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Season 8 of Love Island, the British reality dating show best known for its ability to unite the nation for traditional appointment television in an era of on-demand content, has finally ended (at least in the UK; the season finale will stream in the US on Hulu on Aug. 16) — and once again, I’m disappointed but not surprised.
(Warning, several spoilers ahead, so if you’re late to the party, maybe skip to the middle.)
For eight weeks the series gave us its most diverse lineup of contestants yet. That included Tasha Ghouri, the show’s first deaf contestant, and the first Black couple to finish in the top three, Dami Hope and Indiyah Pollock.
But despite the 60 hours of content, as ever the real entertainment was happening online as fans did the heavy lifting to not only make the show and its contestants more interesting, but to do the work of unpacking some of the season's most problematic moments — which the actual show and its host failed to do.
Over 5,000 complaints were filed to Britain’s communications regulatory body Ofcom. Fans were left outraged by various examples of male contestants bullying, slut-shaming, using controlling behavior, and emotionally manipulating the women on the show.
Despite the constant bullying and misogyny, the show’s producers often failed to discuss the worst moments within Love Island itself, leaving online fan communities to do the work.
“A lot of the shows aren't great at addressing some of these issues, but people are really good at addressing these things,” social media host Ashleigh Louise told BuzzFeed News.
The 30-year-old from London is the creator of Talks With Ash, a weekly Twitter Space dedicated to discussing current affairs, and for the entire duration of Love Island this year, Louise hosted thousands of fans in a nightly recap of the latest episodes. Yes, a Twitter Space digesting the best reality TV show every single night.
“The issues that people see on Love Island present themselves in real life,” said the Love Island superfan.
“A lot of people were talking about Paige and Jacques, for example, and how there are lots of men that behave like Jacques. He's not alone and that behavior is normalized,” Louise pointed out.
Jacques O’Neill, a former rugby player, and conveniently the ex-boyfriend of fellow contestant Gemma Owen, was the source of major debate regarding his relationship with Paige Thorne.
During their time together on the show, O’Neill verbally abused Thorne and routinely engaged in behavior many described as “toxic and manipulating.” Things came to an end when O’Neill voluntarily left the villa citing his mental health and saying that he was overwhelmed by the environment.
"It got way too much for me in there. I knew that and I removed myself from the situation,” he told Love Island: Aftersun host Laura Whitmore on the weekly recap show.
People on Louise’s Twitter Spaces said they felt dissatisfied about the handling of O’Neill’s situation because it glossed over the tense relations between himself and Thorne, but Louise also felt that it was important to “manage expectations” when it comes to making demands on how the show chooses to address more sensitive topics.
“Love Island is, with all due respect, a reality TV show that's supposed to have a bit of a trashy element to it. It’s supposed to be lighthearted, fun TV,” she said. “Us expecting them to continuously come out and give statements on quite serious social topics is probably not going to happen.”
But viewers can always fill that gap. “I do love and encourage online communities and people who use social media to continuously voice how they feel about those issues because they are real-life issues,” she said.
Fan mobilization has prompted leading charity Women's Aid to share that they are in talks with the show.
Teresa Parker of Women’s Aid told Metro that the organization was routinely “being tagged into a stream of Twitter posts” by concerned viewers. This is a great starting point, and hopefully may create some boundaries or guidelines about what behavior is acceptable in a romantic relationship — but once again, fans are the ones raising issues like this first.
Contestants on the show have also spoken publicly to accuse producers of “allowing” toxic behavior.
The fallout has continued online with contestant Remi Lambert, 22, accusing fellow Islanders O'Neill and Luca Bish of bullying.
In an Instagram Live, O’Neill and Bish joke about Lambert’s rapping. “What’s he going to do, work at Harrods next year?” asks Bish, as both laugh.
Lambert posted the video and wrote in the caption about how hurtful the treatment was. “It’s not banter, it’s clear signs of bullying,” he wrote in a now-deleted Instagram. “I wish everyone could see all of the crap I went through.”
The aspiring rapper and model continued: “These guys are not good role models or good people. They have not once thought about my mental health. If I wasn’t soo strong minded I could’ve done something stupid to myself by now, but they don’t care at all.”
Louise similarly hopes that producers will take the time to address this specific issue and warned that allegedly standing by and watching a young Black man be bullied would be distressing to Black contestants.
Fans responded by launching a campaign to gain Lambert more followers and rally behind him. His followers surged by 15,000 on the day he discussed the bullying, and a further 5,000 the following day, far more activity than his account had seen since his time on the show.
The show concluded on Sunday night with a lackluster reunion O'Neill was noticeably absent, and with the curtains closing, the gathering failed to deliver any full-circle moments or take to task some of the Islanders for their poor behavior in a meaningful way.
But that’s not good enough for fans online. As this year's cast skip off into the sunset with their newfound fame and partners, show producers insist that they are looking at ways to “improve and work on what we’ve done” in response to the complaints.
The pledge feels like a version of the overused phrase “listening and learning,” which often means no real action.
In a world where women’s rights are being eroded and online figures like Andrew Tate are gaining traction, fans deserve a show that is evolving in a way that is ready to boldly confront the present reality, especially if it’s going to lean into those same themes for its drama and entertainment value.
My new campaign is to have Andy Cohen host the next Love Island reunion show because he’s one person who doesn’t mind doing the messy work of holding people to account.