Last year it was announced that Love Island – probably one of the most British reality formats ever conceived, so heavily does it rely on sunburn and emotional repression – would be recreated for US audiences, following an Australian reboot. On Tuesday the 9th of July, its premiere on the US network CBS finally came, and we were introduced to a cast of 11 hotties basically indistinguishable from the UK lot, just with squarer jaws and better teeth, and living in Fiji instead of Majorca.
For you – you poor things, so embroiled in UK Love Island that opening your heart to another would be a mammoth task – I embarked on some cross-cultural anthropology and gave the first episode a watch, to provide an official judgment on whether it's even possible to translate this British institution for a US audience.
Here are my real time thoughts as I watched, transcribed just for you:
– Heartening that the neon bikini trend seems to have transgressed national boundaries.
– While I prefer the UK intro – which is generally quite a silly, self-aware bit of hammy footage that shows contestants "leaving" their jobs for new lives of lying on the floor and talking about themselves all day (stripping off a lab coat to reveal a bikini, for example) – the US version has a funny bit where all the contestants get off the plane in their swimwear. Reminds me of that sacred holiday ritual that Brits do where they pack a pair of shorts in their hand luggage and contort their bodies into them in the tiny cabin bathroom 30 minutes before landing in Ayia Napa. Amen.
– The narrator is trying to kill me.
– Quite amazing that the US team have managed to literally replicate Caroline Flack in the form of Arielle Vandenberg, an American influencer who seems to have studied Flack's every move, so spookily nailed does she have her every beat. A Frankenflack.
– Good to see that Hot Person Mindset is the same on both sides of the Atlantic, in that it seems that, wherever you go, if you ask someone really sexy to film a VT talking about themselves, they will sit there and describe themselves as "really goofy" while also looking like they at least tangentially know Kendall Jenner.
– Lot of screaming in this.
– One contestant, Alexandra, a 26-year old publicist, just used the phrases "girl code", "huge connection" and "step on her toes" in one sentence. [ADDITIONAL NOTE ADDED LATER: throughout the rest of the programme, the phrases "so what's your type?", "coupled up", "catching my eye", "where's your head at", "all my eggs in one basket" and "pulled for a chat" are all used, which makes me think the contestants were definitely shown the UK show and told to just emulate it. There's something very comical about all these Americans pacing their "apartments", looking in their "refrigerators", eating their "lox" and then reciting, in fluent Essexese: "At the end of the day, yeah, he's my type on paper and I don't care about stepping on anyone's toes."]
– [Bloodcurdling screams] "This is Instagram worthy! This is Instagram worthy!"
– Like a lot of US TV, the US version of Love Island does slightly better in terms of racial diversity than the UK show. In terms of body diversity: this is still Love Island, so quite honestly don’t hold your breath.
– "The good thing about Love Island is the guys can't ghost me" – Mallory, 25.
– Something actually quite interesting is the type of person Love Island USA has attracted. A number of the contestants are musicians, and most of the others are in professions like advertising or publicity. The UK show mostly casts influencers and models, but other contestants tend to come from job areas like beauty therapy or personal training. It speaks to the class differences between the two countries, and how both the show and Instagram clout (which is basically how you get cast for Love Island) is perceived in each country.
– There is so much fucking screaming on this show.
– "I like to talk about silly stuff, but I also like to talk about… philosophy. I guess I'm a walking contradiction." – Cashel, 27, a drummer who has the biggest Where's My Hug energy of any person I have ever come across.
– Cashel (??) also says in his intro VT, "I'm trying to find someone in an organic way." Yeah, amazing, yeah: willingly entering a human chicken coop to find the love of your life; so organic and natural, babe.
– Incredibly, as part of the VTs, they've put the contestants in a ball pit and presumably told them to act sexy – which, as any adult who has been in a ball pit will know, is impossible. As a result they’re basically flailing around in there like they’re at the Wacky Warehouse.
– Pleased to report that, regardless of what country you’re in or watching, the schadenfreude (sorry but come on) of watching no girls step forward for a guy at the beginning of the show is the same.
– A real estate agent called Yamen arrives and looks as though he has somehow got lost on his way to The Bachelorette.
– A photographer/cowboy (millennial work precarity is real) named Weston arrives in a stetson and says, "I am a real cowboy. Double denim is the only thing." Quite right. Weston to win.
– One thing about US television is that it really fucking goes on. I know the premiere episode of a Love Island season is always really long, but this is one hour and five minutes of pure footage, and about two-thirds of the way through I'm waning. Can I please have a cold flannel for my forehead.
– "Being this good looking is a gift and a curse." – Michael, 29 (a vegan model).
– There's this quite off-putting thing happening whereby Arielle is asking for commentary on every single thing everyone does, and it's really slowing things down. Why are the editors including three different girls' thoughts on why they didn't step forward for Cashel? Please end this! For Cashel’s sake and mine!
– Michael the model says the words "females" and "sexual contact" in separate contexts within about five minutes and now I am terrified of him.
– My notes at this point just say, "Are these people stoned?"
– Apparently fast fashion knows no nationality, and little bodycon two pieces and ripped skinny jeans are uniting the world.
– "Fiji is my sandbox and I’m ready to play." – Kyra, 22, extremely hot.
– "I'm gonna move this pillow because it’s blocking my vibes."
HOW does the format work?
It’s basically a carbon copy of the UK version, which is for the best, because if they had dared change my beloved hot people programme I would have staged a Fathers 4 Justice style protest in the House of Commons. However, it's let down by the fact the American contestants feel a bit more contrived than the UK ones, and the whole thing is: a) even less natural, and b) nowhere near as funny.
DID I enjoy it?
Sort of, but that's just because I like the Love Island format and not necessarily because I thought the American version was especially gripping or well made!
DID I have to have two paracetamol to take the edge off afterwards?
AM I going to continue watching Love Island USA anyway?
Yes! Because I hate myself!!!!!