“Love Island” is a flaming heap of garbage. But it’s a flaming heap of garbage you can watch safely from the comfort of your couch, relishing the ensuing havoc at an amused distance. For five years now, the infamous British reality TV series has enthralled viewers with its unfiltered footage of heartbreak, meltdowns, and general mugging/pie-ing off. (For us Americans, getting mugged or pied off is colorful British slang for rejection — think getting a pie to the face). For the sixth season, which aired its premiere episode Jan. 12, the Islanders take on a three-story South African villa in the hopes of finding love — or at the very least, an Instagram modeling career selling rinky-dink phone games and pyramid scheme diet teas.
“Winter’s gonna be hotter than ever because it’s always summer in paradise,” Iain Stirling, the ever-sassy voice of the villa, gloats before the series’ breezy EDM theme song. The tongue-in-cheek commentary of the Scottish comedian and longtime “Love Island” narrator is the series’ redeeming quality. Ever the fourth-wall demolisher, Stirling grants the show necessary self-awareness, like when he comments on the £50,000 prize the winner could potentially take home: “That’s the kind of news guaranteed to make you stand up in a Jeep and say, ‘Whoo!’” A second later, the footage cuts to a shot of contestant Paige Turley cheering in a Jeep as it crawls up the villa driveway.
Loyal viewers know the premise of the show well. It is a champagne-fueled, neon-tinted mix of “The Bachelor” and “Big Brother,” with a generous helping of emotionally damaging coupling and re-coupling that will likely take several therapy sessions after the show for the contestants to untangle. The entire foundation of the series rests on this factor, that, once assigned to a couple, contestants’ heads will be turned by someone new and they will choose to “couple up” with that person during one of the frequent re-coupling ceremonies. This is a no man’s land for singles; if you are not in a couple, you are dumped from the Island, and only the most popular couple will win the £50,000. With no access to the outside world, the contestants have little else to do than to lounge around a pool all day, catching feelings for or starting beef with one another.
One by one, we’re introduced to the five female contestants through 30-second montages, and, as is to be expected, they’re “absolutely buzzing.” Although it’s the first time these contestants have graced the villa’s hallowed pool deck, they all seem vaguely familiar, spouting “Love Island” maxims like the hackneyed, “Personality is a big thing for me.” The most memorable contestant is Siânnise Fudge, a 25-year-old beauty consultant from Bristol who stresses that her “second name, ‘Fudge,’ does make me feel really unique.”
Per “Love Island” form, the male contestants make their grand entrance during the first coupling ceremony. The women are instructed to volunteer to couple up with the guy that catches her eye based solely on first impressions, before he then chooses which of the female contestants he’d like to couple up with. This amounts to Tinder swiping in real-time, but browsing for potential mates on “Love Island” means that you readily experience what happens when you swipe left. Nas Majeed, who’s guilty of the genetic blunder of being under 6 feet, is visibly crushed when no girl steps up for him. When host Laura Whitmore — whose purpose is little else than to provoke the contestants — asks Majeed how it feels to be pied off, it’s almost enough to make you squirm with discomfort, except for the fact that this is innocuous television entertainment and you’re miles away, kicking back on your couch, eating chips — at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Tune in on Hulu for daily episodes as the Season 6 Islanders don their grafting boots and crack on. The series is rated TV-MA.