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Love Island Week 1: racism, bevs, and murdering Scotland’s street cred

It’s been a long week. 

So, here we are again. Another year has passed, and our divided nation has once again united.

Together we have reignited long-forgotten Whatsapp groups; together we have sat through an incredibly dull initial hour and half; together we have persevered in the knowledge it will (probably) get better; and together we have complained about Caroline Flack. Love Island’s back, baby.

And for season five – never let it be said that the New Statesman is late to the party – we’re going to be covering the show in a weekly round-up each Monday.

So let’s dive straight in. It’s now been a week since we endured the worst part of Love Island: the initial coupling ceremony, which produced five couples, only two of which were extremely reluctant. Since then we’ve watched as three new men and one new woman have sauntered on to our screens and into the villa, producing two recouplings and one dumping – seeya Doctor Alex 2.0, Callum. 

Here are our big themes from the week.

Love Island’s race problem

The initial coupling ceremony was, as ever, less than enjoyable. Not only was it incredibly long and boring, but it was also uncomfortable to watch.

The show’s format sees all the women stand in a line, bikini clad, while one at a time the guys walk in, all also wearing swim wear. The girls must then step forward if they are interested in “coupling up” with a boy. The boy may then choose who he would like to partner with. It is in one way reminiscent of the popular kids picking teams in PE: somebody will be picked last, and it’s painful for everybody but the most sadistic of teachers.

This feeling was heightened in this year’s ceremony, which saw Sherif and Michael, the POC boys, left side-lined after their partners stepped forward to be coupled up with other white boys; while Yewande, the only black woman in the villa, was chosen last.

As writer Bolu Babalola posted on Twitter: seeing a dark-skinned black girl on a show is cool but seeing her not picked is not, so where do we go from here”. This is not to mention that, in the week since, viewers have been left questioning where Yewande has gone, as she’s received significantly less airtime than other contestants. Love Island has a race problem, and it needs addressing.

Capitalism Island

With the most popular previous contestants having left the villa in cars headed straight for Missguided photoshoots, it’s no secret that appearing on Love Island has become a quick and easy career boost – provided your career is either “Instagram Influencer” or “club-night appearer”.

This makes sense: with a regular audience of almost 4 million, the island is a good place to cultivate your brand. So often, for example, did Marcel Somerville last year brag “I used to be in Blazin Squad” that Primark eventually just stuck it on a t-shirt. That wasn’t his intention: Marcel was merely clinging on to the thinning threads of fame. 

This year, however, has seen the rise of the opportunist: Lucie Donlan. The contestant boarded a flight to Mallorca with her sights on one prize only: not love, but having “Bev” emblazoned on the side of every surfboard in Cornwall.

Bev is a “word” that, by her own admission, Lucie has made up. Before the show even started she said in an interview with the Mirror that, “Maybe there will surf boards adorned with these words. That would be cool.”

The problem for Lucie – aside from that literally everybody hates the term – is that she doesn’t seem to have decided what bev means. Sometimes, it refers to a hot boy – a bev, if you will. Sometimes, it’s what you call your boyfriend, regardless of his aesthetics. Sometimes, it’s used to mean sexy – one might wear some “bevvy pyjamas”. Sometimes, it’s “bevnish”, a term for which I can’t even be bothered to remember the meaning.

RIP Scottish humour

 Sarah Manavis

In a summer of Lewis Capaldi fever, Andy Murray’s return to tennis, and an actually good women’s World Cup team, you have to hand it to Anton for single-handedly destroying the entirety of Scotland’s national reputation. An unrelenting chirpse, Anton has been rejected by 80 per cent of the women in the villa, managing to alienate every woman from his reliable “You look so hot” opening line.

I had high hopes for Anton from the offset. His chaotic evil persona had him proudly announcing in his video bio that he’d cheated on all of his girlfriends, a move translated by my friend as, “Cast me, I’m the villain”. However from the second Anton actually stepped in the villa, things changed. His half-hearted, “You never thought you’d hear a Scottish accent coming out of this!” first line had that “first-to-be-dumped” energy. Of course, he was mercifully spared that fate despite most brutal owning from Anna in the recoupling – Anton believing he was the “hot body” and “connection” Anna was speaking of, only for it to be Sherif, the guy she was, uh, actually coupled up with.

And all this is not to mention the picture of him in black face that surfaced just 24 hours from the season’s start – if you haven’t quite worked out what Anton is like yet. He is every man you’ve met on a night out who wears a tight, buttoned, short-sleeve collared shirt who spends the whole night appearing out of nowhere and quoting the Inbetweeners movie in the smoking area. Whenever Anton leaves, and it will be soon, his impact on the villa will be little. But the damage to the people of Scotland? Well, that has already been done.  

 What a (fat) shame!

Before this season started, rumours were rife that 2019 was to be the first year that Love Island included plus-size contestants.

This rumour, it turned out, referred to the inclusion of Anna Vikali, a 28-year-old pharmacist. Anna, while perhaps slightly curvier than the other exclusively very thin women, is by no means “plus size”.

This decision not to include contestants that are representative of real people was defended in the days before the show started by producer Richard Cowles: “We try and be as representative and diverse as possible but first and foremost it’s an entertainment show.

“It’s about people wanting to watch and them reacting and falling in love with another. Yes, we want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another.”

If Cowles, a man who has somehow managed to navigate the world of television without ever encountering a PR, wants any tips on future press statements, I am available to stop him making terrible fat-shaming comments.

In the meantime, please, won’t somebody introduce the casting directors to some real people?

A mixed teabag

It is sad to see another year of Love Island contests who are mostly white, mostly thin, mostly impeccably groomed twenty-somethings. It feels as though the producers have largely ignored all criticism over a lack of diversity in previous series. 

In fact, seemingly the only debate that the producers tuned into last year was that surrounding the contestants’ intelligence. Certain journalists, commentators and presenters were keen to express their deep upset at the fact that more people had applied to be on the reality TV show – an opportunity to spend a few months sunbathing in Spain, for free – than had applied to go Oxbridge , two institutions that, as pointed out by my colleague Anoosh, have super-restrictive admissions criteria.

Shocking it was not, and yet perhaps it struck a nerve with casting directors. Because this year we’ve watched as Yewande, a scientist, and Michael, a biomedical science graduate, discussed their theses over a breakfast date.

But this is not to say the villa has been filled with an ensemble of future Einsteins and Marie Curies, because in the same episode, we witnessed Tommy, a 20-year-old man who is presumably rarely apart from his mother, ask Sherif how to make a cup of peppermint tea.

“Mate are you being serious? You just put the tea bag in?”, said Sherif, speaking for the nation. 

Indra is the New Statesman’s digital sub-editor.