My favorite part of any Bachelor (or any show in the Bachelor universe) episode is always the bit at the very end. As the credits roll, we’re treated to a clip from the week that captures the contestants in their more ridiculous and unfiltered moments. It’s how “glam-shaming” was coined during the last season of The Bachelor, and why we just saw Blake scurry off to pee in the woods on The Bachelorette. These unchoreographed, bite-sized glimpses reveal more about the contestants in a couple of seconds than in the entire preceding episode. Each time I watch, I insist aloud that it would be a much better show if the whole series was made up of entirely those clips. While The Bachelor may not have heard my cries, the British show Love Island did.
I’m no stranger to English reality television. I scoured the internet for illegal episodes of Made In Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex when I was in college, but fancied myself above Love Island after it debuted in 2015 as a revival of 2005’s failed Celebrity Love Island. While this most recent iteration of the reality show has a Bachelor In Paradise-like premise – throwing contestants on an island in hopes of sparking romance – it didn’t appear to have the polish and formality of The Bachelor
However, you could argue The Bachelor’s polish and formality is why everyone has been disappointed with these past few seasons. While ratings remain steady, it would seem many of us are watching out of obligation rather than actual enjoyment. Vulture deemed Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s turn the most boring season of The Bachelor, and Vanity Fair wrote that this season of The Bachelorette failed leading lady Becca Kufrin by portraying her so passively. In fact, I have a particularly snooze-worthy episode of The Bachelorette to thank for my decision to finally heed the chatter of my Twitter feed and pull up season 4 of Love Island on Hulu. I wanted the antics that The Bachelorette was lacking. I wanted to watch something exciting. I wanted, in short, to actually be entertained. Within the first few minutes, Love Island delivered.
“This show is fully amazing,” “Wow, Love Island is powerful,” and “Hear me out: we both need to go on Love Island” were just a few of the responses I received from the friends and loved ones I forced to join me on this binge-watching journey — and I really mean journey. Love Islands’ four seasons clock in to around 50 episodes each. At 45 minutes a pop, you’ll be shocked to find just how quickly you breeze through them.
Each season begins with an initial coupling, with contestants pairing up based on first impressions and, sometimes, whoever is left. These couples must dedicate themselves to pursuing a romantic partnership — not unlike being partnered up in high school health class to raise a plastic baby doll. They sleep in the same beds (in the same room as the other contestants), are paired up for challenges, and go on dates, all in the hopes of finding that spark. Every couple of days, however, more men and women suitors are thrown into the mix, breaking up relationships and starting new ones. A contestant without a romantic partner is in danger during the show’s regular “re-coupling” ceremonies, where contestants decide if they want to stay with their current partner or couple up with someone new, eliminating whoever isn’t chosen.
The point of all this is to be the last couple standing and receive the 50,000 pound (about $65,000 in U.S. dollars) prize. But you kind of forget all that when you’re watching a group of women try to use their butts to see who can break a watermelon the fastest. Of the very few mandated activities on the show, most are physical competitions that have never failed to elicit a scream from my mouth. The first challenge of season 4, where the women were given anonymous embarrassing facts about the men and had to go kiss (sorry, snog) whoever they thought each fact belonged to, seems relatively tame in comparison to the later challenge that required the couples to spit food into each other’s mouths. Bachelor In Paradise could never.
Sure, there are your requisite assigned dates, news of which is delivered not via handwritten notes, but personal text messages. Long, languid days of laying by the pool, laying in bed, laying on the couch, or laying on bean bag chairs are punctured sparingly by the familiar cries of “I’ve got a text!” that dictate pretty much the single thing they’re required to do that day. Instead, you’re mostly treated to 45 minutes of chit chat, pool games, and talking heads, all spoken in heavy accents Hulu only manages to correctly close caption two thirds of the time.
But the show is anything but boring. The contestants, most in their early 20s, are absolutely bonkers — in a good way. They talk frankly about sex, relationships, and, in one notable conversation, Brexit, in ways that are genuinely captivating, thanks in no small part to their varied and lovable personalities. No, what’s boring is the same airtight format for every episode, week after week, for a combined 40 seasons. The Bachelor has planned itself to death.
Love Island makes up for everything The Bachelor lacks, down to the simple things I didn’t realize took a toll on my enjoyment. The Bachelor is earnest, perfunctory, and contained. There’s no mention of life outside the mansion, and no admission that this whole thing is kind of ridiculous. It’s all about the journey, about the search for true love that goes well beyond the finale and onto covers of People and various press appearances. The cast of Love Island knows this is crazy. They are all down to find love, but they’re not going to pretend this is the best way to do it. The women are looking for boyfriends, not husbands. They repeatedly stress how little time they’ve actually known their partners, make references to seeing each other when they "get out," and acknowledge the world outside of the show.
I’m not the only one with a growing obsession. Love Island’s ratings have climbed in the UK with each season, earning its biggest ever ratings in June. The Bachelor and Bachelorette, however, both saw a drop in their ratings for their most recent seasons, with The Bachelorette’s season premiere boasting the lowest ratings in the show’s history.
There are some obvious logistics to blame, as well. Love Island airs daily and generally in real time, decreasing the possibility of spoilers that have notoriously ruined seasons of The Bachelor. In some instances, the public actually has a chance to affect the outcome of the show, casting votes that determine who stays on the island, eliminating the time-capsule feeling that this season of The Bachelorette has, considering much of the drama happened after the show was filmed.
I don’t think The Bachelor and Love Island should be in competition. If anything, The Bachelor is the older sibling who has expectations to meet and people to please, while Love Island is the younger child who’s pretty much gotten away with everything their entire life. There are people who will be totally turned off by the show’s lack of censorship, the vapid nature of their conversations, and the undeniably objectifying aspects of the premise. But then there will be people like me, people who have a Sunday afternoon to kill and their mom’s Hulu password. People who are warmed by the friendships the women form and endeared by this glimpse into parts of people’s lives that are normally kept private. People who will, sure, watch The Bachelorette this coming Monday, but at the end of the day, it’s Love Island that gets the final rose.
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