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Everything you wanted to know about ‘Love Island’ but were afraid to ask

A blond woman in red shorts and top with heart cutout stands next to a row of chaises on a wooden deck.
“Love Island” host Laura Whitmore.
(ITV)

In 2021, I did not run a marathon. I didn’t read the novels of Dostoyevsky. I didn’t even organize my sock drawer.

I did, however, watch an entire season of “Love Island,” the dating show that airs six nights a week for eight weeks throughout the summer in the United Kingdom, where it has become a warm-weather institution as beloved as a Pimm’s cup.

Yes, that’s right, I spent 50 or so hours — more than an entire work week! — watching young women in wildly impractical swimwear chatting up heavily tattooed men with questionable hairdos. I had so many questions as I watched, most of which had to do with the practical implications of wearing tiny thongs for 12 hours a day in intense humidity. Do “Love Island” producers have bikini waxers on call? Or gynecologists?

I do not regret a single moment of it.

The series, which debuted in its current format in 2015, is one of the most watched shows in the U.K. It unspools in nightly installments, like an old-fashioned radio serial, albeit one in which people have furtive sex under Ikea duvets.

Its premise is fairly simple: Five single men and five single women are brought to a Spanish villa and immediately paired with a member of the opposite sex.

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Over the course of the summer, dozens of new islanders are brought in and the contestants recouple at their discretion. Anyone not in a couple is in danger of elimination. At the end of eight weeks, the public votes on their favorite remaining couple. The winners get £50,000 and hundreds of thousands of new Instagram followers.

Even before his season was rocked by scandal, Matt James found the experience ‘frustrating.’ His new memoir, ‘First Impressions,’ grew out of it.

The show’s rules are fluid and subject to change at any moment. Sometimes the public decides which islander will go home next or who they’re coupled up with. Sometimes the contestants make these decisions themselves. Sometimes it’s a combination. Often, they receive notice about impending recouplings or fresh arrivals via text message. (Hence the panicked screams of “I’ve got a text!”) Sometimes, host Laura Whitmore delivers the news in person.

Think “Big Brother” meets “The Bachelor,” starring bricklayers from South Wales and real estate agents from Devon sporting a vast array of regional accents, cosmetic enhancements, body art and contoured makeup, and you have a pretty good idea of the show.

For Americans who associate British TV with crime-solving vicars and emotionally repressed governesses, the fantastically tacky contestants of “Love Island” can be a shock to the system. As a “Saturday Night Live” spoof put it a few years ago, “It turns out they also have 100% pure grade trash just like us.”

A bit harsh, maybe. But the colorful cast members — drawn from a pool of thousands of applicants recruited on Instagram and in sweaty Essex nightclubs — are key to “Love Island’s” depraved appeal, especially if you’re the type of Anglophile more interested in the Daily Mail’s “sidebar of shame” or the latest twist in the Wagatha Christie saga than the newest “Downton Abbey” movie.

This year’s crop of islanders includes the 19-year-old daughter of a very famous English footballer, a fishmonger with preternaturally white teeth (“I’m Luca Bish and I sell fish,” he says in an introductory video) and a Dubliner with a heart-shaped birthmark on his penis.

The current season of “Love Island” began streaming on Hulu this week. For the brave viewer ready to commit to the summer’s guiltiest pleasure, here’s a complete guide.

A group of women in swimsuits in an outdoor seating area
Contestants on “Love Island,” the hit British reality show.
(ITV)

That villa looks crazy.

This year “Love Island” has moved into a spacious new villa outfitted with garish neon signs, suggestive pop art, a fire pit and dozens of cameras strategically placed to capture all the drama.

How do the sleeping arrangements work?

All the contestants sleep in a single dorm-style bedroom, sharing a bed with whoever their current partner might be. If they don’t want to share a bed for whatever reason, there is (sometimes) a spare bed up for grabs. Or they can sleep on the loungers outside and contend with the mosquitoes.

Occasionally couples will earn a night in the “hideaway,” a semi-private love nest. (There are still cameras, but no roommates.)

Otherwise, anyone who wants to get frisky has to do so under a comforter while everyone else in the room reaches for noise-canceling headphones.

‘Below Deck Sailing Yacht’ first mate Gary on being a reality heartthrob, his ‘cringe’ moments and how Daisy hurt him.

50 hours of this? Are you insane?

Possibly.

One of the most important aspects of your “Love Island” journey is finding a pace that works for you. You can be a traditionalist and watch one episode a night. You can let them pile up through the week and do a mini-binge each weekend. Or you can call in sick later this summer and watch the whole season in one go. You do you.

However you proceed, keep in mind that “Love Island” is designed for multitasking. Put it on while you chop onions for dinner, fold laundry or pedal half-heartedly on the stationary bike and you will not miss much. This is a show where people spend hours talking about their ideal type (everyone agrees that nice teeth are important). It does not require your undivided attention.

There are also plenty of episodes you can ignore. Skip “Unseen Bits” (extra footage aired once a week in lieu of a fresh episode) and “Aftersun” (a companion talk show that’s only worth watching if you want to see exit interviews with eliminated islanders).

Don’t be afraid to make liberal use of the fast-forward button. I often sped through the group challenges, competitions that require the islanders to degrade themselves in elaborate fashion (e.g., spitting food into each other’s mouths, jogging on treadmills while dressed as Playboy bunnies and attempting to eat dangling carrots).

I’ve also learned that the recoupling ceremonies, while dramatic, are also hilariously drawn out, and there’s no reason not to speed through the endless build-up.

Whatever you do, remember that the episodes land on Hulu about two weeks after they’ve aired in the U.K. If you want to avoid spoilers, then do not — I repeat: do not — follow “Love Island” on social media. You should also resist the temptation to Google the contestants. It won’t be easy.

If at any point you feel overwhelmed by a backlog of episodes, merely skip ahead to the next recoupling. There will be plenty of rehashing of whatever you might have missed. If you want to be extra efficient, don’t even start watching until Casa Amor, which is when things really start to get messy.

OK, I’ll bite. What is Casa Amor?

Casa Amor is a secondary villa where half the islanders (usually the men) go around the fifth week of filming, when there are typically several well-established couples in place. The villa is populated with a fresh new batch of attractive singletons with the goal of tempting the boys away from their relationships. After a few days, everyone returns to the main villa and must decide whether to stay in their original pairing or recouple with someone from Casa Amor. Needless to say, it usually leads to a lot of drama (some of it shamelessly manipulated by producers, who have been known to share photos and videos designed to make it look like faithful partners have in fact been cheating).

Controversy on ‘Salt Lake City,’ ‘New York’ and ‘Dallas’ has marred the reality TV juggernaut’s attempt to rectify longstanding diversity failures.

So, is “Love Island” evil?

Good question. Like many other popular reality shows, “Love Island” is as problematic as it is engrossing.

The show has been criticized as racist, classist, sexist, heteronormative, fat-phobic, ecologically disastrous and emotionally manipulative. Though the casting has become more racially inclusive, white beauty standards still reign supreme, making the show an uncomfortable mirror of contemporary dating life. Black contestants are routinely picked last in the initial coupling ceremonies. Women of color, especially Black women like last season’s fan favorite Kaz Kamwi, often face repeated humiliation and rejection in the villa.

There’s little to no diversity in terms of body type, gender identity or sexual orientation. Last year the show had its first contestant with a disability, Hugo Hammond, who was born with a club foot. This year, it features Tasha Gouri, who is deaf and uses a cochlear implant to hear.

Female reality show contestants stand lined up outside a Spanish villa.
Contestants wait to find out who they’re coupled up with on “Love Island.”
(ITV)

In response to calls for a greater range of body types, creative director Richard Cowles said, “Yes, we want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another.”

Like many long-running reality shows, “Love Island” has become a victim of its own success, attracting contestants who know how to play the game and have not come to the island for the proverbial “right reasons.”

But by far the biggest complaint about “Love Island” is that it exploits and manipulates vulnerable, attention-hungry young people, turning them into overnight celebrities who are unprepared for the attention that awaits them as soon as they leave the isolation of the villa. They are almost entirely cut off from the outside world while starring on “Love Island,” and are largely unaware of how they are perceived by the viewing public — until they go home.

Over the course of 20 months, three people who appeared on the show and were subjected to intense online harassment and media scrutiny died by suicide: former contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis and former host Caroline Flack. (Gradon’s boyfriend, who was not on the show, also took his life a few weeks after her death.) Their deaths sparked a national conversation about the pressures of reality TV and calls to cancel “Love Island.”

In 2019, former islanders Yewande Biala and Marcel Somerville even spoke to members of Parliament about their experiences in the villa (including getting paid the equivalent of £2.80 an hour) as part of a government inquiry into the damaging effects of reality TV.

A smiling woman with long dark blond hair, wearing a white blouse with black dots.
Former “Love Island” host Caroline Flack, pictured in 2011, died by suicide in 2020.
(Associated Press)

Hmmm. Have the producers done anything to help “Love Island” stars deal with all this scrutiny?

In response to public criticism, producers of “Love Island” implemented a new system of aftercare to help contestants contend with the pressures of instant celebrity and ensure ongoing career prospects — providing media training, financial management advice and access to mental health professionals. Before they arrive at the villa, contestants undergo a mental health screening process. The show also has a clinical psychologist on site.

Unlike American reality shows where the liquor flows freely, booze is strictly limited on “Love Island.” Contestants reportedly are allowed just two drinks a day.

Chris Coelen, the creator of the Netflix reality show, talks Season 2 expectations, why certain couples aren’t featured and those casting criticisms.

What’s good about it?

What makes the show riveting are the genuinely human moments that emerge in this highly produced, artificial setting — the unexpected tenderness you begin to feel for people you may have initially dismissed as dim-witted himbos or thirsty wannabe influencers.

American dating shows like “The Bachelor” or “Love Is Blind” cloak themselves in an earnestness that never quite masks the cynicism at their core. “Love Island” is the opposite: a playfully ironic show that encourages you to become deeply invested in its participants. Scottish comedian Iain Stirling provides cheeky commentary, which pokes fun at the contestants in a (mostly) good-natured way. (“This year the casting team tracked down the smartest, most talented young people in the country,” he said of this year’s islanders, “and asked them if they had any fit mates who wanted to go on the telly.”)

“Love Island” also employs a small army of editors who are geniuses at locating the most absurd and unintentionally hilarious conversations and weaving them into running gags. (See: the ongoing confusion over how to pronounce “Davide,” the name of an unsettlingly attractive Italian in the villa this year.)

Chris Coelen, the creator of the Netflix reality show, talks Season 2 expectations, why certain couples aren’t featured and those casting criticisms.

Since the show is produced almost in real time — episodes air within a few days of the events they depict — there is a limit to how deceptive the editing can be, to how much producers can jumble a timeline or manufacture a Frankenbite. Islanders rarely leave the villa and spend roughly 90% of their time sitting on chaise lounges, sucking on their personalized water bottles. There’s something powerful and intimate about watching people do next to nothing.

At first you might be horrified by the islanders. But if you invest enough time in “Love Island,” you will feel your disdain evaporate like a spray tan in the Majorcan sun. Last year, I first laughed at Liberty Poole, a waitress from Birmingham who struggled to pronounce the word “unrequited” in her introductory montage.

But over the next 40 hours or so I grew deeply fond of the clumsy, self-aware, kind-hearted blond and her newfound BFF, Kaz Kamwi. I worried as Liberty threw herself into a relationship with Jake Cornish, a water engineer with a foot fetish and questionable romantic motives. When she dumped Cornish, just days before the finale — saying she chose herself over an apparently insincere partner — I may have shed a few tears.

I can’t understand anything they’re saying.

One of the great pleasures of the original “Love Island” — and a thing that really sets it apart from its bland American counterpart — is the many, many accents you are likely to hear from across Ireland and the U.K. (and sometimes continental Europe).

At first it is overwhelming, like being plunked down in a reality TV version of the Tower of Babel, but by the end of the summer, with some effort, you can be an armchair expert in the regional dialects of the British Isles and able to tell the difference between a Geordie and a Scouser. (See, “Love Island” is educational.)

To help you on your journey, I suggest turning on subtitles, especially when anyone from Northumberland is speaking. Bonus: When people ask what you’ve been watching on TV lately you can just say, “Oh, this great subtitled show set in Spain” and you won’t be lying!

Two women in bathing suits
Contestants on “Love Island.”
(ITV)

No, I mean the actual words. What are they talking about?

“Love Island” also has a distinct, constantly evolving lexicon that can be baffling to outsiders.

Contestants who have been “mugged off” (dumped, deceived or badly treated) by someone they considered “a bit of me” (an ideal match, at least in theory) will have to “crack on” (move on) and get “grafting” (paying attention to someone new with the aim of coupling up), but they shouldn’t “lay it on factor 50” (be too aggressive), lest they give someone “the ick” (turn them off).

If you find yourself confused by any of these idioms, please consult one of the many “Love Islandglossaries the internet has to offer.

Chris Coelen, the creator of the Netflix reality show, talks Season 2 expectations, why certain couples aren’t featured and those casting criticisms.

Where do all these insane outfits come from?

One thing you will quickly learn watching “Love Island” is that the contestants change their outfits. A lot. And that they never seem to wear the same body-conscious minidress or plunging blazer twice.

So just where do all these artfully shredded jeans, mesh catsuits and cutout halter-neck underwire bikinis come from, you might wonder?

In previous seasons, the show partnered with I Saw It First, a fast-fashion online retailer that delivered new batches of clothes to the villa weekly, curating the looks to each islander’s personal style. In turn, viewers could buy the clothes at the click of a button. The company reportedly saw a 67% uptick in sales thanks to the show.

This year, in response to criticism of its extremely unsustainable approach to fashion, the show is partnering with E-Bay to style the islanders in secondhand clothing. (I don’t know if this applies to their swimwear and, frankly, prefer not to think about it.)

OK but seriously, how do these bikinis even work?

No one knows.

‘Love Island’



Where: Hulu

When: Any time

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)








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