By Julie-Ann Sherlock

Love them or hate them, Reality TV shows have become a mainstay in our viewing lives. Whether they are competitive shows like The Masked Singer or The Great British Bake Off, or they take a look at “real life” on yachts (Below the Deck) in a courtroom (Judge Judy) or in the real estate business in California (Selling Sunset), it seems we can’t get enough of them!

But the one genre that keeps viewers hooked is the “Love” shows. Our lust for love has spawned a massive range of reality shows focussed on finding “The One”. Or at least “The one that will get me the most media coverage”. (Sorry. I swore I would leave my innate cynicism aside, but alas, my reality means that it is virtually impossible.)

It seems we are hooked on romance and, of course, sex sells. From sweet shows like First Dates to the more brutal Cheaters, there’s a whole swath of tv programmes aimed at helping (usually very beautiful people) to find love. Currently, the cream of the crop is the British show Love Island. I will do my best to explain why it is so popular, without too much snark. 

The Concept

It’s very simple, really—put a group of young, hot, single people in a villa on a sun-soaked island and let nature take its course. Genius. Some “tasks” and “challenges” are thrown in to spice things up and increase engagement, but these future stars are game for almost anything. 

Contestants “couple up” with someone they like (or at least pretend to!) and try to stay in the game as long as possible. Those who don’t couple up risk being booted out and if someone is too dull and boring, the voting public may decide their time on the island is up. 

New people are brought in to mix up the dynamics, couples are voted off by the viewers, and the producers throw in curveballs such as making the fellow Islanders choose a pair to kick out of the show. The finale sees a couple crowned the winners, bagging £50,000 STG and massive earning potential from marketing deals, modelling contracts and celebrity appearances. 

Why Is It So Popular?

Personally, I don’t get it. I watched Big Brother when it first came out. It was a new and exciting experiment in watching how people interact and react when put into challenging positions. For me, Love Island is as boring as watching paint dry. The few episodes I have seen made me want to gouge my eyes out and rip my ears off so that I didn’t have to see another lip-filler-enhanced pout or listen to inane conversations

But, it seems I am a bit of an outlier in this regard. Over 3 million UK viewers tuned into last year’s show, with millions more watching worldwide. The franchise now has many versions, and the US and Australia are almost as famous globally as the original show. 

So why are people tuning in to watch scantily clad, beautiful people splash around in pools, get it on and occasionally argue? OK, I kinda answered my own question there, but it seems that the light relief this daily hour of fluff brings is needed by so many people. In recent years we have been dealing with scary climate changes, tragic natural disasters, a rise in racism, economic instability (thanks Brexit!) and a frickin’ pandemic. Now, Europe is on the brink of a massive war. Sigh.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that people need a break from the unrelenting bad news, and watching the fun and frolics of a relatively carefree bunch of 20 somethings offers that escape. Researchers say that the community aspect of the show plays a part too. This sense of belonging to something that is not a matter of life or death offers some respite from the daily challenges of the real world. 

The Darkside Of Reality

You may be forgiven while watching Love Island for thinking that the contestants all have perfect lives. They look sublime and seem to have it all. Yet the UK show has had 4 suicides associated with it, pretty much everyone who has participated has suffered cyberbullying, and some have even received death threats

It has also been accused of lacking diversity, glossing over some worrying traits such as gaslighting and putting pressure on impressionable teens to look and act in specific ways. 

That said, a tv show can’t be blamed for all the world’s ills, and for most viewers, it is a way to suspend their own reality for a while and enjoy some relaxation. 

So, while it’s not for me, I can see its draw. If you are a fan, let us know in the comments below! (No judgement from me, I promise!)