EXCLUSIVE: ITV’s popular reality TV game show Love Island is in the spotlight once again. The polarising dating program, back on UK screens for an eighth season, remains appointment viewing for its many fans. For others, the format still raises concerns.
This eight-week season began with a bang and interest has remained strong. The launch episode in early June hit 5 million views, making it the franchise’s biggest premiere since 2019.
Last week’s dramatic Casa Amor recoupling achieved the show’s highest overnight audience since the 2019 Love Island final. 3.9 million tuned in real-time across all devices, including a TV audience of 3 million which was up on the equivalent episode last year by 800,000. Social media has been abuzz each night with memes and quips relating to the show.
Season 8 has included the perennial bust ups and love-ins, outsized characters and social media ‘villains’, hilarious and cringe moments. But this season has also deviated in a number of ways.
Firstly, it has included an above average sprinkling of stardust with contestants including Gemma Owen, daughter of soccer star Michael Owen, and Jack Keating, son of Boyzone frontman Ronan Keating. Islanders were last night treated to a live performance from Brit Award winner Becky Hill.
For the first time, producers also made the decision to bring back a former Islander in the shape of bombshell Adam Collard.
A Bombshell Returns
“This series has landed really well,” long-time Love Island executive producer Mike Spencer, tells us.
“We’ve looked at different ways to, if not rip up the rule book, then certainly adjust it. One of the ways we wanted to do that was by bringing back a former Islander, something we’ve been working on for a while. Adam is a lovely guy, he’s still single and looking for love and he’s popular with the audience.”
Spencer won’t be drawn on which other contestants were in the running to return but says the move has prompted strong interest from previous Islanders.
“I’ll tell you, my phone has been off the hook with former contestants since Adam’s return. We really wanted to focus on Adam and so far he has done a great job.
Prior to Casa Amor, this year’s show had progressed at a relatively leisurely pace, with perhaps fewer major fireworks or bust-ups than previous editions. As the show’s inimitable longtime narrator Iain Stirling told us, the season up until that point had a “more light-hearted, funny and loving vibe to it.”
But, as it often does, Casa Amor, in which couples’ loyalties are tested by the arrival of more single men and women, proved a turning point.
In Casa Amor, the proud and confident Jacques O’Neill had his head turned, which led to turbulence in his relationship with Villa partner Paige. The addition of bombshell Collard, a rival for Paige’s affections, tipped O’Neill over the edge and ultimately he exited the show this week under mental and emotional duress, tearily explaining he “couldn’t be himself”.
Duty Of Care
ITV this year introduced extended duty of care protocols for those producing and taking part in the show, an essential move after the franchise was rocked by three deaths in three years: former contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis died by suicide in 2018 and 2019 respectively, while the show’s host, Caroline Flack, died by suicide in 2020.
The spotlight on the contestants is intense inside and outside the Villa. Many contestants describe the experience as the best of their lives and some couples are still together. Others make friends for life. But academic Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer at the University Of York on addiction and mental health, has previously described the program as one that “thrives on manufacturing conflict” and that “unfortunately it’s the contestants who bear the brunt of this”.
Did Jacques’ unravelling prompt producers to intervene?
“Jacques is amazing,” Spencer says. “We love Jacques. When you date, your emotions are naturally up and down. Finding love is not a simple thing, that’s why the show is so relatable. Jacques was on his own journey and he had a strong connection with Paige but sometimes you have to think about yourself and that’s what Jacques did. We respected his decision to head home but I think he’s excited to be on Aftersun on Sunday to discuss his journey.”
When pressed about the extent to which producers now feel more inclined to step in when a contestant is struggling or they see something problematic, Spencer expanded:
“I find it very personal. We are like one big family. I still speak to Islanders from every season. It’s not often talked about in the press but there are many crew who have worked on every single season. We take it very seriously and we have updated duty of care procedures. I think Jacques felt like his time was up and as producers we have to respect his decision. Adam came in and got on with a lot of the girls. Did that impact Jacques’ decision to leave? That would be something Jacques would have to explain.”
Spencer is clear that it was O’Neill’s decision to exit the show. The contestant’s family has since revealed that his volatility could in part have been down to his ADHD.
Could a family member pull out a contestant if they thought it was necessary?
“All the contestants are adults. We speak to the families of the Islanders every day. They have a point of contact and they’re updated every day. We have a great rapport with parents. We’ve never had a parent who told us they wanted to pull their child out of the show. The contestants are all adults so it’s down to them more than anyone else.”
Stirling notes that Islanders themselves are perhaps better equipped today to recognize when enough is enough.
“I think the young people in the Villa are growing up in an environment where people are more aware of mental health so they aren’t so afraid to talk about things. Even seven years ago, I couldn’t see two 23 year-old lads talking about their feelings together. The show is more aware of it, but people are in general.”
During his time on the show O’Neill himself was cast as something of a “villain” on social media for the way he behaved towards Paige. As they have been in the past, the terms ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘gaslighting’ have been buzzwords among those disappointed by the behaviour of multiple male contestants.
Does Spencer recognize that behaviour and does he think there is anything the show can do about it?
“I think it’s incredibly subjective,” Spencer says. “Everyone has different interpretations of behavioural traits. I think the program showcases normal relationships. There are also very empowered women on the show.”
The charity Women’s Aid has raised concerns multiple times about Collard’s antics, but Spencer believes the term ‘toxic masculinity’ goes too far when it comes to Love Island.
“I would be cautious about using a phrase like toxic masculinity. We showcase real relationships and real people, which is why the show is relatable. There are ups and downs in every relationship. We care for our Islanders and make sure they are protected. I wouldn’t want to bandy about a term like toxic masculinity which is so serious when globally there are people going through very extreme things in their relationships.”
Since O’Neill’s emotional exit, the mood has lightened on the show with the Becky Hill performance, a low-stakes challenge, and a drama-free recoupling. Perhaps producers recognized it was needed.
One question that often comes up in relation to Love Island is the extent to which the BAFTA-winning show is scripted or stage managed?
“From my end, I’ve never heard of anyone being told you have to do something,” says Stirling who was speaking to us just after he had finished recording the voice over for that night’s show. What TV audiences see in the Villa has generally taken place 24-48 hours before.
“We have Villa producers who help us tell the story,” explains Spencer. “They have chats with contestants to see where things are going. Those conversations will be fed back to us. We never tell anyone how to think or what to feel. We give them minimal direction. At most, in the morning, we will ask the girls and boys to head to the terrace or poolside”.
So was it merely coincidence that Luca walked back into the villa this week just when Adam was talking to his partner Gemma?
“Adam was playing the field as soon as he came in,” Spencer says. “He spent a long time with Gemma that afternoon. It wasn’t as orchestrated as you might think. I think the reality gods have been looking out for us this season, anyway.”
One element of the show that is clearly regulated is what the Islanders can eat and drink. They are regularly checked for dehydration and are only allowed to consume a maximum of two alcoholic drinks per night.
Do the creators develop favourites?
“I do,” admits Stirling, “but my favourites also change as they do for most people. I try to stay neutral but sometimes you do get invested.”
This season, stand-up Stirling (who is married to the show’s presenter Laura Whitmore) has been particularly taken with fiery couple Davide and Ekin-Su, as well as fellow Scot Jay (who was voted off this week).
Who does he think could go all the way this year?
“Pre-Casa Amor I would have fancied Jacques and Paige; Dami and Indiya too. Luca and Gemma is an interesting one. Having done this so many times, it’s always really hard to win it if you’re a couple from very early. There isn’t the same journey with highs and lows. The initial reception to both Davide and Ekin-Su when they both arrived was contentious but now they’re both like national treasures.”
The Love Island brand remains a cashcow for ITV and most of those involved.
Love Island USA is about to start up again on CBS with the ever-popular Stirling providing the narration. Meanwhile, ITV recently announced that it will be producing two seasons of the UK version next year. There have also been multiple spinoffs involving former characters.
In what should be music to actress Ekin-Su’s ears, Spencer says, “There is such a great cross section of people in there this year, I’m sure there could be other shows on the horizon for them”.
Inclusion was a key part of the updated terms of care from ITV. Some fans have called for a queer or LGBT version of the show. That’s something Stirling would welcome.
“We are always, as a country, as a society, looking for more inclusion and everyone is welcome as far as I’m concerned. It’s a good thing, so absolutely.”
“We are constantly developing different shows,” adds Spencer. “We are always looking to be as inclusive as possible but we’re not currently working on a queer or LGBT Love Island specifically, but we hope to have some exciting news soon.”
The Love Island finale airs on August 1st.
The post ‘Love Island’ Producer Mike Spencer & Narrator Iain Stirling Discuss Jacques O’Neill’s Emotional Exit, Concerns Over ‘Toxic Masculinity’, How The Show Is Put Together & Which Couples Could Go All The Way appeared first on Deadline.