The best eight minutes of all reality TV happened on this season of Love Island. It is possible you blinked and you missed it, because as stated it only lasted about eight minutes, so I'll recount: Malia Arkian, a 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Wilmslow, entered the house. She then proceeded to achieve every single reality TV trope in record time: a slow-motion entrance sizzle reel where she steadily climbed out of the sea in a bikini while her voiceover said, "I just seem to have the Malia effect on men!"; a banter-bereft date with fellow Islander Scott (sample date chat: "What do you sing, then?" "Songs."); a striding entrance into the villa proper where every single one of the existing girls bared their teeth at her like a shark and called her "babes" in the most passive-aggressively threatening way I have ever heard, oh hi babes, nice to meet you babes; a row about some wine being spilled on her shoe that got so heated that a guy in a polo shirt marked 'SEGURIDAD' had to run in to stop her properly fucking ending Kady while shouting "YOU DESPERATE BEG" and wielding a heel, and the camera had to go to that emergency wide shot they always use when something goes fatally wrong on live TV; a sad shot of a swimming pool rippling slow at night with the narrator explaining that Malia had in fact been asked to leave the house; a sombre, white-vest-and-minimal-makeup apology to camera where Malia explained that she's "not normally an aggressive person", said in a way that just barely disguises the fact that she really, really seems like an aggressive person. Start to finish, this was eight minutes of TV. Malia was in there – and I am estimating this from the position of the sun during her pre-date meet-the-boys entrance and the dim light during her post-shoe physical altercation – I would say maybe five hours, maximum. And in that time she managed to channel pure reality TV: Malia with the heel was all of reality TV, at once, in full, distilled and made crystalline, everything reality TV is and is not, all focussed into one bleeped fight with a girl called Kady, itself a very reality TV show name, in fact I am looking through my files and there has not been a single fight on reality TV since the dawn of recorded time that didn't somehow involve a girl called 'Kady'.
Welcome to Love Island, a villa-shaped sex encampment in Mallorca where 12 young men and women are currently fucking each other raw. Welcome to Love Island, a place that has lived in the nub of my obsession for six straight weeks now. Welcome to Love Island, you desperate beg.
Love Island ends soon, and so with it our lives as we know it. For six brief weeks, somewhere between one and one million – it is impossible to tell how many,exactly, as they are all called 'Zara', 'Katie' or 'Adam', and given long enough they will all forge into one moist, undulating muscular mass of purple bikini bottoms, lubricant sachets and bodypack microphones – but somewhere around one thousand young, tan taut people have occupied a sticky, heady villa in Mallorca, and there they have fucked, and fucked and fucked and fucked, and fucked, and fucked and fucked and fucked, and blown, and fucked, and fucked and fucked and blown and fucked, and argued, argued about the amount they have or have not been fucked, and then fucked, the fucking hard, the fucking unstoppable, the fucking knocking things over and waking people up, and fucked, a thousand pneumatic drills attacking each other on a trampoline, and fucked and fucked and fucked, and fucked, and fucked, and fucked. Caroline Flack hosts.
You know what Love Island is, because you watch Love Island. There is no pretending here, no skirting around it: you watch Love Island. You think you are above it but you are enthralled. So we have established that everyone loves Love Island. But answer me this, 'everyone': how exactly does the competitive mechanic of Love Island work? Because I have watched I would say 70 percent of this season of Love Island and I still cannot tell. I do not how you can win – or, indeed, lose – at trying to bang someone when you are trapped in a house with a person who is also trying to bang someone and you are both there under the auspices of banging. How can you lose at that? How, actively, can you win? The unseen overlords of the Love Island villa occasionally drag the contestants out beneath the harsh red heat of the midday sun and ask them to compete – they have to dive into foam and retrieve their own names for a flimsy game concept, they have to slosh tea over each other for a competition called 'Mugged Off', they have to lay arses-up on an inflatable and paddle juicily in front of 4K cameras – but it is unclear what they are competing for. There are no prizes dangled in front of them. They just compete, endlessly and thoughtlessly, until it gets dark and cool enough to fuck again. This is the dance. The long, slow, sadly-end-in-sight dance of ITV2's flagship reality dating show.
But then, does there really need to be a point? In this crazy topsy-turvy world, in this post-Europe world, in this chaotic world, the aimless alternate universe of Love Island – a placid place, where club promoters with the maximum number of Facebook friends sit on sun loungers and go red thru brown in the sun, turning their head to one side occasionally to say the word "graft" – in this docile alternate universe of aftersun and intricate wax schedules, there is a certain calm, a certain immovable peace, a certain post-coital zen. What I am saying is: the world needs a pinch of whatever Love Island has right now. We all need a pinch of whatever Love Island has right now. There will be a void in all of us when it is gone.
Love Island, roughly: five boys and six girls go into a villa in Mallorca to find love, but instead play a load of sub-18-to-30 party games and wetly snog each other in pools and run through condoms by the bucketload. The villa in Mallorca is wired up like the Big Brother house, but they are not locked in there like the Big Brother house. They are not imprisoned. I need to repeat this: they are not just sexy prisoners. But they are also not encouraged to exactly leave. Like, leaving – to go on a date, or whatever – is possible. But nobody ever yearns to leave. They are happy, there, on sun loungers, having conversations with each other about how 'Terry's really a nice guy actually and I think I'm falling for him', or whatever. And then slowly the producers add more men and women – all of them 23 years old, the men and women, all of them essentially swimwear model bodies with Instagram model faces – and then, inevitably as the tides, they fuck and then fall out, and then the six weeks is up, and then????????? And then what????????? What?????????????
Some facts about Love Island, in this, the year of our Lord two-thousy sixteen:
A vast majority of Love Island is spent with contestants sat conspirationally shoulder-to-shoulder, sipping from branded water bottles, nudging each other and going: "Why's Nathan so moody, though?";
A lot of the show is just young idiot people with exquisite bodies shouting at each other across a garden;
There is not a single pubic hair in the Love Island house. Nobody has even one pubic hair in the Love Island house. Every single shred of a pube, every vague threat of a pube, is attacked violently with a razor or a laser or a swathe of aerosol Veet before it can blossom. The last time any of the people in Love Island had any pubes at all was: [FILE NOT FOUND]. They are a pubeless kin: they always have been, they always will be. Their genitals are naked, their genitals are nude;
Graft, you have to graft. Spell graft, g-r-a-f-t. Use graft in a sentence. "You're going to have to graft mate, really put in some graft." "I'm slyly grafting her but she's giving me nothing." "Mate, I've never met something this hard to graft." "I go out back home and I don't even need to graft, but here? Graft, graft, graft." "Mate: graft";
The most exciting thing that ever happens on this show is that someone receives a text;
The idea of being a capital B Boyfriend or capital G Girlfriend is enormous: boys ask, deliriously, to the gods, "WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ME?" when they have an emotion for a girl; they walk around the garden, half in a daze, when they feel attachment to someone they've just shagged;
It in unclear what the food economy of Love Island is, but they seem to eat – together, late evening, as the red sun sets – but nobody seems to ever cook. Nobody ever tidies. All the contestants do, in their gilded castle, is fuck fuck fuck, and when they are not fucking they are staring off into the distance and saying, "He's pied me off";
There are three primary functions of lust at play in the Love Island villa: i. the mug, as in to be mugged off; ii. the pie, as in to be pied off, the differences of course between mug and pie being deep and unknowable and nuanced and intuitive, unexplainable i.e. I sort of suspect Olivia is going to get pied off by Alex but that's only because she's being so muggy to him, but I cannot explain to you exactly what that means; and graft, the putting in of effort to have conversation with someone before you have sex with them, a concept near untenable to all but the Island's most hardened shaggers. The three functions – mug, pie, graft – sit in an uneasy symmetry until a Recoupling Event nears, and then – faced with the chance to switch their official partners and fuck their way to a £50,000 split cash prize – Love Island turns into some sort of rule-free hormonal Hunger Games, and everyone sits in deckchairs behind reflective aviator shades, sucking on cigarettes through their teeth, plotting how to metaphorically kill in the game, hissing things like, "Sophie definitely has a gameplan." Islanders, a question: how can there be a gameplan when there is no viable game.
Despite all this, love blooms like rare flowers. Well, 'love' with enough inverted commas around it to populate a constellation: in Love Island, the concept of love with a big L is at once complex and straightforward, a multitude of greys. Boys in the diary room, topless and pink-nosed and direct to camera, run up to the football of Love but shy away from striking it, "I came in here to have a laugh, I never thought I'd go on Love Island to find lo—", then halt, the L cresting their tongue and swishing around their mouth, just a taste of what it feels like, just a whisper. Time moves differently in here in Love Island, much like it does in the clear and pure and perfect innocent mind of a dog: every day counts as two, every week like a month, the six week Love Island arc the equivalent of five or six months of out-there, real world relationship. Love Island time is like an astronaut going into space and coming back to find his children are all dying of old age and he has a new girlfriend called Kady. In this warped timezone, love accelerates like a car off a cliff: three days after meeting, girls in bikinis are screaming in dressing rooms in horned up frustration, men with intricately anodyne sleeve tattoos are jiggling on the spot and saying "I can't live without you", boys and girls, arms entangled on an outdoor bed, gaze into each other's dead, glazed eyes and say, with solemn relevance: "I think you're really sound." The soundtrack to these quiet, beautiful moments is the NSPCC theme song. Love Island love is not like the love you and I share. Love Island love is the kind of love that has you using every available towel to spell out 'BE MY GF?' in the sand and sitting on a stool in front of everyone you know while the 20-year-old you've been nailing furious for five straight weeks does a silent thumbs up through a wideset balcony window. It's only real within the confines of the villa where it was born.
The housemates, briefly: Adam is a muscular man who in my head undulates between being the world's most terrifying sociopath and some sort of powder-dry comic genius, I cannot decide which; Adam J learned literally nothing at school apart from that one time a teacher told him, "if you're ever talking to someone and conversation dries up, smile lightly and stare at their forehead", and who if I had to attribute a catchphrase to I would probably plump with, "you know what: I really like answering the phone"; Terry, the shark-eyed deep shagger, the least trustworthy man on earth, there is no one on earth your mum wants to fuck more; Tina got lost on the way to a Made in Chelsea casting session and is now desperately avoiding shagging anyone in case she disgraces herself out of her inheritance; Alex and Olivia, literally only attracted to each other because they have matching and possibly interlocking noserings, idiots; Cara is a contortionist who seems to have already fallen into two-years-after-they-are-married boredom with Nathan, a tiny mouse of a man I have barely ever seen stand up; Scott and Kady, almost certainly our winners elect, always one argument away from the police being called, always one post-fuck cuddle away from a marriage proposal, fire and light; Katie, a tiny scouse nan in the body of a 20-year-old, who always looks slightly uncomfortable whenever she isn't thumping her own chest and screaming, "GO ON THEN, BITCH, YOU AND ME, OUTSIDE!"; Emma, who exists. And then the departed housemates: Zara, the Coulthard-jawed Miss Great Britain winner stripped of her crown for blowing Alex; Liana, a stripper notable only for burning her lips to scabs on the first day and them miraculously healing again on her first day out of the villa, a medical marvel; Tom is what happens when you drop a load of creatine powder in a nuclear reactor and let the result slowly read the WikiHow entry about manbuns; Sophie is a tube advert warning women against tattooing their eyebrows on: '"They last for ages, like" — Sophie Gradon, Love Island 2016' printed over a harshly lit photo of her face looking sad but her forehead being emotional vague. These are our heroes, our champions. These are the people we like to watch fuck.
(It seems important to tell you that Caroline Flack's involvement in this show as host has been so glancing that she managed to go to Glastonbury for five days in the middle of it and nobody really noticed she'd gone.)
The strength of Love Island is built on the watershed of televised intercourse being exploded to splinters by Gaz and Scotty T from Geordie Shore's bounding northern cocks. In olden times, in the good old days of an annual Big Brother series that people actually cared about, sex was the final taboo: Michelle and Stuart's feet rubbing under a den of sheets and tables, Makosi in the hot tub: these were our moments of deep outrage, of lines being crossed, the handcart we were all going to hell to. Then something quietly happened about two or three years ago, and that is: people figured out you can pretty much shag what you want on telly as long as there's a duvet in front of you while you do it. Geordie Shore shagged Ofcom to pieces.
And so the command is written as if in the stones: if you ever need to fuck or be fucked on television, poise a duvet carefully over the beefy parts of you like a tent. This is how they fuck on Love Island: obscured, but not disguised. Blurred but still frenetic. The greatest trick reality TV ever pulled is taking the fine British sub-culture of 'hairdressers and personal trainers shagging each other at one of their mum's houses after meeting in a nightclub called Equinox' and sanitising it, making it safe for consumption, and arguably the invention of the duvet trick, has facilitated that more than anything. I have no academic point of reference, but this is definitely derived from up north: a decade-and-a-half of shag-free reality television and all it took was one horny Geordie trying to hide his cock on camera to entirely defy the censors, and now look at us, and now look where we are. The fallout of Gaz and Charlotte banging under a duvet in series one of Geordie Shore is now an ITV2 show almost entirely dedicated to shagging; who knows the fallout of Emma getting on Terry in full view of the rest of the house, confident the footage was too explicit to be broadcast, and ITV just showing it anyway. Flash yourself forward to 2020, when series six of Love Island has a tight-faced second-divorce Mark Wright attaching a GoPro to his penis so he can bang two of that years' contestant on Take Me Out1, and know it started here.
Reality TV has been going on for a while now, and I think by now it can be boiled down to three central tenets, every reality TV show essentially a loose structure designed to elicit these three things from its contestants:
i. Going really radge and knocking a mirror over;
ii. Fucking pneumatically under a white duvet on infrared (as discussed);
iii. Explaining very slowly in a private room to a camera what just happened, itself footage already captured on camera.
You do not need me to tell you that Love Island has all three of these in spades.
My theory is that Love Island as a natural endgame to reality TV. It has taken all of the component parts that made every other reality show successful (Big Brother's camera set up, Geordie Shore's shagging, Ex on the Beach's absurdly painful pink-raw tans, the cast features of literally any reality programme you'd care to name) and boiled it down to the bones, producing something flawless and pure, a deep, basic broth. Who needs heartfelt backstories2 when every member of the cast is wearing swimwear? Who needs the cast to get jobs or otherwise justify their time there when they have a really big swimming pool and a small outdoor gym? Who needs a viable competition mechanic when everyone's just shagging all the time?
This is what makes Love Island so compulsive: the production behind it is unpretentious, there is no window dressing pretending this is anything more complex than young people fucking each other in the vague direction of love and money; the Islanders in there are almost meta-level aware of their place in the Love Island cannon, that they are given a free holiday and fed and watered and shagged and in return they are consumed, by us, the viewer, that we watch them like voyeurs as they pad around an astroturfed garden area, that we tweet about them relentlessly; there is a sub-game on top of the actual game of Love Island where Islanders who have departed (Islanders who have departed immediately do to exact same two things: tell a newspaper they never really fancied the person they were coupled up with anyway, and then bang someone in the outside world and Snapchat about it. A third and optional thing to do is watchalong live with the rest of the audience and tweet the 'monkey covering its mouth with its hands' emoji whenever their previous other half says literally anything at all) are referred to wistfully on screen, a nudge and a wink between the editors and the viewers who know that the person on the outside is already two fucks deep into their satellite town nightclub tour.
But that's what makes Love Island so great. It is so transparent. It is so obvious. And in that space there's a sort of certain innocence, the Islanders all-but-unaware of their sudden onset fame on the outside world – fame that only goes one way, which is them holding hands outside a restaurant in Manchester, sleekly made over, photographed in blinding light for MailOnline, before the hands break contact at the tips, slip further apart, six weeks, maximum, seven maybe, possibly a coupled appearance on Loose Women to say how they're working it through, but so inevitably turns into firing a t-shirt cannon into a crowd during a late night club appearance and selling protein on Twitter, back to the dust from where they came, right back where they started, hench and tanned and gleaming, frequently referred to as "the fittest person in Rhyl" – but for now they are enjoying those little wriggling rushes of pre-love, primed and excited for what awaits them outside of their sex compound, where the harshness of the real world is bound to erode everything fragile thing they've built up so far, the real world certain to tamp down every tendril of love nursed to a green shoot in this house and it's warped timezone, but for now it's something, for now the Islanders still have two pink days in the light and one Caroline Flack-hosted final event left, and they should fuck, and pie, and mug and graft and pie, and fuck, fuck fuck fuck against the dying of the sun, amen.
1. Arg 2020, huge and corpulent and falling apart like an overstuffed pillow, is also in the house. He just sits and watches.↩
2. Although every Islander has the exact same backstory, and that is that they are brilliant and bulletproof shagging robots because they had a boyfriend, once, or a girlfriend, they had that once, and then the truth comes out about what happened with that, late at night out on the deckchairs with Nathan, where they all, invariably, have one glass of wine too many and, in turn, start sobbing and saying, "but... they... hurt... me-hee-hee!", and everyone has to hug them and go "hey: you're better than ALL OF THEM", and this is how they cope, now, they got pied off by Darren from Blackpool so hard that they have to go a villa in Mallorca and bang their demons out in front of the entirety of ITV2.↩
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