Reality dating show twists can sometimes make for the best seasons. Tweaking the format can not only bring an exciting, new change of pace but even bring in more viewers. Two Bachelorettes, a sexually fluid Are You the One? season and RuPaul’s All Stars All Winners are just a few notable successful campaigns–some of which made for the series’ best seasons yet.
Love Island UK, a show that has heavily involved voting from the public as part of the viewing experience, decided to up the ante for its fans at home this year… but the results of the experiment may have just blown up in their faces.
This season, the show asked its viewers to vote on which contestants should be a couple before the first episode premiered, and gave the audience profiles of the contestants on the Love Island UK app. When the first episode premiered, however, it became known that the UK audience apparently voted for the two Black male contestants to date the two Black female contestants. The remaining three white women were then paired with the remaining three white men voted to be their “best match” by the Love Island app votes.
The original format saw contestants choose whom they wanted to be coupled up with based on their first impression, and they even had the option to choose another guy if the next contestant was a better fit than the person they just choose.
“It feels racist that the public paired the black women and men together,” an anonymous viewer told The Mirror UK after contestants Ikenna and Indiyah were paired together following Dami and Amber. “I don’t know what ITV was thinking, nothing about this ‘twist’ was mildly interesting. Original way was better and more dramatic.”
Later in the premiere episode, two of the white male contestants also rank their “top three” women out of the five available, leaving out the remaining two black contestants–Indiyah and Amber.
“All three white women being touted as desirable,” one viewer tweeted, according to The Mirror UK. “What about Indiyah and Amber? They are stunning.”
To make matters even worse, the first four eliminated contestants were all Black, and that did not sit right with many viewers. The first four women dumped from the villa in 2021 were also all women of color.
The UK reality show has reportedly received over 781 complaints from viewers since the season began, citing concerns over racism, mental health, bullying, the contestant’s well-being, and even the inclusion of a 19-year-old female contestant (which is a whole other mess).
“We would take any suggestion that any editorial decisions are made based on race very seriously indeed and would refute this in the strongest possible terms,” the series network stated in response.
Season 7 contestants Faye Winter and Teddy Soares deleted their social media accounts last year after they were targeted by racist viewers, and the show has come under fire after four former contestants and former host Caroline Flack committed suicide within the past five years.
The dating series, which broadcasts six nights a week in the UK, received a record-setting 25,000 complaints last season about how the show plans to address bullying and mental health issues, suggesting that producers should step in more during intense arguments or break-ups to ease the emotional toll of the show.
According to iNews UK, the show has introduced a new aftercare policy for contestants’ mental health leaving the show, and “Participants have also been given sensitivity training about language used to speak about ethnicity and race this year.”
“Every year, from Samira Mighty to Yewande Biala to Kaz Kamwi, we watch black women in particular struggle to navigate a villa where the men’s ‘type on paper’ is usually very much like paper itself: thin and white,” wrote The Guardian critic Yomi Adegoke. “Many chastise the show for what they see as a casting issue, which is in part true, but it’s also entirely symptomatic of dating in a world where white beauty standards are the default.”
“It’s the job of the producers to safeguard the cast from as much hate as they can,” Adegoke continued, “but we can’t expect [Love Island] to take [certain issues] away altogether. Reality shows are based on reality, after all.”
At the same time, the network could certainly take greater care during the pre-production phase. After viewing the voting results, eliminations, and men’s “top three” rankings, it’s only natural to ask how this was ever allowed to air.
Love Island needs to be aware of how they portray and support Black contestants going forward, activist Shereen Daniels of the African Diaspora Economic Inclusion Foundation (ADEIF) told Four Nine.
“If there are only one or two Black girls, the odds are going to be stacked against them if there are, say, eight white women — and the consequences of this is devastating,” she said. Love Island needs to “think about what responsible broadcasting looks like.”