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Why we love Love Island: University gender expert explains all

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Published on 08 June 2018

Why do we love Love Island?
Why do we love Love Island?

It’s back. This Monday sees the return of reality TV show Love Island.

 The programme has become a massive hit and has developed a large following among Millennials.

 Before, during and after each episode, fans take to social media in their droves to dilute, discuss and debate what’s been happening in the villa.

In 2017, the show, now set for its fourth series, gave ITV2 its highest-ever audience.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Love Island sees a group of singletons living in isolation in a Mallorca villa, constantly under video surveillance.To survive in the villa the contestants must be couple up, with the overall aim of winning £50,000.

In a digital world, the programme combines ‘old school’ TV with social media and it has been revealed that this latest series will come with an accompanying podcast.

But what is the secret recipe behind the success of the programme? We asked gender expert and Professor of Language and Culture at the University of Sunderland, Angela Smith, to give us her view.

Love Island’s ingredients for success according to Professor Smith:

1)    Firstly, there are a lot of dating and relationship shows on TV at present.  These took over from make-over programmes which were the defining genre of the first decade of this century - many of these personal and fashion make-over shows morphed into relationship shows towards the end anyway. Love Island falls into this category, but is a cross between dating shows and another TV genre, the public involvement game show, best known through Big Brother. Therefore it has a recognisable format which immediately connects with viewers.

2)    This recognisable format would seem to make it too conservative, as with Big Brother's declining ratings, so Love Island tries very hard to be different.  It has a much younger selection of participants, all of whom are conventionally attractive, particularly 'bikini-ready' in the case of the women.  This makes the show engaging to watch - in a world where the bikini or beach body is used as click-bait in online news - and also relatable in that the participants are around the age of the intended demography.

3)    Love Island is a form of reality TV which is broadcast with live segments. Live TV is like a game of Russian roulette: you never quite know when something is going to happen or someone is going to say something unexpected.  I think there is a time lag on such shows, between 1 minute and 15 minutes, just to make sure nothing too libellous is uttered, but most of what is broadcast is 'true'. This means conflict and inharmonious relationships can be exploited for broadcast. But it is also very relevant in the context of Web 2.0, as social media is exploited ruthlessly by the producers to engage viewers.

4)    Even in this digital age, there is a 9pm watershed. Love Island is post-watershed viewing, and the beach-body participants are set up for 'sexual action' by the context. The Big Brother-like camera system means that this can be captured for broadcast, and so makes what used to be called a 'water-cooler moment' that generates social media comment and wider media attention.  One scene from Love Island was nominated for a must-see-TV BAFTA this year: it was where we were invited to laugh at the participants of last year's show being overheard referring to themselves as being more famous than they really were, when Stormzy appeared on screen to counteract this.  The show did win Best Reality and Constructed Factual Show, though.

5)    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think that this sort of show has romance at the heart of it. It is all about relationships and the long duration of the programme means we can get attached to participants as 'characters' and want them to pair up. This goes back to the dating show format which underpins the programme.  As viewers, we want a happy ending for them. We want them to find love.

*Love Island begins on ITV2 on Monday 4 June.

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