Why you should watch the ultra-addictive UK reality TV sensation
Credit: ITV2

You’ve probably heard something about the ultra-addictive British sensation Love Island. Viewership in the U.S. has surged five times since the most recent season began streaming, according to data released Tuesday by Hulu. And if you haven’t heard of the show, you definitely will (CBS is making a U.S. edition for 2019). But you don’t have to wait to find out what all the fuss is about. You can start watching any of the original’s first four seasons right now. Still, it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into: What is Love Island about? How naughty is it, exactly? How do you watch it in the U.S.? Which season should you start with? What does “doing bits” mean? We’re here to enable your transatlantic trash TV addiction.

So, what exactly is Love Island? It’s like The Bachelor meets Big Brother meets Tinder. The setting is a tropical villa. The show opens with 10 singles arriving and they quickly select which member of the opposite sex they want to “couple up” with. Once in a couple, they compete in challenges together and even sleep in the same bed. The goal is to remain in a couple, and outlast the other contestants (dubbed “Islanders”). In the finale, viewers decide who’s the best couple and they get a cash prize.

Why is it so addictive? It’s non-stop flow of flirting, hookups, romance, and break-ups, and there are drama-boosting cruel twists that begin pretty much immediately. There are eliminations (sometimes decided by viewers at home, sometimes by other means) and periodic “re-couplings” where either the men or the women get to decide if they want to keep their current partner or ditch them for somebody else. Here’s an initial coupling ceremony:

And whenever the action starts to drag, more hot singles (of varying genders and numbers) are dumped into the villa, causing scenes like this:

Wait, what if I can’t understand what they’re saying? The variety of U.K. accents take some getting used to. But you do start to pick them up (and, really, even if you miss a few lines, this isn’t exactly Breaking Bad).

What are the challenges like? They’re more like bawdy party games than challenges since the point isn’t a prize but to have fun and generate relationship tension. Here’s a perfect example from the middle of season 4: “Marry, snog, or pie.” It’s a Brit twist on “f—, marry, kill” where the men and women choose which Islander they want to kiss (and then do), who they want to propose marriage to, and then who they want to smash in the face. Since you can’t kiss and “marry” the same person, and since most of the Islanders are in couples in this episode, it caused a lot of drama:

How racy is this show, exactly? There’s a ton of making out and uncensored profanity. The women’s swimwear is rather revealing. The bedroom scenes have suggestive shots of what the Islanders are doing under the covers (and then such acts are discussed the next day — thankfully, nobody on this show can keep a secret for longer than an hour). So yeah, it’s more risque than U.S. reality shows, yet far tamer than some other U.K. reality TV fare (such as, say, Naked Attraction).

Are there any LGBT contestants? It’s a very hetero-focused show, and has received criticism for that in the U.K. The next edition is reportedly adding a more diverse lineup of singles.

Any other criticisms? Love Island has been called “the worst program on TV” and Piers Morgan has dubbed its contestants “the most stupid people in the world.”

And yet, how popular is this thing? Remember American Idol at its peak? In the U.K., Love Island is almost like that. ITV2 has ordered more episodes every year and last season was a massive 57 episodes long. The finale was the most-watched program ever on ITV2.

Is there anything admirable about the show? The Islanders, by and large, seem genuinely nice — they’re likable and like each other. So you root for them. American reality TV often casts tiresome ready-made villains to try and add tension. The Love Island producers trust their format — which is totally brutal — to provide the drama and twists, which in turn compels the cast into devastating decisions.

How do I watch in the U.S.? Hulu exclusively has all four seasons in sun-soaked HD. Fun fact: Within the first week that Love Island seasons 1-3 dropped, one helpless superfan watched every episode in a single week — that’s almost 14 hours of Love Island every day for 7 days straight.

Which season should I start with? Avoid the first, which was still working out the kinks. I’d suggest starting with sesaon 4. Also, know that the first half hour of the premiere tends to be pretty slow as the show takes its time introducing the first batch of Islanders. You could, in theory, skip to the first coupling and not miss much.

What’s with the nutty announcer? That’s Scottish comedian Iain Stirling! He takes a bit of getting used to but his fourth-wall breaking wit — mocking the contestants and the show itself — is often hilarious (ex. when a couple got to spend a night in the private “Hideaway” bedroom: “They asked us for complete privacy for the night so we gave it to them — aside from seven cameramen and Eddie the intern who promised not to look”).

What does that word mean? A few oft-used slang definitions to get you started: “Fit” (used incessantly on the show, in the U.K. it means somebody is really hot, not merely physically in shape). “Doing bits” (sexual activity that stops short of actual intercourse — ex. “we didn’t go all the way, but we were doing bits”). “Snog” (everybody knows this one, right? Making out). “The Flack” (a person, Caroline Flack, the Love Island host who periodically storms the villa for an elimination or twist).

Will watching Love Island make me a bad person? Absolutely.

Love Island
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