Behind the Neon Curtain: “Love Island”

Sophia Yao, Opinion Editor

Images of perfectly tanned legs, horrifyingly overfilled lips, artificially blue water, and ridiculously chiseled abs fill your screen, interspersed between neon flashes that look like they came out of Graphic Design 1. Welcome to “Love Island”!

“Love Island” features about 40 contestants ranging from the ages of 18-31 trapped in a villa without communication to the outside world. They’re all so ridiculously attractive that they all sort of blur together, and none of them end up being attractive at all. Over the course of two months, these contestants couple up, recouple, recouple, and either get dumped from the villa or go on to win 50,000 euros with their partner. Plenty of drama, challenges, screaming matches, and mental breakdowns occur along the way, soundtracked by overplayed pop music. Basically, “Love Island” is the perfect formula for high caliber reality television: it’s trashy, it’s shallow, it’s cheesy, it’s petty, it’s cheap, and it holds no value whatsoever.

Or does it? 

I am a firm believer that “Love Island” has more layers under its flashy, neon skin. Within the isolated walls of that villa, disconnected from the artifice of everyday life, social dynamics, human connection, and emotional growth take the spotlight. Completely separate from the noise of the outside world, “Love Island” contestants are judged solely on their character, their actions, and the choices they make when they have nowhere to hide.

Take, for example, Tommy Fury from season five. Fury was a man who stuck to his morals and stuck to his girl; he stayed out of drama, steered clear of misogynists, and always defended what he believed was right, even if it meant going against his close friends. With his girlfriend Molly-Mae Hague, Fury cruised to second place in the “Love Island” finale and definitely did himself proud with his excellent display of kindness, honesty, and love. Fury and Hague have been together for three years and are expecting a baby this year.

But not all “Love Island” journeys are as smooth as his, and not all contestants value morality and honesty like him. For example, firefighter Michael Griffiths, also from season five, was a completely different story. At the beginning, Griffiths was just as much of a Prince Charming as Fury. He was patient with his partner Amber Gill, he was a moderator in arguments, and he prided himself on his fairness. That all went downhill when he recoupled with another girl at the Casa Amor recoupling, practically cheating on Gill, and then had the audacity to pin the blame on her, revealing his true colors. At the end of the day, the girl Griffiths was coupled with got sent home, and he went crawling back to Gill on his hands and knees. Thankfully, Gill rejected him and went on to win “Love Island” with Irish boytoy Greg O’Shea.

But, some of the most impactful “Love Island” journeys are the ones not of romantic or even platonic love, but self-love. An excellent example of this is season three’s gem Camilla Thurlow, a shy, polite and well-mannered woman who worked in explosive ordnance disposal. She would travel from country to country, walking out onto explosive minefields and disarming them to make the area safe again. Overall, she was the least likely person to go on “Love Island.” However, her journey was one of the most special and iconic ones on the show. While she started off extremely insecure and more as a side character or confidant to some of the louder, raunchier girls on the show, Thurlow really grew into her own as she navigated rocky romances with misogynist Johnny Mitchell and obsessive Craig Lawson. But those turbulent waters were simply waiting to deliver her to Jamie Jewitt, the soft-spoken Calvin Klein model and bookworm, who earned her second place on the show. Thurlow and Jewitt have been together for six years and are now married with two kids.

Yes, “Love Island” is a reality show that is known for its shallowness, brainlessness, and absolute ridiculousness. But if you watch for long enough, you’ll begin to notice some cracks in its glittery, neon facade: Thurlow opening up to Jewitt about not feeling good enough for him; Gill realizing that her hard exterior prevents her from showing affection to the people she really cares about; Fury serving an open-faced cheese and ketchup sandwich for a romantic dinner.

Thurlow’s mom, who visited the villa at the end of  season three, said it best.

“I just think it is such a brave thing to have done,” she said. “It’s very strange when I think that you have been off to these places to work and yet… On the outside, it is lounging about in a villa in the sun all day. What is so brave about that? But it is such a brave thing to have done.”

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