Is It Possible To Make Responsible and Entertaining Reality TV?

Love Island producers are offering more support to islanders than ever before, says Grazia’s Hattie Crisell – but can reality TV ever really protect its stars?

Is It Possible To Make Responsible and Entertaining Reality TV?

by Hattie Crisell |

10 years ago, I was a writer for the Big Brother website. I spent two summers in a portacabin next to the house – flicking between unedited live streams, eating custard creams, and trying to come up with news stories (‘Darnell has invented a hilarious game with the garden furniture’).

The question I was most often asked by friends during that time was whether the editing on the show was fair – or whether editors deliberately created heroes and villains, as reality TV stars often insist that they do.

I used to say that it wasn't highly manipulated. It was edited only in the same way that we all edit as we go, concentrating our attention on the interesting bits of life. Humans think in storylines, whether starring the boss who’s got it in for you or the fit neighbour you’ve been flirting with for months – reality TV just does the work of cutting out the irrelevant stuff. If it instead presented a sampling of random moments from the day, it would be deeply dull to watch.

But when I saw Michael Griffiths facing a studio audience on Love Island: Aftersun last weekend, looking not like the cocky lad we met in the villa, but like a rabbit in the headlights – I felt uncomfortable. It’s not that Michael isn’t responsible for his own behaviour or that producers have hyped it up or victimised him. It’s that on TV, however well-meaning it is, real people turn into characters. As viewers we can’t get enough of them – but they can’t get away from us.

I’ve been right there over the last month shouting at Michael with the rest of the nation. He behaved cruelly – not just by flip-flopping between Amber and Joanna, but by trying to transfer the responsibility for this onto Amber herself. But now he’s out in the world with a tabloid press and a rabid Love Island fanbase following his every move, I’m reminded that like Mike Thalassitis before him, he’s just a real person – and will probably face a disproportionate backlash.

Most men in their twenties do something shitty at some point, but they can still go to the supermarket without having to answer to strangers. I doubt this will be the case for Michael over the next few months, and maybe not for Curtis or Jordan either.

Since the deaths of Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon – the former Love Islanders who took their own lives in March 2019 and June 2018 respectively – ITV’s ‘duty of care’ has been more pressing than ever. The suicides were a reminder that those who profit from casting ‘real people’ in entertainment also have a responsibility to make sure they aren’t damaged by taking part.

As a result, the network now provides a minimum of eight therapy sessions to each islander on their return home, as well as ‘proactive contact’ with the production team for 14 months after filming ends. The screening process has also become more thorough, with islanders given full psychiatric assessments and proper briefings on what to expect.

Those of us who’ve been glued to every episode have noticed changes on-screen too. The traditional trip to Casa Amor (where the coupled-up are tempted by a new set of singles) went ahead, but gone was the brutal device of sending a ‘postcard’ back to the villa to stir up paranoia. At the time of writing, the always traumatic lie-detector test hasn’t taken place either. In Grazia’s exclusive interview with Amy Hart, she confirmed that she had ongoing contact with a psychologist and ‘can’t fault the support’ provided by the production team.

But what Love Island will always show – what we tune in for – is a group of teenagers and 20-somethings bumbling their way through romantic and platonic relationships. That’s messy by its very nature. This season we’ve seen under-the-duvet action; shouty rows; bitching, and botched break-ups. People’s mistakes and bad decisions are broadcast to the nation; some of it may haunt them after they leave. But without it – how could the show exist?

We’re hooked on Love Island exactly because we relate to that familiar human mess. Had the producers done the ideal thing from an ethical point of view – pulled Michael aside weeks ago and warned him that his behaviour was not being well-received at home – the truth is that the show would have felt less authentic and less gripping.

This year I’ve been as devoted a viewer as ever, and I’ve been happy to know that producers are doing more to support the islanders. But responsible reality TV? I suspect it’s an oxymoron.

You can see all the most entertaining Twitter reactions to Love Island 2019 below.

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Best Love Island Twitter Reactions 2019

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