I told myself I wouldn’t be drawn in by the hype of Love Island again. After an embarrassing four-week binge last summer, instigated by the Mike-Jess ‘did they, didn’t they’ saga, I said goodbye to July with a whole new vocabulary, new-found knowledge of the Blazin’ Squad and six pounds heavier as a result of the snacks consumed whilst binging the show. Yet, as the 2nd June 2018 rolled around, my housemates and I sat, buffet in tow, impatiently anticipating the return of the fourth series. Two weeks in, I’m rooting for Dani, astounded by Adam and secretly hoping Eyal will be whisked off by the producers and dropped in the sea. I know deep down, I’m absolutely screwed.
But, what is it, that makes reality TV so enticing? With Love Island recently picking up its first shock Bafta and Made in Chelsea fresh from wrapping up its fifteenth series, following the problematic love lives of London’s richest young socialites, why is reality TV such a phenomenon? Up to today, scholarly debate on the subject has been divided. Whilst some scholars claim reality TV acts as an extension of fictional drama, others believe reality TV viewers to be driven purely by a voyeuristic desire to intrude and witness individuals embarrass themselves.
The fact is, reality TV provides a more interactive viewing experience. Professor of communications at Penn State University, S. Shyam Sundar, describes reality TV as “much more seductive than other types of programming because it seems much more real, much less orchestrated”. We as viewers empathise with the contestants in a way we never normally would engage with other celebrities because these stars are incredibly normal people, living incredibly similar normal lives to ourselves. The sense of community the shows promote, forms part of their appeal. As Beverley Skeggs, a professor of sociology at Goldsmith’s, University of London, states “people connect to other people who have the same values, who behave in the same way. We do get swept up in it, wanting to get behind somebody, wanting them to do well.”
Heading back to Mallorca, I’m shamelessly rooting for Exeter grad Dr Alex. Having once graced the humble floors of TP, eaten Ram’s iconic curly fries and demolished many a Firehouse pizza in his five years here in Devon, he’s one of our own. After merciless Megan, I’m hopeful another doctor or NHS employee will stride through the villa doors and sweep Alex off his feet with talk of A&E waiting times and extreme hospital parking prices.
Of course, there are far less moral motivations for watching too. As Gladeana McMahon, a psychotherapist who co-wrote Ethical Guidelines for Reality Television, states, “a part of us just loves it when people are awful and embarrass themselves – but human nature is contradictory like that and reality television allows us to have it both ways”. In a time where both British and global politics is unrecognisably mindboggling, the threat of terror is at an all-time high and Drake currently sits at the top of the British Charts, reality TV offers a light relief.
It also gives us, as the viewer, power over the contestants, engaging with someone on the other side of the screen. Simply by dialling a phone number or voting on an app, we as the public are decisive in the contestant’s future, not just on the show but in the ability we have to shape their livelihoods on the show’s conclusion. As this year’s new series of Love Island commenced it was reported by multiple media outlets that last year’s winners Kem and Amber have since earned £1.2 million and £1 million respectively on top of their joint £50,000 winner’s prize last July. Earned through club appearances, photoshoots, presenting gigs, for Kem a stint on Dancing on Ice and for both, a variety of clothing contracts and sponsored social media posts, their new salaries are a far cry from their old lives as a hairdresser and dancer. Exposing the fact that Love Island is ultimately a game show, despite the dumping, dates and disagreements, a devious game is constantly being played. It is this, that makes the show so enticing. Resistance is futile