There is a rare ingredient to reality TV, an ingredient as hallowed as it is precious. It’s what all producers are searching for, as they sift through the audition tapes and application forms of hundreds of thousands of contestants. What is it that makes people tick? That drives someone to watch a six-day-a-week reality TV show? Like a rare truffle buried beneath the soil of a lush forest range somewhere in Northern Italy, it is the flavour that deepens the broth, shaved atop a bed of chaos to make something beautiful.
In earlier seasons of Love Island, this was the moment that Amy bared it all, “coming down ’ere” to tell Curtis she loved him, the facade finally splitting open and the raw anger, pain, and honesty rising to the surface. It was also in Amber’s triumphant comeback as she found romantic love with Greg late on in the show following her brutal split from Michael. These stories are as gorgeous as they are painful to watch, each moment reconciling these alien, socially-accepted-as-perfect people with us, the viewer. Despite the abs, the impossibly long legs and the faces constructed to embody standards of beauty most of us will never be able to attain, these people are us, their experiences etched uncomfortably close to our own.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that last night’s episode (20 August) provided one of the most intimate and rare moments in reality TV history. As Liberty and Jake went on their final date, there was a collective intake of breath as we watched them hash it out, unpicking the wounds and trying desperately, together, to find some way to heal. We have all, at some point in our lives, been in a situation like Liberty’s. We have all felt the guttural discomfort of having our personality nit-picked and habits critiqued by someone we thought had loved us. We all know what it’s like to wake up in the morning full of love and doubting whether the person sleeping next to you really feels the same. Even if Jake reciprocated the depth and love and care that Liberty held for him, the communication just wasn’t there. Each of his wayward comments and negative critiques bruised Liberty’s confidence.
Set it against the pure romance of Kaz and Tyler – plus Liam and Millie’s last date – and the difference was stark. Kaz and Tyler have often been at the brutal mercy of an editing cut. Their moments of couple-bliss rarely find their way to airtime, instead being held back for the “unseen bits”. But there is another love story in there amid the raw sexual chemistry of Kyler: the relationship between Kaz and Liberty. It has been a joy to witness. Their bond is a feat seldom achieved within a villa designed to tear friendships apart. This was displayed oh-so perfectly by Lib as she waited for Kaz to have her moment in the sun, basking in the warm glow of her date, before confiding in her about the split. As they held one another, their voices cracking as they shared their love for each other, I lightly wept into my Thai takeaway. I’m almost certain others did the same.
Though some of us had the entire episode spoiled by a Pretty Little Thing Twitter account (who are you? BBC News?), it was still a shock to see Jake and Liberty gather the Islanders round the firepit to announce that they would be leaving the competition.
It feels like the right thing for a couple that has reached the end of the road. Liberty now needs the outside world, where she can receive the comfort of her family as well as the adulation of an audience of people who fell in love with her on screen. If any of our Islanders deserve happiness, it is Liberty, a woman so outrageously kind and normal and generous that her existence makes us all look like immoral goblin creatures. Finding self-love in a villa where so many people don’t speaks volumes to the nature of Love Island and how difficult its format is to endure. Both Liberty and Jake leave with their heads held high, and only time will tell if they eventually reconcile or not.
In Liberty – with her fierce devotion to staying true to herself and her values – we have found a role model who we should all be looking up to.
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