ITV’s flagship series Love Island is rarely without controversy; because hey, what makes better reality TV than a little drama? Every year we see the show hit headlines for all the wrong reasons yet still millions of people tune in night after night to see the latest developments in the blossoming romances (or not) of beautiful 20-somethings on a tropical holiday that we all wish we were on.
Back in 2019, domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid stepped in to condemn male contestant Joe Garrett for his gaslighting and possessive behaviour over Lucie Donlan; when he ‘pulled her for a chat’ to tell her that he thought it odd she was striking up a friendship with fellow male contestant Tommy Fury. In 2020, there was concern as to the level of control in the relationship between contestants Sophie Piper and Connor Durman, and in 2021, we’ve seen controversy around Danny Bibby and Lucinda Strafford, Jake Cornish’s treatment of Liberty Poole and that of Faye Winter toward Teddy Soares.
For charities who spend their days working toward the ending of inequality and violence in domestic situations to intervene and release statements on reality TV shows is undoubtedly indicative of a worrying trend; that perhaps what we’re seeing on television is not always the portrayal of the happy, healthy relationships we should look to pursue in our own lives. But how many of us would watch if it was? It’s not exactly a secret that TV channels make money out of advertising and therefore strive to attract the largest audience possible… and they do that through producing good, binge-able programming that has viewers returning night after night.
In this year’s Mallorcan-based series we’ve seen our fair share of explosive arguments and coupled-up drama, but most notably two couples have drawn attention: Jake and Libby, and Faye and Teddy.
Jake and Liberty have been coupled up since the very first day in the villa, some two months ago, and have progressed their relationship from ‘villa couple’ to boyfriend and girlfriend; even popping the ‘l’ word out along the way. Yet Jake has continued to draw controversy as he has attempted to control Libby’s behaviour and has been accused of staging scenes specifically for the cameras (a big no no on a show that doesn’t usually allow even a mention of being on television in the eventual edit that hits our screens). He also waited a solid four weeks before returning Libby’s declaration of love – and then only when she sat him down and not-so-subtly demanded that he vocalise his feelings. It has taken a while; and no doubt some production intervention; for us to see Liberty perceive this behaviour as inappropriate.
We all know someone like Liberty, and we all know someone like Jake. Inequal relationships happen all the time and if we haven’t been in one, we’ve seen them happen. They’re awkward (to both go through and be around), and often end in the hurt and perceived betrayal of one party. Of course, as with the ending of any relationship, the consequences can go on to affect the future behaviours and connections of those involved – both positively and negatively, dependent on how people are able to pull through their learned experiences to influence themselves as they age and grow as a person.
Faye Winter, perhaps the first female contestant on Love Island to draw such media controversy over her treatment of a male in the villa; Teddy Soares, her villa partner; caught the nation’s attention with a (somewhat one-sided) screaming swearing match upon her learning of Teddy’s behaviour at neighbouring accommodation Casa Amor. Indeed Teddy – ever patient but perhaps with little choice to be anything but entirely passive given he’s a Black man in a volatile situation playing out in front of millions of people – forgave Faye for her outburst after a few days and the couple moved on, but there remains the fact that the argument we all witnessed was not just uncomfortable to watch but also toxic, and certainly no indication of a strong romantic relationship.
Throughout the series, the editing has certainly betrayed Faye as the ‘tough’ alpha female of the villa; never giving away her trust or admiration easily and referring several times to troubled old relationships and trauma. Other islanders have consistently made reference to Faye’s seemingly hard-edged personality and just brushed off her often brusque traits as “the way she is”. Without looking to defend her clearly losing her temper, it’s worth noting that without clearly having experienced the trauma she had previously, indeed Faye would not be “the way she is”. Previous unhealthy, toxic and even abusive interactions and relationships in her life have clearly led her to raise her guard and act the way she does now – because let’s be honest, no one wants to navigate their way through life not being able to let themselves to fall in love or forge open and honest relationships with others for fear of being hurt.
As above with Jake and Libby; we all know a Faye. Someone who has grown a thick skin through necessity and fears being betrayed, and sometimes (if not often) allows this to cloud their judgment and make them act in ways perhaps they wouldn’t choose to if they were able to disassociate themselves from situations emotionally.
In playing out these scenarios on ITV2 night after night, Love Island has really only shown us disagreements and arguments and awkwardness that we all already recognise. In giving mainstream and primetime attention to these situations, we see them discussed and analysed and debated through the press and social media – and even if not in a positive light, highlighted and attention brought upon them.
Yet do we do the same and give the same attention to plights like these when we see them play out in real life? Do we warn our friends of the red flags when their boyfriend stops them interacting with their mates? Do we remove our male friends from arguments when their girlfriends scream abuse in their face? Do we justify the behaviour of our friends as just “the way they are” post them leaving an abusive relationship?
The problem is not Love Island presenting these situations on primetime television – it’s that they happen so often they can be easily engineered in any given group of people in just a few weeks. Toxic relationships have become so common that we barely bat an eyelid now and instead write off people’s personality traits, fiery relationships and manipulative behaviour as just ‘what happens’ in love and lust and friendship.
If we’re to tackle the issues of inequality, poor communication and trauma healing through relationship we need to not immediately condemn Love Island for bringing these issues to our attention; but instead work toward identifying, rectifying and healing this toxicity in our day to day lives with our friends, significant others and loved ones. Abuse is fast becoming the norm: a fact that ITV2 replicates rather than creates for our silver screens. Let’s work to condemn toxic behaviour before we step in to blame it on its reflection through the media.
Picture credit: ITV Studios, Love Island.