This was the worst series of Love Island ever

Love Island has become a micro-influencer-to-social-media-sensation conveyor belt – without any of the emotional pay-off that made it watchable before. 

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Last Friday, Love Island 2019 contestants Amy Hart and Joanna Chimonides gave a joint interview to celebrity gossip site Closer – a recorded Q&A that aimed to give viewers insider info on what actually happens inside the Majorcan villa. In it, Amy and Joanna are asked whether new Islanders are allowed to tell the existing ones what the public thinks of them. “No,” Joanna replies. “If you go in and tell one of the Islanders exactly what’s been going on or what’s been said about them, they’re going to then alter their behaviour to then meet the – meet the…”. She starts to trail off.

“To meet the needs of the customer,” Amy helpfully interjects. “Yeah, yeah!” Joanna laughs in agreement.

This year’s Love Island has been like no other. While we’ve had plenty of seasons featuring on-camera sex, wholesome romance, and painful boredom, we’ve never witnessed the shocks this year delivered. We saw the tears of heartbroken women, we saw one contestant leave to save their mental health, and we saw one man’s actions turn his name into a trending Twitter topic. This year’s Love Island was the most dramatic we’ve ever watched. And it was also the worst season that has ever aired.

When Love Island in its current form was conceived, it was as filler for ITV2. The series was made to plug the six-week summer gap when more popular shows were off-air, and most thought it would last a season or two, max. But in 2017, the show exploded in popularity, and solidified its status as a juggernaut of British television. And as the years went on, Love Island became an increasingly commercial output – one that became synonymous with influencers and tacky sponsorship.

Of course, Love Island has long been a commercial enterprise. In those dizzying first seasons, no amount of fast fashion brands and sponsored ads could put us off even the most boring episodes. Even if we had to watch constant Superdrug promotions, grit our teeth through shoe-horned messages about the Islanders’ Samsung phones, or see the same £8 Missguided dress sold to us over and over again, we would still turn up to stan our favourite Islanders, eagerly awaiting the next chapter of someone’s love story. From 2015 to 2018, viewers saw Islanders instantly become big-name Instagrammers on exiting the villa, and were relatively comfortable with the idea that many Islanders were competing with that express goal in mind. Love Island marketing was merely a background buzz to the exciting, authentic stories aired every night.

But this year, something shifted. I was overwhelmed by even more product placement in the villa, with the boys wearing “Rewired” hats that stuck out like a carefully placed Coke can in a noughties rom-com, and tins of VO5 hair products littered around the villa. The villa increasingly seemed like a constant catwalk of disposable neon outfits and belted swimming costumes, readily available to shop via the show’s “exclusive fashion partner” I Saw It First. This year’s Islanders were more TV-ready than ever before, with viewers speculating that they were all scouted by producers bar Amy (who applied back in October). And many people have commented on the “invisible hand” of the producers this year, feeling that, more than ever, the twists and narratives were fake. Of course, in many ways, the show’s inauthenticity is the very thing that led to more drama this year – with fewer people emotionally involved, it’s easier to orchestrate sudden betrayals and changes of heart. But it ultimately makes for insincere relationships, and hollow viewing.

This season’s combination of genuinely dramatic moments and dead-eyed marketing ploys made for a bizarre experience. It’s hard to describe the sensation of watching Michael shout at Amber after unceremoniously dumping her one moment, and seeing Molly-Mae snap one of her #S10HotShots in her gifted one-piece the next, or watching Amy gushing over Curtis one moment before being startled by an incredibly loud villa-themed UberEats advert. There were moments of genuine emotion this season (Amber’s heartbreak, Amy’s departure, Anna screaming at Jordan), but these moments were fleeting at best. The result is a show that leaves you numb from the whiplash.

Just look at tonight’s finalists. Only one of the final four couples, Tommy and Molly-Mae, have been together for more than a couple weeks. Two out of four have been together for just two weeks. This comes as a stark change from all other previous Love Island finals, where most of the final four had been together for the majority of the series.

Even in the early weeks of series five, the changes were noticeable. While in past Love Island series, couples that were solidly together by the third week stayed together for the rest of the show, this year we saw Curtis end things with Amy, Michael betray Amber, and Jordan crack on with a new girl two days after asking Anna to be his girlfriend. The romantic ground the 2019 Islanders walked on and the foundation of the entire series – was shakier than we’ve ever seen.

Looking over the course of not just this season, but the last several years of Love Island, you can see the drop-off in lasting romance. Two of the couples from 2016 are now married (one couple has even had a child). Many other couples from that season stayed together for years, forming serious, long-term relationships. Two couples from 2017 are also still together (one couple are now married and have a kid on the way). But last year, not a single couple lasted beyond six months after leaving the villa. Now, with so few serious couples even leaving the villa together, it feels unlikely any of the 2019 partnerships will exist in a matter of months.

It is worth saying that friendship was stronger this year than in villas past: the only balm in an otherwise thrashing, exhausting plotline. But inevitably, we’ll see those friendships commercialised too, like with 2017’s Chris and Kem and 2018’s Josh and Wes. Before the end of the year, the Islanders will be flogging Primark t-shirts emblazoned with “Girl’s Girl” and “Got Your Back”.

The cosmetic touch-ups made to the 2018 series became the fully-contoured, cakey foundation of 2019’s villa. And with two seasons coming in 2020, and many of the Islanders already toppling the Instagram follower-counts of winners past, Love Island has become a micro-influencer-to-social-media-sensation conveyor belt – without any of the emotional pay-off that made it watchable before.

Tonight, Caroline Flack will announce our 2019 Love Island winners. And, unlike any final ever before, it’s hard to say who that will be. But it doesn’t really matter. Love Island has become nothing more than a commercial output – and its viewers are now the customers, ready to be bought.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.