Friday 17 January 2020

Tanya Sweeney: "Red-hot Love Island will banish the winter blues"

Maura Higgins was a hit on Love Island, earning her a spot on Dancing On Ice. Photo: Getty Images
Maura Higgins was a hit on Love Island, earning her a spot on Dancing On Ice. Photo: Getty Images

Tanya Sweeney

With the mercury languishing in the lower single digits and the January blues writ large, you'd be entirely within your rights to crave a bit of sunny escapism. A bit of poolside villa scenery; some sun-dappled banter. A piña colada for the soul.

Which is precisely where Love Island 2020, set in Cape Town, comes in. After bumper ratings this summer, it's expected that the new series, which will premiere on Irish screens this weekend, is going to warm our bones and be the next best thing to a winter sun break.

Except it's not just the blue skies and the plush holiday villas that we tune in for, is it? Love Island offers bronzed bikini bodies, glistening six-packs and more saucy banter than you can shake a stick at.

Love Island has also, in one of the worst ways possible, already had a pre-broadcast publicity boost. With regular host Caroline Flack standing down from her role as presenter after being charged with assault, it's down to Wicklow lass Laura Whitmore to be this year's mistress of ceremonies. Her boyfriend Iain Stirling, neatly enough, is the wisecracking voiceover guy.

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In last year's series, the Irish contestants fared particularly well, hinting that there's just something about Love Island that strikes the right chord with our humour and our outlook. Limerick law student Greg O'Shea won the entire competition with his (now-dissolved) 'match' Amber Gill, while Maura Higgins and Yewande Biala managed to parlay their spells on the show into other reality appearances (on Dancing On Ice and Dancing With The Stars respectively).

Love Island 2020 will follow the usual format, although they have introduced a doghouse and a "vibey" new hideaway, complete with hot tub. The boys' dressing room, somewhat ominously, is emblazoned with a huge 'Bro Code' neon sign.

But just how is it that Love Island - which is, on the face of it, a very long Boohoo.com advert with people talking - such a water-cooler sensation? Why does a TV series, which essentially involves some very beautiful people carrying on like they're at the last night of the Gaeltacht, end up trending on Twitter night after night?

Having been resurrected from the televisual graveyard in 2015 after a fallow decade, the show became Twitter's most talked-about TV show in 2018 and made its broadcaster millions in merchandise and advertising.

Love Island doesn't just amass a following of youngsters who love the Insta-friendly aspect of it all either. Last year, fifty-something friends of mine took to feverishly texting me about Maura's misadventures. Friends who would turn their nose up at typical reality fare kept me up to date on Tommy's gushy dates with Molly. How did that happen? After all, Temptation Island, a show similar on tone and format, was on our screens for some of the Noughties, and it never captured the Zeitgeist in quite the same way.

The escapism element, not least in a period of social and political uncertainty, is just part of the appeal. At Love Island's anthropological core (insert Attenborough voiceover here), we are looking at very beautiful people circling each other, sizing each other up and then getting it on.

With its fairy lights and infinity pools, it's slickly produced and highly watchable, even without the cornucopia of drama.

But last year's series, in particular, threw up plenty of ongoing conversations about consent, toxic masculinity, gaslighting and female desire. I mean, you just don't get that on Made In Chelsea.

Perhaps someone like Maura reminds us of ourselves when we date (or even how we'd like to be when we date). Happily on the lookout for a good guy, though willing to move on it doesn't work out. Even after getting burned by the ghosters, the breadcrumbers and the cuffers, we remain hopeful.

Or you could be someone like Amy Hart, who experienced a near-meltdown and genuine crisis in confidence in the face of romantic rejection: as relatable a dating scenario as any.

Whatever the outcome of these hook-ups and break-ups, you can't dispute that it's cracking TV.

  • Love Island 2020 airs on Virgin Media One on Sunday.

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