curated Instagram feeds, lie real people with real feelings.