Even before Caroline Flack’s tragic death there were questions over the brand, linked to former contestants' suicides and reduced ratings. Here, Olivia Foster asks if it’s time we admit it’s run its course
Following the announcement of Caroline Flack’s sudden and shocking death on Saturday 15 February, Love Island was not broadcast for two days but it returned last night with a tribute given by her friend and show narrator Iain Stirling. However many fans posted on social media they just didn’t feel right watching the show after the former presenter’s suicide – the fourth associated with the ITV2 show – and viewers did tune out, with an average audience of 1.93 million recorded by ratings supplier Overnights.tv.
Of course, when a new series of Love Island was first touted last year, it was safe to say people were excited. Would it be the antidote to the depressing winter months we’d all been looking for? Well, apparently not, even before Caroline’s death, the show was in trouble with recent reports revealing figures had dropped a massive 800,000 since the last summer series. In fact, in Ireland it was even reported that more people tuned in to see the Prime Time Leaders Debate on the February 1st, than watched the South Africa based show.
So what’s gone wrong? Well, the beginning of the series was mired by complaints and issues; from criticisms of the inclusion of 23-year-old Ollie Williams – who was seen posing next to a dead animal in a (since deleted) Instagram post – to accusations of racism and gaslighting being levied at Connor Durham.
As for the Winter Love Island being posited as the cure for the winter blues, it’s only really served to make us feel worse about ourselves. In the summer we can relate to the Islanders (exceptionally tanned bodies and extensive bikini collections aside), we’re hot and horny and LI makes us believe that we too could get off with a six-pack wielding fireman, or a personal trainer from Essex with eyes so blue you could swim in them. Now our hearts are as cold our hands and we’ve barely seen our own bodies for months so the thought of rubbing them up against someone else is as alien as the thought of a Prime Minister who actually cares about people.
Then there is the image issue. For several seasons the show has been criticised for its lack of body diversity, with the majority of the shows female stars barely pushing over a size 10. But the casting producers fail season in, season out, to do anything about it. In 2019 ITV Studios Entertainment creative director Richard Cowles said, ‘I think we try to be as representative and diverse as possible.’ But when you consider that up 98,000 people were said to have applied for previous series, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t possible to cast a wider variety of people.
What’s more, previous stars have begun to reveal the unhealthy lengths they’ve gone to prepare for their stint in the villa, leaving further questions about what it means to promote these unrealistic body goals. Former star Ellie Brown recently confessed to one newspaper, ‘One of the biggest myths about Love Island is that we look so toned, tanned and skinny all the time. In reality, I practically starved myself going into the villa — eating nothing but fish and vegetables for months and spending hours sweating away in the gym each day.’
It is hardly surprising, then, that after six series things have started to get a little stilted, with one Twitter user calling the contestants, ‘The most boring set of islanders,’. Another called the show, ‘dull as dishwater.’ Like Big Brother and the X Factor before it, what was once an exciting new format has become to feel tired, especially as there is very little going on by way of new twists and turns to keep us entertained. Part of the problem behind this is – of course – is that the contestants will have seen the show before, such a juggernaut is it that you’d have to have lived with your head under a pillow and with no social media in order to miss it. So chats about ‘where your head is at,’ now feel performative rather than sweet, and Casa Amor is no longer a shock, but an expected few episodes in every series.
With only one week remaining before this show’s finale, its future and future direction is unclear. Although it’s unlikely the show will be axed, given that last year an ITV executive said they had never considered cancelling Love Island in the wake of the deaths of two former Islanders, Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. However, they’re now in uncharted waters with their former presenter’s death most definitely reigniting the conversation, and with calls from the public for the show to be taken permanently off air. If it remains, here’s hoping we see some serious changes for the better the next time Love Island comes around.