Love Island 2021 series review: The show used to be about escapism – now the innocence is gone

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that ‘Love Island’ will continue – but if we can’t kill the beast, we can only hope to tame it

Elise Bell
Tuesday 24 August 2021 16:45
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Millie and Liam win Love Island 2021

It has been one very long, and not very hot summer. One thousand, three hundred and forty hours, one failed Euros tournament and an almost-culled alpaca later, Love Island has finally reached its close, marking the end of summer and the violence of ITV2 programming as we know it. As the world has adjusted to a new pace of life, the return of Love Island has felt like a homecoming of sorts, the gears of the show slowly but surely greasing back into rhythm, the almost-daily toil of Love Island filling the emptiness in our lives like batter spilling into the edges of a cake tin.

If all that sounds poetic, it’s because it is. In a YouGov poll, 18-29 year-olds made up 43 per cent of the core audience of Love Island viewers. This is despite the fact that the under thirties have historically been the hardest demographic for broadcasters to capture, with social media and short-form content the biggest threat to blockbuster viewing figures. How is it, then, that in the summer when life returned somewhat back to normal, we still tuned in six days a week to watch 12 strangers fall in love in a secret location off the coast of Mallorca? There is no denying a certain magic formula has been created, the endorphin rush of each episode only strengthening the urge to come back the next day. Yet season seven has seen the most Ofcom complaints in the history of the show, as well as a dwindling audience that is long past its 2019 heyday. Is this the beginning of the post-Love Island era?

All things considered, it was with some trepidation that the season trundled towards the finale, the late fireworks of Jiberty’s split fading into darkness as our final four took their place on the panelled decking. Love Island obsessives will know that the finale is all filler no killer, a kind of live-pageant bastardisation of the Love Island we have grown to love. Though there is nothing camp about straight people butchering a tango, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the format as it stands on its last legs. It is here that you can play Love Island Finale Bingo. Acoustic cover of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody?” Check. Pretty Little Thing prom dresses? Check. Close-up of one of the boys’ dogs*** handwriting? Check. BINGO!

Also on the bingo cards was the girlfriend proposal, a common trope on Love Island and a savvy last-ditch attempt at the 50k. For Chloe, her proposal came as a genuine and heart-warming surprise, Toby’s adoration for her plain for all to see. Though Toby may not be the most eloquent of Love Island contestants, his emotional letter was one of the highlights of a finale that felt at times like the raggedy and decrepit final 100m of an extreme marathon. It was also with pained relief that Faye took to the stage, her poem to Teddy a sincere and authentic acknowledgment of the mistakes she has made and the insecurities she faces. From one sentimental bitch to another, I’m glad that reaching the finale has offered Faye the comeback narrative she deserves, and I only hope her third-place billing means she’ll be given an easier ride once thrown back into the outside world.

Personal thoughts about rankings aside (that Kyler came fourth is a national travesty), it was a well-deserved win for Liam and Millie, a couple that have stuck together through it all. Though their first-place ranking marks an achievement for the voting powers of non-chaos-minded people everywhere, Chloe and Toby’s second place was a justified ending, considering the 180 the couple have been through during the course of the show.

But something felt amiss. Sat closely on the sofa, knees knocking and shoulders tense, our couples began to lose their gleam, their obvious discomfort at the live audience a keen reminder of how unwatched they have felt the entire time. Even with the easy charisma of Laura Whitmore’s presenting, it was hard not to notice each of our Islanders wriggle nervously in their seats as they were prodded on their time in the villa.

At the start of this season, mutterings on the future of Love Island were quickly fuelled by the rampant social media abuse some of the contestants faced. In a statement reminding viewers to “be kind”, Chloe’s parents revealed the vile online abuse directed towards their daughter after just one week in the villa. A quick search underneath viral Love Island tweets will find racist threats, misogynistic trolling and thinly veiled harassment. Equally, minor indiscretions and character flaws are inflated by the language of mental health and therapy. An argument is no longer just a poor example of communication, but a red flag indicating something much more insidious – emotional abuse, manipulation, gaslighting or even an as-of-yet undiagnosed mental health condition that is on the verge of spiralling out of control. All of these accusations have been hurled at our Islanders, who will have to face the very real consequences of having their lives scrutinised for over 60 days.

Throughout this season, I couldn’t seem to shake a sense of ickiness towards the whole proceedings, a lingering feeling of doom settling over each episode like a grey mist. Even with less sex and no smoking, the innocence of Love Island has gone. Instead, each mistake, every poorly executed decision, could change one of these strangers’ lives forever in a very frightening and very real way. All of this is impossible to ignore as a viewer, sucking out the joy of a show that once provided a sense of sanctuary and escapism.

In their end-of-season review, The White Pube have correctly pointed to a lack of flexibility on the part of the producers. This has resulted in stunted episodes that hinge on upsetting drama rather than the humour and connection the contestants share with one another. From Toby “manifesting” his shoe size, through to Teddy’s royal revelation, the viral moments were more often found in Saturday’s Unseen Bits rather than the main series itself. This presents an exciting opportunity for future producers, dialling up the laughs and playing down the trauma to hit that sweet spot where authentic human connections become the focal point.

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If season seven taught us anything, it’s that Love Island will continue on, the Love Island brand now a juggernaut that feeds into a bigger mixing pot of sponsorship deals and fast fashion contracts. If we can’t kill the beast, we can only hope to tame it. As our reviews reach their conclusion and our Islanders return to the outside world, it is alarming to think of what this year’s cast face as they leave the villa. All we can hope for is that Liberty and Kaz, Faye and Jake, and everyone in between, make it out of here as happy as they were coming in.

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