For contestants on Love Island, life post-villa is just as exciting as life in it. Sure, the winners win £50,000 and a potential lifelong partnership, but as the ITV2 dating show has grown in popularity, the subsequent opportunities available to islanders seem to have eclipsed the prize itself. A Boohoo collaboration, spot on Celebs Go Dating and university nightclub tour aren’t baked into the Love Island contract (at least not yet), but they’re very much a possibility.
But for every Dani Dyer or Dr Alex who make it into the Love Island hall of fame, there are many more islanders who spend only a few days in the villa and fail to scale these heights. Whether they joined as a bombshell who didn’t make a connection or were one of the many new faces appearing at Casa Amor, some contestants will have quit jobs, ended relationships and flown off to Mallorca armed with a dream (and a hefty suitcase), only to return less than a week later.
The topic has been discussed this year in relation to model Shannon Singh, who became the show’s shortest-lived contestant after being dumped just 48 hours into the series. It was a shocking moment that showed that nobody was safe on the show, and led many viewers to claim that it was unfair to rip Singh’s opportunities away from her. The show’s format changes every year and twists like this keep the audience at home on their toes, but for those taking part, having your time cut short can be a difficult pill to swallow.
For Jamie McCann, the news that she would be joining Love Island’s 2020 winter series in Casa Amor (when the contestants split into two villas and 10 new islanders are introduced) came as an unpleasant surprise. The Scottish eyelash technician had flown out with the initial cast, waiting in isolation in South Africa only to return to the UK after a week, later joining the show along with four other new girls. “I was absolutely ill because I just was like, I will not be able to steal someone’s boyfriend,” she tells me over the phone. “I just think that’s the worst time to go in… especially for the girls [because] people generally don’t like you – that’s just a well-known fact – because they want everyone to stay coupled up.”
McCann’s apprehension about joining the show in Casa Amor was understandable. Not only was having to split up established couples an additional challenge, but the new contestants “don’t get shown much”, making it hard to make an impact. When she left after three days, having failed to couple up, the mood was an “obviously sad” one. “You want to stay and have the opportunity to meet other people,” she says.
Casa Amor was first introduced during Love Island’s 2017 series and is often a highlight for fans. It spices things up, putting contestants to the test by splitting the villa by gender and introducing them to new islanders. Casa Amor has been the maker or breaker of many a Love Island couple, proving who’s actually not that interested in their current partner and who, in the words of series four’s Georgia Steel, is “loyal, babes”.
Appearing in that first ever Casa Amor was Rob Lipsett, a video maker from Ireland. Lipsett was scouted for Love Island from his YouTube channel, where he posts videos about fitness, entrepreneurship and travel and already boasted a “couple of hundred thousand followers” when ITV came ringing. He auditioned months before the show began, during which producers explained that successful contestants could be put in at any point in the series.
“I was in Ibiza and I woke up hungover one day… and they’re calling me,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Is this actually ITV?’ and then I get asked, ‘Can you make it to Majorca on Monday?’ Didn’t even have time to get fresh clothes, so I’m going into the villa with a bunch of dirty laundry [and without] a fresh fade on me, which is a criminal offence in my eyes.”
While only spending three days in the villa, that short stint was enough to set Lipsett up. “It was a super interesting experience, and it helped my social channels grow massively, which really helped my business,” he says. He also got to return to Dublin a celebrity at a time when the show’s popularity was at its peak. “I’d go out in Dublin and everyone was like, ‘Wahey, what was it like?’ and all this, so it was really fun,” he says. “It was a good time.”
Also benefitting from his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time in the villa was Idris Virgo, who appeared on the show as a bombshell for four days in 2018. The boxer applied mid-season in the hope of meeting a “decent bird”, but echoes McCann’s words that coming in halfway through is “not the best time to enter the villa”. Fortunately for Virgo, less than a week on the ITV2 show still boosted his fighting career “big time”. “Before Love Island, I was low level,” he tells me. “People knew who I were but didn’t know who I were were, if you get what I mean. Going on Love Island, my audience just expanded, people knew what kind of person I was... it increased awareness of who I was as a boxer,” he says.
Given the success half a week in the villa granted the islanders, it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be some frustration at not having longer on the show and getting to see just how big they could grow. But all three remain diplomatic and speak about their time in positive affirmations, Lipsett explaining: “People are like, ‘Oh, are you annoyed you got hardly any airtime or that you were only in it for like you know a few days?’, and no, not at all. When I chalk it down, everything that came from it was positive.” McCann agrees. “I’m a big believer in ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’. I just didn’t try to dwell on it too much because this opportunity doesn’t come to everyone so I just need to be grateful that I’ve got it.”
How islanders feel about the length of their short stints on the show largely comes down to whether they want to be associated with Love Island for the foreseeable future. If the end goal is tooth-whitening deals and endless parties, it can feel like a short stint has snatched that away. But for others, it’s a way of avoiding that specific type of fame awarded to reality TV contestants, a constant paranoia that someone is always taking your photo in Tesco.
Speaking to Virgo, you can tell he still relishes his association with the show. When someone shouts “Mr Lover Man” (a reference to his series’ fireman challenge) at a match, it’s a thrill to still be remembered four years later. “I love talking to people, I love the reactions they give me when they realise Mr Lover Man’s speaking to them. It’s crazy,” he says with a laugh. As a result, he’s more willing to admit that he felt his time was too short. “I wish I was in the villa longer because it obviously would’ve improved more of my boxing career,” he says. “It gave me a base, but I would’ve preferred a bigger base… I didn’t have enough time to find my feet.” If ITV ever does an all-star season, he’s “the first one on their list”.
But there’s also something to be said – at least for McCann and Lipsett – about less than a week on the show providing just enough of a boost without that lifelong connection. The whole influencer thing never really appealed to McCann, who speaks to me while on her lunch break from drama school. In 2021, a social media following is more and more important when it comes to landing an acting gig and she can thank Love Island for her 31,000 Instagram followers (as well as the confidence to give performing a go). But she’s glad it’s not something people immediately recognise her for and admits she doesn’t intend to disclose it later in her career for fear of being “stereotyped”.
Lipsett is “100 per cent” in agreement that his three days in the villa allowed him that best of both worlds too. “I said that myself the second I came off it,” he says. “There’s some people now, they still have it in their bios – it’s four years, you’ve done something else by now! There’s some people that just dedicate their whole life to it and if you want to do that, that’s fair enough. But I’d like to be Rob Lipsett, not ‘Rob from Love Island’.”
The words “it is what it is” are well worn within the Love Island lexicon and it’s telling that Lipsett, McCann and Virgo all say them when talking about their time on the show. Maybe their island experiences weren’t quite what they expected and cutting them short took away some things they dreamed about. But they’ve all strived to make the most of their situations, knowing that the Love Island connection is there if they want it or can mostly be left if they don’t. “If it was meant to be, it was meant to be,” Virgo says. “I would have stayed in there longer if it was my time to stay there longer.”
‘Love Island’ continues tonight at 9pm on ITV2
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies