Love Island 2019 has passed away. Most of us expected it to fizzle out, as Love Island usually does, with a predictable victory for a pair that viewers had been calling for weeks. This year, that pair was Molly-Mae Hague and Tommy Fury, the Barbie and Ken-elect of the season, who we all anticipated to win, before immediately putting down the £50,000 as a deposit on a new-build in Manchester, without so much as a hair from Molly Mae's architecturally-sound bun going awry.
But this year, that's not what we wanted. Instead, we got the winners we should really have seen coming all along (or, at least for the last two weeks) in Amber Rose Gill and Greg O'Shea. Indeed, as the announcement of their triumph caused so many people to bounce off their sofas in delight that I'm fairly shocked it didn't register on the Richter scale, it occurred to me – Carrie Bradshaw-style – that, actually, they were the only people who could have won season five.
This year's Love Island has been an odd turn for the show, which has seen unusual emphasis placed on the fallout of big emotional decisions (basically because there have been more big emotional decisions than usual). Nobody felt that fallout harder than Amber, who emerged from her position as Michael's personal Feelings Piñata to become the captain of her own destiny (at least, that's how it looked in the edit). The audience – seemingly sick of Love Island's admittedly crap and boring maintenance of the status-quo, as unfortunately represented by Tommy and Molly's "A Whole New World" romance – rewarded her journey with the win.
Amber's refusal to take Michael back after his poor treatment of her, and her choice to couple up with Greg, were probably the moments that sealed her victory – and were also examples of something that felt different on the show this year. We've seen people acting badly on Love Island what feels like thousands of times over. But what we've rarely seen is that behaviour being consistently taken to task on screen, by the contestants themselves. During the 2019 series, that changed. It would be a stretch to call any reality show – in particular one that has been plagued by mental illness among former contestants – "emotionally healthy". However, this year's instalment felt like an improvement on its predecessors.
This was mostly down to a group of female contestants who were willing to put their own needs ahead of both their relationships with the male Islanders and their safety in the competition. Time and again, we saw women (sometimes over-dramatically, sure, but always entertainingly) calling out behaviour they found unacceptable.
The show has young viewers; it's important it's communicated to them that you're allowed to tell someone when you don't agree with that they're doing, especially when it concerns your emotions. So often in the world, women feel like they have to keep their mouths shut and their #gifted bikini on – when, actually, it's perfectly OK to do an Anna, put your pink hoodie on and mope, whatever Jordan and his ilk might have to say about it. This year, Love Island, in its strange way, showed that.
Season five was full of contestants – frequently women – making the right choices for themselves, in the face of behaviour from men that could be inconsiderate at best and chillingly cruel at worst. Amy refused to stay in the villa once she'd been cast aside by someone she loved, and who she thought cared for her too; Amber chose to actively move on from Michael's game-playing.
Previously on Love Island, emotionally sketchy behaviour – a grey area on reality shows, where contestants' only job is to be themselves – has been fairly obviously mediated by the show's producers; think of Adam Collard's season four apology to Rosie Williams after being accused by women's charities of gaslighting behaviour, for example. It's possible this also happened this year: would Amber and Michael's messy dynamic have been wrapped up so tidily in a final rooftop chat – where he told her he was happy about her relationship with someone else, despite declaring his own remaining feelings – without their interference?
Even if it is producer-led, it's important that accountability is shown on screen, and that reality contestants own their poor treatment of their peers. But equally, it's even more effective if the accountability is coming from within the house; if the contestants themselves are naturally holding their peers to the standards they expect of themselves and their friends.
That's partly why Maura was such an important addition this year. Apart from bringing much needed heat, humour and horniness to the villa, Maura is also an unstoppable force of charm so potent that a cult of personality has already formed tightly around her (I am a division leader). As such, she was not about to let someone called "Tom" question her ownership over her sexuality, or make her feel inferior because he didn't like her personality. Though some might have found her reactions to his various comments over the top (indeed, this was a common criticism from the men in the villa this year, with women standing up for themselves frequently labelled "immature"), I think they showed that Tom's attitude was down to some fairly suspect values.
It's so easy for young women to put themselves in the types of boxes they think men will like, or at least will not be intimidated by: quieter, smaller, less opinionated. Maura chucked the boxes out the window the moment she came in, feeding Michael a banana on a spoon, purring, "I'll give them something to talk about" and spending seven weeks talking about her vagina's various states of arousal. That said, Maura's ability to do so is helped by the fact that she looks like she does – she's a white size 6, with the face and body of a Victoria's Secret model.
So I'm not trying to claim here that Love Island is in any way progressive: it perpetuates stale heterosexual culture, has a shitty record on race and, as we well know, has let contestants down badly when it comes to aftercare. It also frequently fails to listen to suggestions about diversity, both physical and sexual, and ITV still has significant work to do – especially as 2020 will see two seasons of the show.
But what was different this year – maybe just because of fortunate casting, maybe because mainstream feminism, at least, is more accepted than ever – was that contestants were frequently willing to make the decisions which were best for them, and to rightfully point out to others when they were wrong. As a symbol of that change, it's only right that Amber – along with Greg – emerged victorious.