It’s the most successful show on ITV2, but the last two months have seen the tide of public opinion turn on the hugely popular series Love Island. First came calls for an overhaul of the reality dating show and its approach to the aftercare and psychological support of its young contestants. That followed the suicide of 26-year-old Mike Thalassitis, a contestant in 2017. It was thought that Mike had struggled with his role as the series ‘villain’ (he was known as ‘Muggy Mike’ well after the series had finished) as well as adjusting to life in the public eye.
Then, two weeks ago, the ethics of reality television were called into question when 63-year-old Steven Dymond, who had recently filmed an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show, killed himself after failing a lie detector test on the show. ITV axed it with immediate effect. While there were calls for Love Island to be given the same treatment, it will return to our screens on Monday for its fifth series.
After Mike’s death, some former contestants had criticised the lack of support and counselling made available to them after the show, and though ITV said in a statement shortly afterwards that their duty of care had always been important, the network released a statement last Thursday, outlining a new and improved aftercare policy. It will include a minimum of eight therapy sessions for each islander on their return home as well as ‘proactive contact’ from the team for a period of 14 months after filming ends.
Grazia has learned that there will also be changes within the villa while filming is underway, in order to protect the fresh batch of contestants, many of whom are in their late teens and early twenties. The new group of Love Islanders, who have been in isolation near to the Mallorcan villa for the past week in preparation for the show’s premiere, will now be under close surveillance by psychologists and producers throughout the eight-week filming process. Their emotional welfare is going to be a ‘huge priority’ – or the show’s future could be in jeopardy, says Grazia’s source.
‘It’s impossible for anyone on the show to have escaped what’s happened, and everyone has been briefed,’ they say. ‘It will have undoubtedly stuck in viewers’ minds, too, and you will see changes to the way the show is produced. There will be lots of people to alter content and the islanders will be called in for regular assessments.’ Grazia understands the screening process for contestants has been even more thorough this year to ensure the contestants are psychologically resilient enough to compete. ‘The contestants have been sat down and given a full psychiatric assessment, as well as being briefed on what will be awaiting them in the villa.’
Our other ITV source adds, ‘There has been more focus on getting background details about the contestants, as well as a full, detailed physical and mental history, and interviewing family and friends. Contestants may want to play things down to make sure they get to appear on the show, so there needs to be careful research to make sure nothing is missed.’ The islanders will also be encouraged to keep a close eye on one another inside the villa – and this could be made a running storyline on the show. ‘Contestants will be looking out for each other, they’ll be briefed by producers to check each other’s behaviour and see if they are being off or upset and let producers know.’
The pressures that the Love Island contestants face from the ‘manipulated drama’ have been called into question. One such dramatic device, in the form of ‘Casa Amore’, was the cause of widespread criticism last year. It was a second villa full of new, single female contestants to tempt the boys. Photographs and videos were sent to Dani Dyer showing her boyfriend Jack Fincham with his ex-girlfriend Ellie, which were manipulated to make her believe he had been unfaithful. He had not. More than 2,500 complaints were made to Ofcom about the ‘emotional abuse’, after Dani was left in tears for days. This type of incident is unlikely to happen again.
‘Those things are guaranteed to create huge drama, and therefore keep ratings high,’ says the source. ‘In the current climate it’s uncertain whether that kind of production format would work this time around – and you’re less likely to see “villains” developed, as was experienced by Mike and to an extent Megan [Barton-Hanson] last year. ‘The viewers want to be entertained, and that’s what they are going to get, but this year you will be watching something that has a huge layer of awareness around it. Love Island is such a huge moneymaker for ITV they will do everything in their power to protect it. is wake-up call can only have a positive effect on how important issues are managed in the future.'