Paige and Finn were deserving winners of Love Island, but it was still boring watching them get there. The reality show’s last episode is always disappointing; all the easy voyeurism of watching hot people have dumb conversations on sunloungers is replaced with X Factor-style “best bits”, clips or wooden interviews where the islanders reel off predictable one-liners about how they have made friends for life. It’s a fitting end to a series that has felt increasingly hollowed out.
There has been distinct lack of Love Island water bottles on office desks this past series. Unsurprising, really, given ratings have continued to fall since the start of the season (an average of 2.4 million viewers tuned in, that’s less than a third of its record audience, when more than 6 million tuned into an episode last July).
But alongside Connagh’s magisterial cheekbones and Shaughna pulling two KitKat’s out of her bra, there were things to enjoy in Love Island’s sixth series. Finn declared himself a feminist, or a femi-feminine-ist (he couldn’t actually pronounce the term) and the series championed black culture more than ever before. Mike and Leanne’s his’n’hers durag and wig cap combo pushed #BlackLove to trend on Twitter for hours. During a discussion of how they want to find a future wife, Jordan and Ched slipped into the dialect of their Nigerian Igbo heritage.
Where last year’s male contestants were accused of gaslighting, this time around Luke T, Luke M and Finn were crowned “honest kings”. More shredded than an MP’s expenses form, these lads brought their Missguided-clad queens endless plates of avocado on toast, cried at love poems and, in Casa Amor, took to the sofa rather than disrespecting their partners by sleeping in a bed next to another woman.
“We stan,” gushed women online after Luke T asked “can I touch you?” to Siânnise while she gave him a lap dance (consent can be sexy!). Purest of all, our honest kings used the language of breakfast to describe what sex base they had reached in an attempt to maintain their partner’s privacy: Toast means sex, tomato means a feeling up. Thankfully they didn’t venture to explain what “eggs” is. They even quit their code after deciding it might be disrespectful. No one toasts-and-tells.
But, unproblematic faves aside, winter Love Island felt laboured. Six seasons in, the reality programme has become too attached to its own conventions. Every episode was a conveyor belt of contestants walking up to each other and asking “can I pull you for a chat?”. Each date was spent identifying eye colour and asserting the importance of family values. And why must every task involve islanders regurgitating food down each other’s throats like seagulls feeding their chicks? Hot dogs, a full English and the ingredients of a Piña Colada were all exchanged mouth-to-mouth. The only explanation for the enforcement of this behaviour is that one of ITV’s producers has a very specific kink.
Dramas that made the previous series’ addictive started to feel uncomfortable. When Shaugna headed back into the villa to find that Callum had recoupled with Manchester’s answer to Cameron Diaz, watching her heart break in real-time was horrible. It wasn’t enough that Shaugna’s “congrats, hun” jab was a line worthy of Primark pyjama tops. Watching this series one became more aware than ever that most thrills came from other people’s lows. Seeing a woman crying into her hands shouldn’t be entertainment for anyone.
But it was after the death of former host Caroline Flack, that the series became truly unpalatable. Even with Ian Stirling’s eulogy, just 1.93 million UK viewers tuned in for the Monday after the news broke of Flack’s suicide. Better was Laura Whitmore's tribute during the final, followed by a touching montage of Flack's best moments from four years on the show – including that famous slow-motion walk.
Given the struggles that Flack went through under the social media glare, it's difficult to rejoice on the contestants' behalf, in the knowledge of the frenzy that awaits them on the outside. Sadly, there’s not much time for reflection when there are Dancing On Ice slots to be secured and charcoal toothpaste discount codes to share. As the Islander’s slightly resigned catchphrase goes, “It is what it is”.