If Love Island is good for anything – other than ruining our faith in men, of course - it’s intense public commentary. The debates online following each episode can be eye-opening, hilarious and even educational. But they can also be ruthless, particularly when it comes to picking apart female contestants.
A ‘mean girl’ narrative pops up each season, typically singling out a few Islanders over the course of the two-month series. This year, it began with Amber, then focused on Tasha, and now it's Paige. It always starts the same way: the Islander in question will look at someone the wrong way, maybe there’ll be a snarky comment or hushed word – but all it takes is one scene and suddenly, viewers begin questioning how ‘sincere’ or ‘nice’ the Islander really is. The commentary builds as people begin picking out other ‘off moments’ or ‘bad vibes’ until eventually, they’re the most hated person in the villa.
Now, viewers forming opinions about Islanders – good or bad – is to be expected. We all pick up on small things and decide our support for someone based on our general perception of them. It’s reality TV after all, talking about it is half the fun of watching. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as reality TV connoisseurs, it’s just how important editing is in forming – or destroying – one’s reputation.
Take Paige for example, she was adored by viewers from day one in the villa. With every sweet smile or supportive conversation, fans would tweet about how much of a ‘Queen’ she was. They’d share memes of her most memorable quotes or conversations, declaring that she ‘deserves the world' after every failed coupling.
Then, after a particularly intense recoupling where Danika picked the guy Antigoni wanted, she awkwardly prevented Danika and Indiyah from joining in a girls' chat where they were discussing what had happened. In one fell swoop, she became a ‘mean girl’ to viewers.
Of course, the scene was uncomfortable to watch, as I’m sure it was to experience in person – but it was clear in that moment Paige thought she was supporting her friend. Antigoni needed a moment to process what had happened before talking to Danika, and it would’ve been a much more tense conversation with her involved. For all we know, Paige could’ve been encouraged by producers to pull the girls for a chat with Antigoni alone (as we know Islanders often are).
She might not have been - she may’ve acted rudely or harshly in that moment - but that’s the point, we don’t necessarily know the whole story. We don’t know what that moment felt like in person, we don’t know how it was produced, we don’t know how it was edited. Yet in mere seconds, Paige lost her ‘villa Queen’ title and became the focus of a new, savage narrative about how ‘fake nice’ she was. Since that moment, viewers have picked apart every cross word or rolled eye as if she’s never allowed to have a bad day or be annoyed by someone.
Paige could be a mean girl, sure, but frankly, she could be the sweetest person – we can’t really know without being in the villa ourselves. Certainly no one has come out confirming viewers' thoughts, nor does she seem to have any major frenemies in the villa. But the point is, it’s the fickleness with which support can change we must start thinking about.
Tasha, for example, experienced the reverse of Paige’s narrative. For weeks she was pulled apart, dubbed ‘boring’ or ‘manipulative’, with some viewers even resorting to vile ableist abuse. Then suddenly, after Andrew bought into the Casa Amor girls' judgements of her and he began pursuing Coco, the mood changed. People began questioning what Tasha had actually done to deserve Andrew’s severe switch in behaviour. And the more they did so, the more they realised she hadn’t actually done anything that bad at all. Now, support for her seems to have vastly changed – many concerned for her emotional wellbeing when she leaves the villa and sees how much she’s been trolled.
What all of this must teach us is that we never truly know these women at all. We know part of their experience on a heavily edited show where you’re thrown into a strange, uncomfortable environment and expected to mate. It’s important to bear this in mind not just when forming opinions of Islanders, but also when publicly shouting them from the rooftops – which tweeting, or commenting is, essentially.
Maybe there are mean girls in the villa, but maybe they’re actually really nice – and even if they’re not, do they deserve the tsunami of abuse they get with every shot of their RBF?