It was probably a given that Jack Keating would command some sort of attention from viewers as he arrived into Love Island’s Casa Amor.
But even by the reality show’s famously biting standards, the online commentary surrounding his arrival into the series has been vicious. Meme after meme has made mention of his Irish paleness, his ginger hair and his all-round normalness.
Keating (23) is a good-looking man, although it’s safe to say he does not look like the show’s regular mix of interchangeably buff, permatanned, overly tattooed brawncakes. And boy, have viewers noticed. Even Keating’s mum, Yvonne Connolly, was forced to post on Instagram: “Thank you so much for all your comments. All positive (can’t say the same for other platforms).”
Seriously though, people. What’s it going to be? The show comes under fire time and time again for its unending parade of corporeal fakeness; it’s ceaseless celebration of the utterly superficial. Yet when a young man is cast from a very slightly different, albeit much more relatable mould, he gets dragged online for it. Why would anyone who doesn’t look exactly like every other contestant that’s ever been on the show even countenance the idea of appearing on Love Island?
For the last couple of nights, Keating’s airtime on Love Island has also been conspicuously lacking, especially for a much-lauded newcomer. The only sensible conclusion there is that a sizzling ‘love match’/dramatic storyline involving a fellow contestant remains at large for him.
This is nothing new in the history of Love Island. Normal, nice guys — and Keating has definitely shown himself to be a genuine and likeable sort — rarely fare as well romantically as the hotties whose groins appear to be some sort of life support system for the rest of their bodies.
Any hopes viewers had of Love Island’s producers delivering a truly diverse series have been dashed on the rocks time and time again. The show has weathered accusations of racism as recently as this summer. Addressing previous years’ cries of tokenism, this year’s line-up was certainly more racially diverse than it has ever been. Not long after, four black contestants — Ikenna Ekwonna, Amber Beckford, Afia Tonkmor and Remi Lambert — were among the first to exit the series. “Is no one questioning why a white person hasn’t left yet? Y’all really see black people as undesirable and it shows absolutely disgusting,” tweeted one viewer.
Yet if contestants are being called out online for simply not having the right hair colour or body type, Love Island probably has an even bigger issue with diversity than it realises. Think of the many cries there have been for Love Island to move towards a more body-inclusive approach.
Now let’s think of what might happen if there was indeed a plus-sized contestant on the show; male or female. Against the visual muzak of the regular contestants, they would stand out a mile, leaving them vulnerable to scrutiny, or worse, ridicule. Given the show’s previous form, there’s also the very real possibility that this plus-sized contestant would be friend-zoned before you could say ‘pass the remote’.
In the show’s introductory VTs, I’ve lost count of the amount of times contestants spell out their romantic preferences. “Tall, dark and handsome” is wheeled out by women with embarrassing regularity. Male contestants, meanwhile, often trot out the euphemism “a girl who takes care of herself”. And so the message is clear. Anyone outside those very narrow parameters isn’t worthy of a match. What that tells wider society, year after year, remains a huge problem.
You can imagine the full-body cringe I experienced when tennis player Cristian Garin described controversial opponent Nick Krygios as ‘good for tennis’.
This will be the same Nick Krygios who has been fined for spitting in the direction of a spectator, for swearing during his match last Saturday against Tsitsipas? The same Nick Krygios who has broken Wimbledon’s strict dress code and could give fewer than zero hoots about it? And the same Nick Krygios who faces charges of domestic abuse when he returns to his native Australia?
Krygios may be good for tennis in the box office sense; “colourful” characters like him always get more eyeballs on their matches. But good for the sport? Nope. I can’t help think of how players like Naomi Osaka and Emma Raducanu who, this time last year, placed their mental health as a higher priority than winning a match. At the time, professional provocateur/kettle-caller Piers Morgan wondered if mental health issues are “go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport”. “Athletes are now deemed more courageous, inspiring & heroic if they lose or quit than if they win or tough it out, which is ridiculous,” he posted on social media.
This week proves the vile double standards that women and men in sport face. Men can get away with all kinds of vile behaviour, and it’s described as good for the game. Women, meanwhile, never get away with being anything other than consummate role models.
Speaking of Love Island, former winner Amber Gill has noted that she ‘couldn’t be with a man again’. “Switching teams was the best decision I made in my life,” she tweeted this week. I’m sure there are many people who might argue that sexual preferences are not necessarily a decision, and certainly not one you’d make simply because you’ve become disillusioned with guys. Later, Gill said she didn’t want fans to put her in a box: “‘All this speculation makes it harder for people to want to say how they really feel and talk about their sexuality. I’ll say what I want to say when I‘m ready,” she has said. Truly, you can’t say much fairer than that.