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Love Island has seen scientists, pharmacists and engineers give up their careers – all thanks to social status

Perhaps these islanders are seeing the show as an investment in their future. But while they’ll fly high on their new-found fame for a while, when it all wears off, the consequences could be devastating

Harriet Minter
Tuesday 04 June 2019 14:18 BST
Love island unveils contestants for it's fifth series

The TV phenomenon that is Love Island opened the villa doors to the 2019 cohort last night and 24 hours into what is probably going to be a very long eight weeks, one big question remains unanswered: why on earth would you abandon your career as a scientist to spend two months being sexually rejected by a gym-bro whose mum shaves his bum?

Each season of Love Island features at least one person with a full-on career. Bomb-disposal expert Camilla made headlines a few years ago when she tried, and failed, to bring feminism to the villa.

And last year, chemical engineer Wes proved that for Love Island success, brains came second to the ability to act cool when your love interest was being pursued by someone else.

But this year, we have scientists, engineers, pharmacists and a future sandwich entrepreneur.

These are (mostly) people with the sort of job that you go into because you see yourself building a long-term career out of it, so why on earth are they abandoning it so early for the sake of some short-term fame?

I suspect we actually got the answer in last night’s show from “semi-pro rugby player” Sheriff. Paired up with Anna, pretty much the first thing he told her was that he already followed her on Instagram.

While Anna might have appeared unimpressed with this to his face, she was there telling the girls all about it five minutes later. After all Anna, and the entire generation that grew up online, know that there is status in being Insta-famous. In the way that “what do you do?” became the question Generation X asked to establish whether or not the person they were speaking to was worth their time, now it’s “how many followers do you have?”

It’s this chasing of social status that leads to these twenty-somethings, with careers in which they have seemingly invested years of study, to jack it all in and head off to Mallorca on the promise of 15 minutes of fame – or 12 months of it, if they can make themselves interesting enough to last in our memories until next year’s lot show up.

And while Love Island might bring in millions of viewers, it’s not the viewers that interest them, it’s the followers on social media.

This morning, I received a press release breaking down just which of the islanders had gained the most followers since the series started. Sandwich man Joe should be celebrating as he’s up by over 200 per cent, although his low starting base means he’s still not worrying the social status of Tyson Fury’s brother Tommy.

Each of these islanders will have rounded up either a social media expert or a family friend to “manage” their accounts while they’re away. They’ll be posting pictures, urging followers to vote and hopefully not creating any social media storms of their own. And when the islanders are finally voted off the first thing they will do when they get their phones back is check their follower numbers: what is their social status now?

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They’re smart to do this. After all, the generation that grew up online is driving the digital economy: it’s where they shop, buy from others with social status and make decisions based on what those with social status tell them to do. So perhaps these islanders are seeing the show as an investment in their future?

I hope they are, because the dark side of this is that gathering up likes as a way to boost our income works until we also start to rely on it for our self-esteem.

Social media thrives on giving us a high when someone “likes” what we do and a corresponding low when they don’t.

And while the islanders will find themselves flying high on their new-found status for a while, when it all wears off (or when they find that millions of people are following them simply because they love to hate them) the consequences may well be devastating.

You only have to look at the concerns about reality TV stars’ mental health, and the suicide of Mike Thalassitis, to see that social status might provide these Love Island stars with a living – but it comes at a cost.

Harriet Minter is a journalist and broadcaster. She hosts ‘Undercover Lover: The Unofficial Podcast of Love Island’, which you can listen to here

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