I’ll admit that Love Island USA was my first real foray into reality television. Maybe that explains why I enjoyed the first season so much, going so far as to watch two or three hour-long episodes a night so that I could view the finale in real time. Personally, I thought the show, as a completely unrealistic way to find romance, was beautiful: based on Love Island UK, the series focuses on five initial couples forced to be together 24/7 in a luxurious Fijian villa, with additional players brought in to break up existing relationships. But no one cared what I thought, since critics — and worse, my friends — vilified the series, tearing it apart with, unfortunately, valid arguments.
Criticism #1: There. Is. No. Drama. Fans of the original Love Island have grown used to the gossip fodder that fills each episode, with producers sending fake texts and using lie-detectors in an effort to break up couples. In comparison, the US version has only a few memorable characters doing interesting things: Caro, who falls for every guy she meets; Weston, a player from Texas, Yamen, who completely played the first girl he was coupled with, leading to a dramatic confrontation; and Cashel, a doofus with no boundaries or sense of decorum. But who needs interesting people? I enjoyed the low-stakes environment, because it gave me a chance to fangirl over Zac and Elizabeth, the season’s golden couple. It wasn’t drama pushing me to hit the “watch next” button, it was the romance, the predictability.
Criticism #2: The participants are not the brightest. The series should come with a warning: side effects may include reduced performance on standardized tests, because my IQ may have been lowered by watching by at least 40 points. Islanders talk only about romance, which, while fitting, gets tiring after ten episodes of who’s-into-who. This conversational topic is interrupted only by some questionable moments, like when one contestant couldn’t do basic division, or another, when asked what he liked about his partner, listed her physical attractiveness… and couldn’t think of anything else. While I did note these incidents, I am ashamed to say that I continued watching. Besides, those “gems” made it all the more sweeter when the people who said them left the island in tears.
Criticism #3: The games serve no purpose. I agree wholeheartedly. Couples literally spat food into each other’s mouths and took care of screaming fake babies for a whole day to get… nothing. (I would have tossed the wailing dolls into the pool within the first hour, so I applaud the effort.) Personally, I’d prefer not to look stupid on national television.
Maybe that’s what drew me to the show, allowing me to brush off the haters and keep watching: the contestants’ willingness to let loose and find love in three weeks. Love Island differs from the Bachelor franchise in that islanders can explore relationships with different people in search of a true connection, which meant competitors would do STRESSFUL things, i.e. surprise meeting their boyfriend’s parents, saying “I love you” after knowing their partner for fourteen days, and participating in random challenges knowing that their friends back home would be watching. I can hide behind my intelligence all I want, but these people are putting their lives on the line and facing rejection for the chance of romance.
Love Island USA may not have the stakes, catfights, or vibrancy of its British counterpart (not to mention the accents!), but the series works. Ten out of the 25 contestants will pursue relationships off the air, even though they looked foolish in almost every episode. Would that statistic sway me to join Love Island myself? No. But will I continue watching, just for the bonding between couples and because I love romance? 100%.
I’ll get to all five seasons of the UK version as soon as I can figure out how to get a free Hulu account. But Love Island USA, for all its flaws, will always be the beginning of my reality TV romance addiction. And you can never forget your first love.