A chef, a scientist and a firefighter walk into a villa.
The return of Love Island every summer has the same comforting familiarity as a lousy Christmas cracker joke.
But for its fifth series, which begins on Monday night, the most successful show in ITV2’s history has made some changes.
While presenter Caroline Flack and narrator Iain Stirling are returning as normal, the show has addressed some of the issues it had last year.
For example, the 2019 series has considerably more contestants from ethnic minority backgrounds – something the show was previously criticised for lacking.
“When I was on Love Island, there was a lot about me being the only dark skinned girl but it didn’t really faze me much,” Samira Mighty, one of last year’s contestants, tells the Victoria Derbyshire show.
“I think it would be great to see a lot more races in there… also you have got to remember they’ve got a show to make. They will pick personalities.”
Perhaps more notably, the show also appears to have taken steps towards more body diversity.
Iranian Instagram star Anna Vikili has a noticeably curvier frame than her fellow contestants.
Of course, plenty of viewers were quick to say that one slightly larger contestant doesn’t go far enough.
Body positivity campaigner and actress Jameela Jamil wrote on Twitter: “The producers of Love Island think this slim woman counts as their new token ‘plus size’ contestant? Are they drunk?”
But the show’s creative director Richard Cowles argues: “Yes, we want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another.
“We’re not saying that everyone that’s in there is how you’re supposed to look. We’re saying here’s a group of people that we want to watch for eight weeks, and we want to watch them fall in love.”
Sending attractive people to a villa to go dating under the sun has indeed proven to be a winning formula for the show since it launched in 2014.
The last series became the most popular programme in ITV2’s history, with 4.3 million viewers watching the final (when both live and catch-up figures are included).
Other romance-based shows, such as as First Dates, Naked Attraction and Eating With My Ex, are much more open to a range of ages and body types and are generally thought to be more representative of the UK population.
But the whole appeal of Love Island, Caroline Flack told BBC News last year, is “complete escapism, guilt-free fun and enjoyment”.
Most viewers aren’t under any illusion – they know the show is unlikely to produce genuine romance.
A look at last year’s series shows that literally every couple, including winners Dani and Jack, have since broken up.
Most stay together for around six months after the show, partially due to contracts they sign with talent management agencies, and make a living from things like promotional nightclub appearances.
But there are exceptions.
Last week, 2017 contestants Jess and Dom announced they were expecting their first baby together, while Alex and Olivia from 2016 are married.
On the subject of casting, it’s also worth noting how many of this year’s contestants have existing links to fame.
This is nothing new of course, last year’s series saw Danny Dyer’s daughter, Dani Dyer, join the Islanders.
But there are even more semi-famous faces and celebrity relatives among the cast this year.
Curtis Pritchard, a choreographer on Irish Dancing With The Stars and brother of Strictly’s AJ, and Tommy Fury – the brother of boxer Tyson Fury – are entering the villa.
For them, the fame that comes with being on Love Island will be slightly less of a shock than it would be to those with less high-profile jobs, such as the firefighter and scientist who have been cast this year.
Which brings us to one of the biggest issues of this year – the impact of fame on the mental health of contestants and the after care offered by the show.
The suicides of two former contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, since last year’s series launch prompted questions about how well ITV helps contestants deal with their new-found fame after leaving the villa.
The issue came up again last month when ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show was axed following the suicide of a participant who had taken a lie detector on the show.
The DCMS Committee then announced it would be looking into aftercare measures in the television industry and whether they go far enough.
“TV featuring members of the public attracts viewing figures in the millions but in return for ratings, the broadcasters must demonstrate their duty of care to the people whose personal lives are being exposed,” the committee’s chair Damian Collins said.
But some, including Flack herself, have defended Love Island and pointed out there tends to be more than a single factor involved when a person takes their own life.
In one of her few press interviews to promote this year’s series, she condemned the headlines surrounding Thalassitis’s death.
“It’s dangerous and I’m really, really angry,” Flack told Cosmopolitan.
“It’s not just that you’re blaming a TV show. You’re blaming people and their jobs. In life we all have a duty of care to look out for each other, but I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers of blame.
“This is a much bigger issue than just a reality TV show, and when something this bad happens – and I’m talking about Mike – when something this horrible and sad occurs, it’s so dangerous to point fingers within hours and minutes of it happening.
“None of us know what’s going through someone’s mind and we can’t sit there and speculate. It’s time to think about the bigger picture, about what’s going on with young men and young people and the pressures of modern life.”
Nonetheless, ITV has taken significant steps to improve the aftercare measures in this year’s series.
Last month, the broadcaster released a long and detailed statement to reassure viewers and shareholders it was doing all it could.
The key changes this year are:
- Enhanced psychological support
- More detailed conversations with potential Islanders regarding the impact of participation on the show
- Bespoke training for all Islanders on social media and financial management
- A proactive aftercare package which extends our support to all Islanders following their participation.
But speaking in March, ITV boss Carolyn McCall acknowledged aftercare for contestants could not continue “indefinitely”.
“We can do everything we possibly can to look after people and to do our duty of care but you can’t do that forever,” she said.
In reference to this year’s series, she added: “We will do much more in a much more structured way.”
Like last year, where issues of gaslighting and emotional manipulation were raised, there will inevitably be plenty of public debate around the relationships formed this year.
While plenty of changes have been made to the show, there’s one thing that will certainly remain the same: it isn’t going to be boring.
Love Island begins on ITV2 at 21:00 BST on Monday 3 June.
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