In Defence of “Trash TV”: Why We Can’t Stop Watching Love Island

With Love Island in full swing these days, there’s an awful lot of contention between people who love it and people who hate it. The same goes for most “trashy” reality TV shows – I’m talking Love Is Blind, Married at First Sight, 90 Day Fiance, Selling Sunset, Too Hot to Handle, Below Deck, the whole lot of them. While they come in a bunch of different formats, you know trash TV when you see it! Fans of these shows say that it’s fun to watch, the drama is exciting, the gossip is juicy, while opponents say they’re brain-rotting, boring and spout off sentiments echoing: “Why would I want to watch boring, mean, fit people get off with each other for no reason?”. And it’s a fair question! 

Reality TV, especially series like Love Island, basically take over Twitter for months at a time, the cast go on to get million pound signings and are more or less guaranteed #influencer deals when they leave the villa and even contestants from years ago still pop up in the news today. As someone who is no fun at parties, I thought it would be fun to think about why that is, and to understand what it is that is so good about trash TV it has half the nation firmly planted on their couches at 9pm, 5 days a week, all summer long.

I’m a bit of a part-timer when it comes to Love Island and I’m usually a day or two behind, I only get the best memes via my flatmate and I’ll be honest, I still can’t tell about 80% of this years villa residents apart, but somehow I’m still incredibly invested in the antics of the islanders (and praying that Toby gets a healthy dose of karma sometime soon). Even when I’m on my phone for most of the episode, I still find myself caring about the characters on the screen and what they’ll do next, which begs the question…

How Do They Make it That Good?

Like any other piece of media literally ever, there are tropes in reality TV that we all recognise. The cliffhangers, the challenges, when the audience knows things the contestants don’t and vice versa. This is the stuff that reality TV, and hundreds of other genres of film or TV, have been doing for years. We’re all aware that they’re put in place to cause drama, and that they’re carefully plotted out by producers, sometimes before the show’s even begun. Like any other piece of media, reality TV also creates roles for its characters, and often don’t stray far from the classic archetypes of “girl next door”, “femme fatale”, “the everyman”, “the underdog”, “the troublemaker”, “the bad boy/girl” and of course, “the villain of the season”. 😈

Despite being a constructed reality show, the editing of Love Island is incredibly fast-paced, with the number and length of shots in key scenes closer to an action film, rather than a romantic drama or rom com, which take things much more slowly, on average. This does wonders in hammering home the constructed importance of certain scenes and conversations, even though we as viewers know that it’s probably an influencer’s decision over which of the men she’s known for six whole days she prefers. This video explains it much better than I can: 

Whether or not any of these choices are conscious ones made by the producers, or just hallmarks of the genre is something that armchair critics like me can’t claim to have any idea about, but I do find it incredibly interesting just how well Love Island sets out to do exactly what it does.

Love Island Isn’t Perfect, But It Comes Pretty Close

Interestingly, while they are very clearly reality TV shows in the same way Hell’s Kitchen is, reality competitions tend to actually have a bit more “prestige” – people aren’t calling Masterchef, Bake Off or Drag Race trash in the same way they would Love Island, for example. They’ve got lots of the same elements in them as constructed reality shows, like convoluted challenges, high-stakes elimination formats and personal stories from the contestants, but for some reason, these shows tend to miss a lot of the ire targeted at Love Island et al. That’s a story for another time though.

To be perfectly honest, whether or not you watch crap reality TV doesn’t make any difference to me, but as a trash aficionado, it does annoy me when these shows get a massive amount of attention and hate for being “bad”, when actually, shows like Love Island are a bit of a masterclass in doing exactly what they’re meant to. I’m not saying that Love Island is going to be an HBO exclusive, nor am I saying that they’re without fault (the ramifications of assigning real people the constructed role of the “villain” and broadcasting it to millions of viewers every day are a whole other discussion of their own), but at the end of the day, like the video above says: 

“It can be easy to dismiss reality TV, because it’s often seen as fairly low-brow content, but this doesn’t mean that it’s simple or primitive. Ultimately, shows like Love Island are aiming to solicit the same responses as any other type of narrative. They want to give us memorable characters, stand-out moments, and most importantly, tell us a story we haven’t heard before.”

So whether you’re ready with a glass of wine at 8:56 every evening or would rather drown in the Casa Amor pool than watch someone get “pulled for a chat” again, you can’t deny that Love Island and shows like it are incredible at what they set out to do, and you just can’t hate on that.


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