Love Island: We devour it. We despise it. That’s the point

I now have a favourite couple: biomedical scientists Yewande, from Dublin, and Mike

Appearances can be deceptive on Love Island (Virgin Media Two, Monday, 9pm), now in its fifth unstoppable series, in which a mass of hair, hormones and hardbodies are sent away together on a sun holiday. Take the opening credits, which introduce you to this summer's contestants while pleading with you not to judge a book by its cover (and preferably not to engage with books at all).

Why, there’s more to shirtless, shredded aircraft engineer Callum, who unhappily extracts a wrench from an engine turbine and struts off towards his destiny. And don’t restrict Dublin scientist Yewande to her lab coat, or pharmacist Anna to her pharmacist coat, or self-described “international air stewardess” Amy (as opposed to the strictly domestic kind) to her stewardess coat, all of whom cast them off to reveal uniform skimpy bikinis, before strutting off confidently towards their destiny.

This destiny, as you well know, is to join an assortment of the impossibly ripped and improbably stacked in a luxury summer camp with booze and beds. There, contestants with the emotional maturity of prepubescents and the psychological complexity of toothbrushes are required to couple up and fall in love in order to win the public vote and a bunch of money.

It’s Big Brother minus all the taxing social realism.


Now, if this opinion sounds snarky, that’s the point. Love Island is one of those shows in the late stage of reality television that encourages its viewer to both actively devour and despise it.

We are guided along in this effort by a self-owning voice-over from Iain Stirling. His main joke, in the first episode, is to manically suggest that everything we see is available for sale in the Love Island store.

That would be more arch if the show was not indistinguishable from its ad breaks, sheeny with slo mo and slick with lip-parted, manufactured desire.

One common complaint among the love-hungry contestants, afflicted with the looks of catalogue models, is how hard it is to find the right partner and how little looks really matter if there isn’t a personality beneath it.

Strange, then, that the show fetishises their own looks, with a heavy focus on abs and asses, in a blitzkrieg of soft-core suggestiveness. What personality lies beneath is only dimly apparent because sexual attraction here is less instantaneous than something to be given a very hard sell.

Ad-hoc couples try to persuade each other of it, already conscious that they must soon persuade you, the voting public.

I don’t know who was more poignantly honest at first blush: Amber, a Geordie beautician, who decides to pursue looks over personality for a change; or the super-buff, mega-exfoliated gym owner Anton, who cheerfully admits, “My mum usually shaves my bum for me”; or Sherif, a rugby player soon to be bruised by rejection, who quibbles with the assignation “player”: “not because I two-time, but because I dare to do what others wouldn’t,” he explains. Such as two-time.

Sherif, rather touchingly, eventually winds up with the implacable Anna, our pneumatic pharmacist, of whom he makes the awed admission that he follows her on Instagram. Watching them later that evening, in an apparent emulation of a wild beach party that consisted mostly of posing for selfies, it doesn't seem as much a touching display of their superficiality as our own. Who's following who?

As with UnREAL, the scripted show set behind the scenes of a similarly panting reality show, the drama here is all behind the curtain. That the fascinatingly ambiguous Anton – brimming with compliments for his male counterparts, exalting the importance of personality while concentrating solely on looks – seems more interested in a aggressive chase is likely pre-ordained. That two further contestants, introduced late, include a dance instructor and a boxer, Tommy Fury (Tyson's brother) seems designed to cause pandemonium.

And then there’s this surfer, called Lucie, who is widely considered very desirable (three boys make a play for her) and is just plainly annoying. Rejecting one contestant on the basis of his accent, she spends the episode wearingly attempting to introduce the word “bev” into the lexicon. Stop trying to make bev happen.

I hate to say it, but worn into submission over 95 numbing minutes I now have a favourite couple: the almost accidental pairing of Yewande and Mike. Where she is radiant with youth, heavy with concern and slow to make her feelings known (“He’s probably a heartbreaker”), he is a struggling “bad boy”, dripping with tattoos and insisting on gentility.

They bond, of course, over a shared love of biomedical science, which they both studied. The show may be a parody of desire in the age of Instagram, asking everyone involved to look deep behind the surface of these neurotically-maintained good looks to discover the genuine personality disorders beneath.

But at least these two biomedical scientists will always have real chemistry.