reality tv

What to Know About Love Island Before Its U.S. Debut

Host Arielle Vandenberg will preside over CBS’s Love Island, which brings the U.K. reality TV sensation to the U.S., five (yes, five) nights a week . Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS

There aren’t that many things that unite a post-Brexit England these days, but one thing the Queen’s subjects can seemingly agree on is reality television obsession Love Island, currently airing its fifth season (or “series” as the Brits call them). In fact, it taught me everything I know about living in the country. This summer’s premiere was watched by 3.3 million people, which would be a good-size cable hit in the U.S., but in a country with only 66 million people, that’s a sizable chunk of the population.

Now, like the Spice Girls and Puritans, Love Island is coming to America to take over. It starts airing on July 9 on CBS. All five seasons of the U.K. version are currently on Hulu if you want to try for a last-minute binge in preparation — or you could just use our handy Q&A to get you up to speed. Here are all of your Love Island questions, answered.

What exactly is this show?

Love Island starts with ten sexy singles in impossibly small bathing suits living in a villa. For the American version they’re in the tropical paradise of Fiji — not that any of these kids are going to get to leave the house. The five men and five women are immediately paired up and share queen-size beds in one giant room.

Slowly but surely, new guys and girls are added to the mix to see if they can “turn the heads” of those in couples. There are regular “recouplings” and those who aren’t in a couple are kicked out of the villa. The most popular couple at the end, as voted on by the public, wins a (small) cash prize.

Isn’t this just Bachelor in Paradise, Paradise Hotel, or Temptation Island?

It is similar, but not the same. Structurally it’s the most similar to Paradise Hotel, which originally aired in 2003 and which Fox unsuccessfully tried to bring back both in 2008 and this year. What’s different about it is that everything moves much more quickly.

It’s also quite similar to Bachelor in Paradise except that it doesn’t have the hard-partying vibe or copious amounts of alcohol. Also, all of the “Islanders” are unknown, both to viewers and each other, so we can learn who we love and hate over the course of the series rather than when they first walk in.

Oh, and unlike all of these shows, it’s being filmed as it’s airing and it’s on five nights a week.

Every day? Say what?

Yes, the U.S. version will air every weekday. In the U.K. it’s on seven days a week. While that is a major time investment, it is also one of the best things about the show. It becomes just like a soap opera, with people falling in and out of love, cheating on each other, fighting and making up, and betraying each other in startling ways. Also, not so much happens that you can’t skip a day or two, but just enough happens that you want to tune in every day.

Why is it important that it’s being filmed as it’s airing?

That means viewers get to vote on all sorts of things. In the U.K. people often choose who goes home, which couples are the most popular, which men and women enter the villa, all sorts of things. Also, those entering the villa have been watching at home, so they know everything about the contestants, including what secrets they might be keeping from the other Islanders and how they’re being perceived on the outside.

How will the U.S. version be different from the U.K. version?

It’s hard to know because CBS is pretty mum on the specifics so far. Here in the States, Love Island will air for four weeks, but in the U.K. it’s on for two glorious months. (Yes, that’s more than 50 episodes.) Based on the trailer CBS released, it appears very close to the original. The design of the villa is nearly identical, and the logo and artwork are practically the same. Of course the cast is just as sexy and diverse as it normally is.

However, it is on CBS, the stuffy great aunt of network TV, and at 8 P.M. no less. That definitely means the curse words will be bleeped and some of the steamier content (and it gets graphic) is sure to be edited out. Also most likely gone will be some of the sexier challenges, which find Islanders mocking sex positions, doing stripteases, and transfering food from each other’s mouths. CBS, please cut the last one. It’s always disgusting.

It sounds really trashy!

That’s not a question, but yes, it is, and that’s part of the appeal. But Love Island really is an anthropology project that looks into the mating rituals of the modern heterosexual. It’s heavily produced and meant as entertainment, but it has sparked very serious debate about relationship abuse, racial discrimination, and body diversity, among countless other topics. If it takes a trashy TV show to get us to examine serious questions, then thank god for trash.

Strangely, though, there is also something wholesome about Love Island. All of the Islanders seem to genuinely be rooting for each other to find love. Intense friendships form between the men and the women, making it an interesting view into same-sex friendship dynamics as well as courtship rituals. I’m afraid that Americans, raised on the “I’m not here to make friends” reality doctrine, are going to end up being much more confrontational and competitive.

Should I watch this show?

If you’ve made it to this question and you’re still curious, absolutely. There is so much wrong going on in the world right now, can’t we all just use a little bit of love? Or if not that, at least some distractingly attractive people searching for it on television?

What to Know About Love Island Before Its U.S. Debut