Our hearts ache for the post-show reality of the Love Islanders


What was it about Love Island that got you? Because, odds on, there was something. If not the girls, marinated in coconut oil, unfolded on sun loungers, then maybe it was the boys, sculpted and brown like pollarded mulberry trees. Or maybe it was the fantasy of the thing, as if, having been invited to list your Desert Island Discs, for your luxury item you’d chosen simply: “The eight fittest people in Dudley, shaved!”

Maybe it was the romance. The oldest story, performed in swimwear, pleasingly drunken and fast, like love itself. Maybe it was the drama – the tears, the fury, the twists. Or the new language of attraction, cobbled together hastily from the internet. Was it the philosophical implications, or its irresistible political bonfires? The multiple occasions when intimate interactions between contestants exploded into mainstream commentary, in turn alerting Love Island’s young audience to truths about coercive control and the intersections of race and sexism? Or maybe it was the way on-show relationships became news, slithering into your daily scroll. Politicians tweeted about their favourite contestants, charities used them as case studies. Once home they were briskly wheeled out to talk about Brexit, and body image and the state of Britain. And then, what? Then, like a thousand before them, they were left alone to focus on their new careers, as “ex-reality stars”.

Like all jobs, this requires a routine, but theirs relies on performing new narratives from their lives between ITV2 offshoots, without the help of an editor or producer. Typically, a relationship must falter and break, a body must inflate and then narrow, and a photographer must catch them on their way to Tesco’s looking rough. There might be a birth, there might be a death.

Instant reality show fame is like a drug. A short-term high with a terrible comedown

I was unprepared for how unsettled I felt last week, reading that 2017’s Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis had killed himself. It came a year after the unexplained death of a contestant from 2016, Sophie Gradon, who’d discussed how the show had had an impact on her mental health. Following Thalassitis’s death, his reality show peers started talking about life when they got home. “Shows offer you ‘support’, but realistically it’s only while you are in their care,’ tweeted Jessica Shears. “Minute you get home & are no longer making them money it’s out of sight out of mind. There should be ongoing support and also financial advice. Life after these shows isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Dom Lever, who appeared alongside Thalassitis, said: “You get a psychological evaluation before and after you go on the show, but once you are done you don’t get any support unless you’re No 1.” The Only Way is Essex’s Maria Fowler tweeted: “I attempted suicide because of the newspapers and lack of support I got post Towie. Something has to change, this is wrong. They have a moral duty to support cast members.” Ben Fogle discussed the “lack of aftercare,” admitting he had a breakdown after appearing on the BBC1’s Castaway 2000. “Instant reality show fame is like a drug,” he said. “A short-term high with a terrible comedown.”

Thalassitis’s death has enabled his peers to come out about the reality of life post-reality TV and, as the guileless consumers of their love affairs and screaming rows, we really should listen. Love Island’s spokespeople assure us that they provide psychological support before, during and after the show. But while Towies and Chelseas have shown elements of the stumbling sponsored afterlives on MailOnline, until recently, even the producers responsible for these contestants’ fame had no idea about the derailed rollercoaster they’d board over a single evening on social media.

These are people who have been cast as angels or villains straight out of school, encouraged to have sex with strangers beneath night-vision cameras, then evicted from house or island to live forever shadowed by a month that was broadcast to all potential employees, all potential partners, with clips likely to surface long after the club gigs have finished. On Instagram they’ll continue the well-lit story of the show that made them famous-ish and on Twitter they’ll toggle between fans that adore them and enemies that want to rip their hair out or laugh at their failures. For our entertainment.

Undoubtedly, the producers of these shows that carpet our culture, quietly shaping our expectations of beauty and success, need to radically improve their after-care provision. But we, the audiences, the people engaged by the drama or politics or brand of moisturiser they wear to bed, have responsibility, too. To make sure we don’t dehumanise them with the characters they play. To come to terms with the knowledge that reality shows are a construct. To remember some responsibilty that Saturday night’s heroes and last summer’s losers are also young people, flung into friendly fire.

If you have been affected by any of these issues, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123

One more thing…

It’s happened again, the curse of the playground hoax, and this time I was cc-ed. A photo in my daughter’s class WhatsApp group, of a letter apparently sent home from another school, saying the police are warning of a cereal bar called Astrosnacks being sold to kids that makes them hallucinate. They’re not; it isn’t; onwards.

Deliveroo has just launched a ‘futuristic fully automated ordering experience’ in Singapore, where customers don’t have to bother themselves with small talk or humanity by interacting with another person. They get a digital alert that their lunch is ready, then collect it from a locker. Brrrr.

Emily Maitlis has revealed what she was writing when she dropped that iconic eyeroll, interviewing politicians about their Brexit position on Newsnight. She was (she told BuzzFeed News) ‘crossing out all future dates and holiday plans’.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter@EvaWiseman





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