This week, reality dating show Love Island joined the list of the most invaluable British cultural exports to the U.S., right up there with Beatlemania and Harry Potter. The American version of the popular series from across the pond debuted on CBS on Tuesday, and a new episode has aired every night since. As the cheesy voiceover narrator warns at the beginning of the second episode, the show is packed with “love, lust, and swimsuits the size of a pirate’s eye patch.” Three episodes in, I can attest to the fact that there’s also a lot of poorly-applied bronzer and awkwardness.
Love Island premiered in Britain in 2015 and is currently in its fifth season. Every season is streaming on Hulu, meaning American audiences are already somewhat familiar with the hit series. CBS has decided to adhere to the tried-and-true format of the original. Airing every weeknight until August 7, the show will follow a group of contestants as they couple up and break up. The contestant left without a match at the end of each week is kicked out of the villa. The narrator provides sarcastic commentary, mimicking the affected intonations of the UK version’s Iain Stirling, though the effect is decidedly less charming without a Scottish accent. Along the way, new islanders arrive, fans vote on who to send on dates, cheeky games are played, and producers deliver twists via text message to shake things up.
And it’s all happening in real time—every episode is shot and aired within a 24-hour period. The result of this quick turnaround is a reality show that kind of, almost feels…dare I say, real? One of the most infuriating aspects of this model of television, however, is that every episode ends on a cliff-hanger, so you turn off your TV feeling stupid for wasting an hour of your time while knowing full well that you will tune in tomorrow to find out who Kyra chooses to couple up with.
The Love Island villa is located in Fiji (compared to Majorca in the original version), though you’d never be able to tell since the islanders never leave the house, which is decorated with all of the subtlety of a Lady Gaga music video. It’s a giant version of Barbie’s Malibu beach house, yet the contestants all sleep in the same bedroom. Couples must sleep in the same bed, despite the clear abundance of additional rooms in the mansion. During the day, islanders can lounge uncomfortably on a pile of patterned throw pillows plucked straight from Target or pose in front of garish fake flower arrangements.
The premiere kicks off with the host, comedian and Vine star Arielle Vandenberg, coaching the contestants through an uncomfortable mating ritual in which the five women stand in a line as their male counterparts arrive one by one. Each time a new guy arrives, the ladies have the option to signal that they are into him by stepping forward. The guy must then choose his mate. Once a woman has been spoken for, she can continue to step forward for other guys and potentially be stolen away. It is cruel and hilarious, and it makes the entire show worth watching.
Our first islander to greet the ladies is Cashel, a Matthew McConaughey-esque drummer from California who, without a trace of irony, explains that he has never used a dating app because he’s “trying to find someone the organic way.” No one steps forward to indicate interest in Cashel, and he ends up choosing a bubbly 21-year-old named Caro.
The roster of “sexy singles” also includes: Weston, a photographer from Dallas whose preferred beach attire is a cowboy hat and American flag pants, Alexandra, a publicist from Los Angeles, and Michael, a model who looks, as another contestant pointed out, like a doctor in a soap opera. Mallory, a 26-year-old analyst for Nike, declared in her first interview, “I don’t think I give off crazy vibes,” sounding exactly like the kind of person who would give off crazy vibes.
Episodes are an hour long each, but they feel much, much longer. About 80 percent of each episode is spent with the islanders sitting down in one of the many available seating areas, awkwardly talking about their feelings for people they met 36 hours before, and then moving to a different seating area and repeating the process. Sometimes, they hold drinks or one of them stands waist-deep in the swimming pool. Every once in a while, there is a game, orchestrated to give contestants the opportunity to dig up dirt on their partner or kiss other people. Such games are the glimmering bright spots of excitement.
As with any reality dating show with a cast made up of aspiring Instagram influencers and former college athletes (ahem, the entire Bachelor franchise), underlying sexism is inevitable. In the third episode, the two new guys in the villa talk about how lucky it is that they arrived first thing in the morning so they could see what all of the girls look like without makeup on. They joke about meeting a girl who is all “dolled up” only to then see her without makeup and not recognize her. One of them actually says, “it’s only going to get better now,” meaning now that they have seen the ladies at their most undateable and get to be pleasantly surprised by how gorgeous they look with false eyelashes and a layer of foundation.
There were plenty of more harmlessly funny moments throughout Love Island’s first three episodes. Watching Alexandra, with her L.A. vocal fry, and Dylan, with his lacrosse player good looks, hit it off was particularly entertaining. The narrator prefaces their conversation with a warning about their shared propensity for using the word “like.” Alexandra says Dylan looks like Liam Hemsworth, to which he replies, “I’ll take that as a compliment,” as if there is any other way to take being compared to a hunky Australian actor.
He then tries to impress her by humble-bragging about the marathon he ran last month and—I kid you not—she asks him, “Like, what was the distance?” The split-second that it takes Dylan to realize the stupidity of Alexandra’s question is so gleefully amusing, before he deadpans, “It’s 26.2 miles.” Later, they bask in how much they have in common, like the way they both say “dude” a lot. It’s truly a love story to rival Romeo and Juliet.
All of this is to say that I wholeheartedly loved it, because watching trashy reality television every night of the week is my exact idea of a good time.