It seems like every year, we have similar discussions about toxicity in Love Island Australia. Claims of toxic masculinity, sexism, and misogyny — it's as much a part of the show as the recouplings or the 'Truth Bike'. And though the current season has been a huge hit with viewers, on the toxic front, we think it's no different from the ones before it.
We've watched potentially toxic behaviour unfold all season, but last week, Islanders were finally made privy to what was going on behind the scenes after an explosive 'Movie Night' aired troubling incidents to the villa.
It's hard to summarise all the toxic events that unfolded during this season's movie night, simply because there are so many. In one clip, we see Zac Nunns lying to Lucinda Strafford about Nate Page's interest in her, to which Lucinda responded by saying, "You got our first kiss by fucking lying".
Later, we saw Trent Woolman say that Georgia Murray "had to have something in her head that's not right" after she declined his sexual advances and went back to her relationship with Nate. In another clip, Trent said that he "wouldn't bring [Savannah Badger] home to [his] parents", previously describing her sexual behaviour as "out of control" and "disgusting".
Meanwhile, footage aired depicted Reid Polak telling Kirra Schofield that he was open to getting to know her and that he "could see what it could blossom into". Later, in a private conversation with the men in the house, Trent said that Reid "had to stay in character for a bit" and that he was a "good actor", implying that he was exaggerating his interest in Kirra and Tasia Hafenstein to extend his time in the villa. "You haven't switched up for us for love once," Zac told Reid after hearing he was pursuing yet another woman.
But one of the biggest events unfolded later when Zac Nunns said that Lucinda needed to be "taken to puppy school" and that "she's gonna take some training". After seeing the footage, Lucinda was visibly upset, saying she wasn't a dog and that Zac was "punching [above his weight]" by being with her. Zac didn't respond well, to say the least, and as movie night progresses, we even see Nate, Andy, and Kale edge away from the other men. At one point, Andy even comments that Zac is gaslighting Lucinda and tells Zac kindly to, in essence, quit while he's ahead.
While viewers have been criticising many of the men in this season of Love Island Australia for toxic behaviour, it was only after the fallout of 'Movie Night' that the women of Love Island started to explicitly comment on the dynamics in the villa. "I've never seen two more toxic men in my life," Georgia said in Monday's episode, referring to Zac and Trent. Meanwhile, Lucinda stated that Zac was "a complete narcissist", "manipulative", and "calculated" and that they "[knew] how to control girls". Savannah agreed, saying, "The things [Zac] says are repulsive".
It's not new to see toxic behaviour play out on our screens (remember You, anyone?), but there's something particularly distressing about watching it play out on reality television. It isn't removed from the real world in the same way that scripted television is. So, when we watch a woman be manipulated or lied to on Love Island Australia, it hurts, as we're cast back to times that we've had that happen to us — and the enduring problem that toxic masculinity has placed on society. It might seem frivolous to criticise a reality television show for being toxic (it's Love Island Australia — of course, we're watching it for the drama), but we can't deny that reality TV shows so often reflect an aspect of society back at us in a way that can't be ignored.
Indeed, many viewers have criticised Love Island Australia's switch to the pre-recorded format as it's arguably meant that viewers have lost their ability to call out problematic behaviour through our bulk votes. Instead, this season, all power has been designated to the smaller cohort of 'super fans'. This is different to the UK and US versions of the show (and earlier seasons of Love Island Australia), where in theory, the audience had the ability to eliminate misogyny at the first red flag thanks to the live voting component.
But even if we could vote behaviour like this out, we need to ask one big question: would we even want to?
"It's just so funny how someone can be painted like that."
lucinda strafford on zac nunns
In an interview with Refinery29 Australia, Lucinda claimed Zac and Trent were displaying "schoolboy behaviour" and "lying to get their own way", but ultimately believed Zac's on-screen portrayal didn't match him in real life. "It was very frustrating hearing some of the things he says, but it's more the fact that he likes being funny," Lucinda recalls. "His favourite thing to do is make people laugh. I feel like sometimes he just wants to be the loudest person in the room and he says random things to make people laugh, but it actually offends other people."
Whether or not Zac's 'edit' is accurate is just one part of a puzzle we might never solve as viewers. Indeed, even the presence of "toxic" behaviour on the screen is something we need to interrogate as viewers, especially as viewers who return episode after episode to see the drama — which often is at the expense of the women — unfold. And it's not a new experience by any means. Season after season, Love Island fan pages and Reddit groups have discussed the same themes. Season after season, these same types of people receive airtime because they're considered 'good television'. But ultimately, we need to consider why potentially problematic behaviour is spotlighted — and why we're so hooked as viewers.
Look at any dating show from any country or network and you're bound to see a similar issue: the most recent season of Love Is Blind saw Jared "JP" Pierce criticise his partner Taylor Rue about her use of makeup, saying that she looked "fake", which some viewers have suggested is controlling. Still, we watched on in horror, still binge-watching the entire season in one day. Cast your mind back to 2020 and you might remember Ciarran Stott become volatile after watching another man on Bachelor In Paradise Australia take his ex, Renee Barrett, out on a date. Fellow contestant Alisha Aitken-Radburn commented on his possessiveness at the time, saying, "he doesn’t want anyone touching anything that he has previously touched". Yet, Stott was one of the people given the most screentime that season. Go even further back into the reality TV archives, to 2007, when we also saw Spencer Pratt of The Hills start a rumour that Lauren Conrad had made a sex tape with her co-star Jason Wahler — something Pratt later admitted was a lie. And this is the very show that inspired our love for reality TV in the first place.
Men displaying shitty behaviour on reality TV isn't a new thing — it's been built into the format. It's the drama. It's the storyline. It's why we watch (and why, according to media insights, Love Island Australia was the top program streamed on catch-up against all broadcasters last week).
While I'm not saying we actively endorse toxicity or misogyny when we watch reality television, nor am I excusing the horrific things we've seen unfold this season on Love Island Australia, it's worth considering why we the audience feel more compelled to watch when women are almost always the butt of the joke. It's time we reflect on why misogyny has become an accepted component of reality TV and why, in 2023, watching men manipulate, lie, and gaslight women is still considered entertainment. But perhaps the biggest question is one we need to ask ourselves: why are we still watching the show? Why is this largely considered to be the best season of Love Island Australia that's been made yet? And when we sit down in front of the television, are we endorsing toxicity?
I'll still be watching, but make no mistake — it's in spite of this behaviour, not because of it.
Refinery29 Australia has reached out to Zac and Trent for comment.
You can catch new episodes of Love Island Australia at 6pm Monday to Thursday on 9Now.