A couple of weeks ago, I was cooking my dinner with purpose. Though I was attempting a noodle dish that was slightly too adventurous for my skill level, and though I had somehow managed to use every pan on the hob, I knew I would overcome my challenges because, ultimately, I was clear-sighted in my resolve: to set my plate on the coffee table in front of the television at exactly nine o’clock, in perfect, rapturous, Golden Ratio-esque synchronisation with the beginning of Celebrity Masterchef.
I felt weirdly energised to be making the meal with a deadline, though it wasn’t until a bit later that I realised why. The speedy prep and disastrous mess left in the kitchen momentarily put me back into a routine I’d obeyed for two months solid this time last year, and for six weeks at the beginning of 2020: start cooking at 8:15PM; bum on couch for 8:57PM (I faff a lot); neon, fake tan and disgraceful innuendo injected into my eyeballs by the latest episode of Love Island at the first stroke of nine.
By pretty much all accounts (including mine), the break is for the best. The show’s first winter season, which took place in January and February this year, felt like oversaturation – audiences hadn’t had long enough to miss the show after the summer installment, and it felt samey rather than enjoyably familiar – and was also met with the sad news of the death of _Love Island_’s former host Caroline Flack. Hers was the third death linked to the programme (like Flack, former contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis also died by suicide in 2018 and 2019 respectively), and as a result, many felt like a pause – if not the end of the show entirely – was necessary anyway, even before the pandemic hit.
Ultimately, it took a global outbreak of a deadly disease to force ITV to stop making one of its best money spinners. Despite the fact that contestants enter their own personal lockdowns before entering the villa, ITV had no way of ensuring the total safety of the production and everyone involved in it, so like lots of other series, Love Island had cancel its upcoming season, left with no choice but to soften its vice-like grip on the summer schedules of millions. And while I’m certainly grateful for the reprieve, and think that some time away can only be a good thing, I do also separately have to admit that hypothetically, we’d be hard pressed to find a year when a new season of Love Island would be more appreciated.
Over the course of the lockdown, my days have sagged like old pairs of tights. I’m lucky enough to be working from home, and to have no caring responsibilities, so with normal social life on hold, I took to wandering around the flat like Miss Havisham in dungarees and unwashed hair, wondering what on earth I’d structure the hours around. I ended up learning to fucking knit. A season of Love Island could have saved me from that.
Think back to the beginning of the lockdown: starved of any semblance of interest – like, at all – can you imagine how restorative it would have been to have Love Island to rely on for entertainment? To have a topic of conversation other than “do you think you’ve had it?” To have other people’s business to talk about? At length? What I wouldn’t have given to be transported to a different reality for an hour every night – one in many ways as weird as our coronavirus stricken nightmare, only weird in a way you expect, like when you see the uncle everyone describes as “strange” once a year at Christmas; comforting almost – though I do worry that I’d finally have caved and started following Instagram pages with handles like “loveislandfunnybanter2019,” becoming slowly more consumed by the show than ever, to the point where I’d be putting on a bikini every night to sit in front of it.
I could of course watch the Australian series, which has been airing nightly on ITV2, in lieu of a new Hummer limo’s worth of horny Brits being deposited in Majorca but so much of the joy of Love Island is the live experience – the strong social media live-watching element, the unexpected moments that make you clutch your flatmate’s wrist in an oddly tight manner – that I simply can’t bring myself to watch a season whose outcome I could simply Google. I watch the show basically for its moments of controlled chaos (“All mouth”-gate), which would probably have been a decent, if not totally mentally relaxing, distraction from the very much howling chaos swirling around the world in the form of coronavirus.
All of this said, it is, as I’ve mentioned, a good thing that along with the rest of the world, Love Island had to hit the brakes, pausing its never-ending carousel ride of sponsorship deals and newly anointed super-influencers thrust into the public eye. Ironically, however, it’s also true that there really would be no better time to watch hot people locked up in a house, arguing, six days a week, than a time where we too were stuck in our houses, noses pressed up against windows, also arguing, and absolutely starved of anything at all to talk about. Celebrity Masterchef will have to do.