Love Island makes its way to the States Tuesday night, a gift from the U.K. that’s arriving less than a week after the U.S.A.’s birthday. The show will air five nights a week (CBS, 8 p.m.), and follow a format familiar that may be familiar if you’ve watched Bachelor in Paradise or Paradise Hotel.
Whether you’ve been a fan of Love Island for years—made easy by Hulu, which is streaming the show stateside—or are brand-new to it, or will never, ever watch, I’ve collected some must-read pieces about it that I hope you’ll enjoy.
First, a few thoughts on a show I have not yet seen. CBS seems to be trying to do this right, which means importing it without destroying it, and bravo to that!
That’s judging, of course, by what we’ve seen so far: the same logo, the same type of cast (i.e. young and hot), the same every-night-of-the-week schedule, the same fire pit for coupling and re-coupling, the same general tone.
They’re actively connecting the CBS version to the ITV version with promos like this:
Also, we learned today that at least some of the show’s budget will be on screen.
The villa where all of the drama will take place isn’t just a resort with some uplighting hidden behind sofas, but instead a designed space (which shares elements with the UK version). Just look at the detail that went into it, from CBS’ press release:
Jonathan Adler exclusively designed the iconic Villa Hideaway More than 3,000 locally sourced Fijian plants make up the Villa gardens Over one mile of neon lights create a romantic glow throughout the Villa Seven custom-designed neon signs light up the Villa walls – inside and out More than 300 feet of custom printed fabrics from Los Angeles, Sydney and Fiji make the Villa furniture and pillows pop with color Over 6,000 individually screen-printed tiles adorn the floors and walls More than 20,000 feet of timber make up the expansive outdoor decks Artist Betty Larkin custom-designed 8 mural walls throughout the Villa bedroom, kitchen and dressing room balcony Handmade BZippy ceramic pots adorn the lounge area
Will all of this effort, money, and promotion will result in viewers? We’ll see tonight. First, here are some deep dives into the phenomenon.
What’s the big deal about Love Island, anyway?
Vulture’s Brian Moylan runs down the basics in What to Know About Love Island Before Its U.S. Debut: what the format is, how trashy it is, et cetera. It’s a good primer if you have no idea what this is, but want to know what people are talking about.
But it’s also re-opened a conversation about how much reality TV affects its cast members. And for more on that:
How does Love Island affect its contestants, the ‘Islanders’?
There’s a prize on the line—the last couple standing wins a cash prize. But for some of those people who’ve been part of the show in the UK, there’s been a price.
For The Ringer, Kate Lloyd looks at—and beyond—“The Harsh Reality of Life After ‘Love Island.’”
That reality include two deaths by suicide of cast members, and how the format and instant fame have affected the people who the show chews up and spits out.
She talks to multiple cast members, including one who had feelings of self-harm, and explores how the show is ratcheting up its on-screen drama, which in turn ratchets up the abuse they get from some viewers on social media and elsewhere.
This was the most striking part of the story to me—in part because it’s not about just Love Island:
“But ‘real’ moments don’t come from simply hitting record on a camera—environments must be destabilized, competition must be initiated, stress must be elevated, group chemistry must be purposely altered. The strategy varies from genre to genre: Shows like The Real World garnered their drama by forcing disparate personalities together. Shows like The Bachelor and Love Island, meanwhile, have garnered theirs by employing sly manipulation and setting impossibly high expectations for their contestants—who have been hand-picked according to traits that may make them more susceptible to producers’ maneuvering.
The conditions on Love Island are certainly more stressful than the dreamy Mediterranean holiday it’s presented as—and at times seem crueler than most reality shows. […] But more accurately and most disorientingly, Love Island hardly has rules: New contestants—who, by definition, must attempt to break up firmly established couples in order to remain on the show—are added to the villa without much explanation, recouplings can be mandated at a moment’s notice, and the show’s elimination process changes frequently without any semblance of uniformity. Sometimes, the public votes to eliminate their least favorite couples; other times, the Islanders themselves are given the responsibility; most devastating is some combination of the two. There is no weekly rose ceremony, no regularly scheduled voting process. Instead, the lack of a format appears to have a clear utility—the more fungible it is, the more easily it can be twisted to keep contestants on shaky ground.”
Read the full story, and also this related story:
Why do people watch? Or not?
Last year, The New York Times reported that Love Island is “the go-to show for people looking to assess the state of British life, or at least pontificate about it.”
Here’s a bit of pontification—about why the show works, and why it didn’t work when exported to another country:
- “How a reality show became a vehicle for all of the country’s neuroses around sex and gender,” an essay by British journalist Eva Wiseman that argues that the appeal “is in the very contrast between the show and the politics of 2018. They are not at odds; they work in tandem. 2018 provides the vocabulary, the tools for a satisfyingly enlightened discussion of what we’re seeing on screen; ‘Love Island’ provides the raw material for our growing sense of righteous indignation.”
- ‘Love Island’ in the Land of Gender Equality examines versions of the show for Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish audiences, and explores why they didn’t exactly become massive hits.
How will CBS’ version be different from the UK version?
Executive producer David Eilenberg—an executive at ITV America, which is producing CBS’ version—was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter.
He said that CBS was on board with keeping everything from the original, including the frequency (five nights a week) and the humorous narration.
I’m curious how risqué it will be, and whether it can compete with Big Brother. (Two couples had sex in the Big Brother house in one night this week, although that’s yet to be shown or acknowledged on TV.)
The only major differences, Eilenberg suspects, are bleeping of language, and:
“…simply the cultural differences between American Islanders and U.K. Islanders. We don’t know what those are yet until we actually put our Islanders into the villa but we’re very excited to find out.”
He also talks about his hopes and dreams for the show. Specifically, he said they’re hoping Big Brother viewers will watch Love Island, too, even though they’re already committed to a trashy three-hour-a-week reality series.
USA TODAY also interviewed Eilenberg, and that story includes some interesting information, including that the Islanders will be limited to just two drinks a night.
That’s because the show is “positioned very much against excessive alcohol use in any way”—mostly so there’s better TV.
“We like the islanders to have a good time, but because the show is geared toward actual coherent conversation and connection it’s not a show that allows excessive acts of alcohol consumption,” he told USA TODAY.
Also, despite the massive bedroom with shared beds, contestants can opt out, and the house is designed to accommodate single-sleepers: “if somebody doesn’t feel comfortable with that, or if a couple is having a spat, then they don’t,” he said.