Sunday 25 August 2019

Love Island revealed: Secrets behind selecting perfect reality TV cast

Ovie Soko and India Reynolds, Greg O'Shea and Amber Gill, Tommy Fury and Molly-Mae Hauge, Curtis Pritchard and Maura Higgins on Love Island
Ovie Soko and India Reynolds, Greg O'Shea and Amber Gill, Tommy Fury and Molly-Mae Hauge, Curtis Pritchard and Maura Higgins on Love Island
‘Love Island’ winners Greg O’Shea and Amber Gill. Photo: Matt Frost/ITV/REX
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

There's an alchemy to selecting the perfect reality TV cast.

Get it right and producers have a smash hit on their hands - eg endless water cooler conversation about 'Love Island'. Get it wrong and a series can tank before it has hardly began.

I'm thinking of celebrity sheep herding series 'Flockstars'.

Admittedly, a great title but no one wanted to watch Tony Blackburn and Fazer from NDubz chase sheep around a field. This is a high-stakes business. As a result, casting for reality series take months and months of planning with producers scouting clubs, pubs, gyms and social media accounts to find ideal candidates.

Love Island winners Amber and Greg. Photo: PA
Love Island winners Amber and Greg. Photo: PA

Only six of this year's 'Love Island' contestants were cast through the show's general application process - although a reported 88,000 applied. That amounts to more than a 99pc rate of rejection.

Twenty-four of the cast were headhunted by the programme's casting team. Another six were put forward by professional agents.

Read more here: Fiona Ness: 'Let us never again speak of 'Love Island''

According to 'Gogglebox' producer Simon Proctor, this is common practise.

"The number of contestants selected via audition for most TV series is relatively small," he said.

"That's because a lot of people who go through the application process just want to be on TV.

Maura Higgins and Curtis Pritchard came fourth on Love Island
Maura Higgins and Curtis Pritchard came fourth on Love Island

"They think they are hilarious but they're so aware of the camera and the fame, it detracts from the authenticity."

Proctor says the most effective way to find reality TV contestants is 'to go out and get them'.

"When we were casting 'Gogglebox' we visited hairdressers, agricultural shows, retirement groups, bingo halls.

"That's where you find real characters."

Obviously, the casting directors for 'Love Island' may give the bingo hall a miss, but the incentive is basically just the same.

The secret seems to be infiltrate the same audience that you want to attract.

Maura meets her parents on Love Island
Maura meets her parents on Love Island

"The viewers have to identify with the contestants. They must relate to them, or recognise them," TV producer Bill Hughes said. "If they don't, then they switch off."

For programmes with large casts, balancing opposing personalities types is essential.

In other words, you need a healthy mix of showboaters, wall flowers, challengers, pacifists and a few Instagram models to keep things interesting.

"There is no point in putting wallflowers together because it will be dull," Hughes said.

"It's a balancing act. You need conflicting characters to create drama. But at the same time you don't want people to have meltdowns.

"You would not believe the amount of time that goes in to the selection process."

According to Hughes, it's easy to tell if the cast you selected is working.

Read more here: Marie Murray: 'Attraction of 'Love Island'? The power to watch, unobserved'

"If people ask 'Why are they on TV?' then you've done a bad job. But if they ask 'Where did you find her?' it means you've got it right."

This year, Longford native and retired 'grid girl' Maura Higgins was the break out star of 'Love Island'.

She won people over with her unique turn of phrase, and for many viewers she became an unexpected feminist icon.

"Maura is also highly emotionally intelligent and viewers really responded to that," Hughes said.

These days all reality TV hopefuls undergo multiple auditions, screen tests, and background checks. The copious amounts of testing is for insurance - lots of people talk a big game but fail to deliver when the camera is on. And that can cost producers a second series.

'Love Island' contestants have also started to take part in therapy sessions before they enter and exit Casa Amor. It comes after the tragic deaths of former contestants Mike Thalassitis (26) and Sophie Gradon (32).

This has cast a pall over the frothy sun-soaked series and raised questions about the ethics of reality TV. Entertainment aside, producers have a duty of care and they must select individuals who can withstand the rigors of the fame machine.

Ofcom recently said it wants reality show contestants to be offered stronger protection from the emotional turbulence that can follow the shows.

Irish Independent

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