Love Island Relies On The Tabloids And Cruel Challenges To Thrive

So where can the show go from here, asks Sarah Manavis.

Love Island Cast

by Sarah Manavis |
Updated on

Every year, Love Island viewers lose their collective minds in anticipation of one particular challenge. Challenges – games the islanders play in the villa to seemingly kill airtime – rarely yield anything interesting for the viewer. However, the annual Twitter challenge – where islanders must read out often misleading tweets and tabloid headlines that reveal what the public really thinks about them – has never not led to drama.

Always including a wildly inaccurate claim (like suggesting one islander cheated on another when they didn’t), it usually comes near the end of the season in a deliberate attempt to shake up settled couples. For years, ITV has come under fire for the obvious distress the Twitter challenge causes, and the challenge is consistently cited as a major example of the way producers create a toxic atmosphere on the show. So, it’s ironic that this year Love Island changed the game for the first time – removing tweets from the challenge and instead just using headlines. This year’s islanders would not have to hear what random people with 50 followers thought, but instead what national newspapers were printing to readerships of millions.

The challenge aired just three days before the news broke that former Love Island host Caroline Flack had died, and in the wake of that news, many involved with the show distanced themselves from the tabloid media. ‘The problem isn’t the show – the problem is the outside world,’ Laura Whitmore, the new host of Love Island, said on her BBC 5 Live show. ‘It’s gone too far... your words affect people.’ Overall, people have begun to rightly question the way the tabloids cover stars like Flack, unrelentingly criticising them for every little thing they do.

The problem with Love Island is that most of what makes it watchable is what makes it harmful.

While it’s misguided to try to determine why someone would take their own life – because it could have been anything and we may never know what that thing was – arguing that Love Island is innocent in all this leaves a bad taste. To suggest that Love Island is unconnected to the tabloid culture being criticised around Flack’s death misunderstands what Love Island fundamentally is: an inextricable cog in our modern tabloid culture.

Love Island makes big money by turning its show into the entire world’s watercooler gossip – and it has been able to achieve such status by relying on tabloid coverage. With the Twitter/tabloid challenge, it even incorporates that coverage into the show. In turn, year-round coverage of ex-contestants makes Love Island constantly relevant, bringing in more viewers year on year (with the exception of this year’s winter version).

Love Island can cleverly keep its hands clean by saying it itself does not treat islanders in a toxic way – providing counselling, a support network in the villa, and giving all islanders the ability to walk out at any time – but at the very best, Love Island is covertly feeding the vicious tabloid machine.

Love Island viewers feel guilty now, too. We have long been willing to take the bait – clicking the articles, mindlessly bashing on Twitter, and ultimately consuming everything this show will give us while knowing the negative impact it could have on its stars.

For Love Island to carry on in a way that isn’t harmful, it would need to strip back drastically: removing damaging challenges, bringing an end to informing tabloids of drama in the villa, and implementing serious physical and emotional protections.

Many of these things could be achieved without taking out the drama of Love Island. But to create a truly non-harmful dating show, you’d have to take out the things that make Love Island worth watching. No more Casa Amor, no more forced trips out of the villa for two people fighting over the same person, and no more orchestrated arguments, betrayals, or fights. Ultimately, you wouldn’t have enough television to last eight weeks, draw in millions of viewers, and warrant lucrative sponsorships that keep the show afloat. The problem with Love Island is that most of what makes it watchable is what makes it harmful. So to make Love Island ethical, you have to make it boring.

Love Island’s existence has been morally questionable for a long time. And while Flack’s death doesn’t make that case new, it does make it more urgent.

If you want to talk to someone about your mental health, you can call Samaritans on 116 123, or email

READ MORE: Did Last Night’s Love Island Cross The Line From Entertaining To Cruel?

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