The last two years have been absolutely terrible for Love Island fans. The show, once a light-hearted comic and cringe display of heterosexual antics, was hit by the twin afflictions of real-life tragedy and serious thinkpieces alike in in 2019 and 2021. Viewer figures drooped. Memories of “the good ol’days” of Love Island – a dazzling, dream-like year of high drama and low stakes, when the show coincided with the 2018 World Cup – felt increasingly like a hazy mirage. But just in the nick of time, a single hero has saved series eight, perhaps even the entire show, from cultural ruin. Cue audience screams and applause for: Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu.
Ekin-Su, soap actress and self-described “Turkish delight” from Essex, entered the villa on day three – the moment TV historians will pinpoint as the moment series eight went from a predetermined dead ting to an explosive hit. Introduced quite literally as a bombshell – the term for late-entry contestants whose mission is stay on the show by any means necessary – she fluttered her lashes and instantly booked in a PT session with a taken man (i.e. straddled his shoulders as he pulled a squat). Much like Botticelli’s Venus exiting her clamshell, the villa was instantly blessed with a goddess of drama.
She quickly won over the villa’s Italian snack and walking Ken doll, Davide Sanclimenti, only to begin a sordid romance with Jay Younger behind his back. GIFs of her in bodycon crawling across the balcony to Jay to avoid detection have been scorched into Love Island lovers’ brains, and thanks to Twitter, regurgitated countless times lest we forget Ekin-Su’s determination to play the dating game.
But this was just the beginning. When news of Jay and Ekin-Su’s rendezvous ripped through the villa, she was at the centre of the year’s biggest Love Island meme thus far, when Davide declared her a “liarrrrr; an actress; get the fuck out”. (The “Davide saying liar” sound has so far accrued 12 million views on TikTok.) Best of all? This storyline arc straight from a telenovela was completed in less than two weeks’ airtime *chefs kiss*.
“I love Ekin-Su. She’s hilarious,” says Mia, a trainee solicitor from London, one of many fans sharing support for the reality star online. Just last week, she tweeted: “Naaah the producers this season deserve a raise for giving us Ekin-Su and Davide.”
“She doesn’t just cruise by her looks, which she very well could,” Mia tells VICE. “She actually has a personality!” Crucially, Ekin-Su “delivers on drama but doesn’t do it in a way where she’s out to get anyone”, she adds. “If she goes from man to man it’s just because it’s the nature of the game. Like, she’s grafting.”
Ekin-Su’s best moment is probably when she relayed secret information, only to repackage it to appear much worse than it was. With a spray of Paco Rabanne Lady Million, she flew to the other side of the villa and blabbed the second she overheard Dami Hope predict Gemma Owens’ head would turn. Crucially, she inferred Gemma had near-said the words herself. With the villa thrown into a much-ado-about-nothing-like frenzy, all paths led back to Ekin-Su. Her response: Confusion, disbelief, questions over why she was being blamed – not a bead of sweat to be seen on her perfectly contoured face.
There’s something admirable about such feigned or genuine ignorance, especially if your stunts liven up an otherwise dull episode. As Stefan Bertin wrote on Twitter: “Ekin-Su’s not only the main character, she’s the antagonist, she’s the producer, she’s the screenplay writer and she’s the commissioner.” Among Love Island fans, there is nothing worse than someone so obviously playing the game. Despite this, Ekin-Su is loved for orchestrating entire plotlines and her route to the final. She is the villain; she is the main character; she is feral girl summer itself, if said feral girl loved imitating Voldemort solely to piss off a man.
As fans suckled on the sweet teat of drama, our anti-hero hottie plotted her next act: Win back Davide, an impossible move for anyone other than Ekin-Su, a queen amongst pawns – and one she accomplished on Thursday’s episode, with the pair choosing each other amid the tumultuous recouplings of Casa Amor. Ekin-Su’s chemistry with Davide has been compared to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith; or, according to Twitter, “two divorced parents who continue to flirt” and “twin-flames who will always find each other in every life” (OK, the last one might be pushing it). Will they succeed? Does it even matter? People love a will-they-won’t-they and, in Ekin-Su and Davide, we have found our Boohoo Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf.
“I think her ‘I’m doing this for me’ attitude surprised some people who might not have the confidence to do what she’s doing,” says London-based consultant Chuka, who tweeted last week that “Ekin-Su is that girl you meet in the smoking area that changes your perspective on life.” The 23-year-old adds: “In a way, it’s a breath of fresh air for some while it drives others crazy. Either way, it has made her a main talking point on the show!”
Being a consummate girls’ girl might be the key to her appeal. After late entrant Danica Taylor – an objectively gorgeous woman – was repeatedly rejected by the men, Ekin-Su gave her a pep talk any woman would hope for: "You are a bombshell, remember. You are a Bomb. Shell. You came in a shell – but we don’t see the bomb exploding."
Self-labelled “Ekin-Su mega fan” Heidi Sinclair says the reality star is “courageous, affectionate and true-hearted”. “She isn’t afraid to get what she wants no matter what barriers there are. From what I have seen on the show, she gives the girls valuable advice and boosts their confidence.”
For Mia, the rise of Ekin-Su-premacy is a personal one, too. As a Middle Eastern viewer, she’s buoyed by the sight of a Turkish woman taking centre stage on Love Island. Ekin-Su, as Mia puts it, is not the “stereotypical white English girl” often tipped to win – which is what makes her rise to popularity all the more cheering. Understandably, comparisons have been drawn to Maura Higgins, the Irish bombshell from season five who was polled as the best contestant of all time by Tab readers.
“She’s the contestant that has brought the most fun drama since Maura,” explains Mia. “Both of them have a very likeable quality. You want to see them react dramatically to things and call men out on their BS. But also you want them to meet the right guy that will appreciate the dramatic flair!”
Ekin-Su lives how we would all like to live: Boldly and unashamedly. I, too, would like to kiss lots of people and ignore the consequences. I, too, want to shit stir for no reason. While we’re all navigating social anxiety while secretly desiring to be the centre of attention, Ekin-Su is just doing it. Maybe we all have a little Ekin-Su within us if we silence the voice that begs us to feel shame or remorse. Why not crawl across the floor to your next victim? Why not flirt with someone new in front of your partner? If Ekin-Su was here, she’d probably say it’s your soap opera – everyone else is just an extra in it.