Let’s be real after last night's finale, Love Island is pretty much holding on for dear life. What emerged in the last decade as a global phenomenon is transforming into a played out trope that many – myself included – are becoming disillusioned with.
After an 18-month hiatus from our screens, this year’s return promised much. The familiarity of living vicariously through a group of hopeful twentysomethings as they embark on a quest to find love offered a form of collective escapism during a period of uncertainty. Millions celebrated its arrival and the show attracted more than £20 million in sponsorship deals before the first episode had even dropped. And yet this season's opening episode attracted its lowest ratings since 2017 with 2.47 million views, which is quite the drop from its 3.3 million launch in 2019.
There’s no denying that Euro 2020 partly contributed to this slight dip in numbers; the match between France and Switzerland drew in almost 8 million views. However, this lukewarm debut foreshadowed one of the rockiest seasons to come out of the franchise, proving once again that Love Island just isn’t offering what it once did. According to creative agency Rise at Seven, the show has seen a decline in viewers, dropping from a 6 million average to 3 million, as well as a 53% decline in social noise. And when it came to this year’s finals, arguably the most anticipated part of the show, only 2.8 million people tuned in to watch finalists Milliam (Millie Court and Liam Reardon) crowned as this season’s winners. A 22% drop from the 3.6 million who watched 2019’s shocking final.
It’s mad that the Love Island final is next week and not one single islander has a million followers on Instagram lol. Past seasons by now people were even touching 2 million, show has lost its relevance— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) August 18, 2021
This drastically diminishing interest has already had an effect on this year’s cast. From watching previous seasons, we’ve gotten accustomed to contestants' social media followers climbing rapidly once their names are revealed. Agencies wait by the villa doors to sign them, while lucrative brand deals remain pending upon their return to the UK. We’ve seen this play out with the likes of Molly-Mae Hague, who went into the villa with 150,000 Instagram followers only to leave with a growth of 2.3 million and a £500k endorsement deal from PrettyLittleThing (PLT). Fast-forward two years and Hague's following has skyrocketed to almost six million, while she recently bagged herself a new deal with the fast fashion brand worth £1 million. Similarly, 2019’s winner Amber Rose Gill landed a £1 million deal with Misspap, currently has 2.6 million followers on Instagram, fronted a six-part series for ITV2 on mental health and scored a book deal with Mills & Boon for her first novel, Until I Met You.
As this season comes to a close, that fast-paced acceleration into the influencer sphere isn’t playing out as it has for previous contestants. Prior to Liberty Poole’s emotional exit, which saw her follower count jump from 800k to 1 million in the space of two days, many had pointed out that none of this season’s Islanders had reached this key milestone on Instagram. In fact, the majority have barely hit the 500k mark and season finalist Tyler Cruickshank is just about edging his way to 100k after five weeks on the show. At this point in past seasons, finalists like Hague and Gill had already reached 2 million, while their former castmates – some of whom barely made it through two weeks on the show – would have amassed over 1 million by the time of their departure.
It’s no secret that Love Island has evolved into the ultimate influencer-making machine. Every element of the show has been commercialized thanks to its ubiquitous collaborations with fast fashion brands both inside and outside the villa – 2019's official sponsor I Saw It First earned a 67% rise in sales – as well as the forced commentary from its social media channels. Who would have guessed that PLT’s Twitter page would be the one to break the news that Jiberty had left the villa or that Boohoo would announce Aaron Simpson and Mary Bedford’s alleged split? What with the growing disappointment at producers’ tactics to orchestrate unnecessary drama, Love Island is looking increasingly like an exhausted formula that viewers are no longer fawning over.
No one's pointing fingers solely at the producers. Manipulation is a basic reality TV trope that audiences unashamedly (and ashamedly) bask in. Yet with the tragedy that has followed the show – this season is the first since the death of former host Caroline Flack – and the network’s dedication to mental health with its 'Be Kind' campaign, Love Island can’t help but raise countless issues for itself. Alongside choosing when to speak out about the abuse targeting Islanders – producers released a statement for Chloe Burrows but failed to offer the same response to the racist abuse of Black contestants Aaron Francis and Kaz Kamwi – it has instrumented some of the most harmful altercations between contestants.
The 'dramatic' incident that saw Faye Winter scream at her partner, Teddy Soares, received 25,000 Ofcom complaints, bringing this year’s total to 33,500. It's the highest number in the show’s six-year history, indicating that Love Island viewers want the show to stand firm behind its duty-of-care protocols. But with many referring to this as a 'dry' season, it’s clear that Love Island will continue to struggle in its efforts to balance moral ethics while providing authentic entertainment.
So, with a lack of safeguarding and a growing disinterest among viewers, can the once widely adored reality series survive? Or has it reached its peak? Who knows but one thing’s for certain, its cultural relevance – whether we boycott or continue to watch – will remain for decades to come.
Love Island episodes are available the following morning on Hayu.