This recap covers the season two finale of Love Island U.S., episode 35.
Okay, not to get bleak right out of the gate, but ever since week one of Love Island U.S., I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how difficult it’s going to be for everyone on the show to transition back to normal life after living in the villa bubble. There’s so much talk on the show about making their relationships work “on the outside,” as though the world outside the bubble is some lovely field waiting to be frolicked in — and not the dark barrel of a very uncertain winter we’re all staring down. When the couples talk about things like how much they enjoy driving around together or how they plan to FaceTime, it feels raw and vulnerable in a way those same sentiments wouldn’t in any other year. As much as I want to snark on it, I can’t help but truly root for them. Anyway, enough of that; plenty of time to get sentimental later. For now, there are speeches to be written and suits from the clearance section of Men’s Warehouse to be donned!
We start off with the final four couples getting a special brunch. It’s exactly like the brunch they eat every other day except they’re at tiny tables and the only permissible conversation topic is “love journey.” The food doesn’t even look good. To our relief, this nightmare is short-lived, and the ladies leave the villa to go fawn over a rack of dresses as though they’re contestants on Supermarket Sweep in a pre-bankruptcy Barneys. It’s an award-worthy performance.
One of the more interesting things about the finale is just how stilted everyone becomes when given a bunch of guardrails and a tight run-of-show. We’ve seen how Cely and Justine are genuinely besties; just this week, they went on their final “friend date,” declaring their love for each other without irony (in fact, they’ve used the L-word since day one). But none of that is on display here. Hearing Moira say, “It’s not just Love Island, it’s friend island too,” simply isn’t the same as actually watching Jely goof around and provide concerned-yet-supportive advice. This entire episode is about telling rather than showing, and for anyone who hasn’t followed the past six weeks of nightly action, I can only assume it seems like an empty shell of buzzwords and ballgowns.
Back at the villa, Johnny gets a text that it’s time for the boys to write their declarations of love (#WordUp #LoveLanguage). Love language doesn’t make sense here, and, frankly, it’s not even a good pun. What if your love language isn’t “words of affirmation”? This is “acts-of-service” erasure. But according to Caleb, the final-declaration speech is different from — and more important than — the other recoupling speeches: “It’s the one that counts the most, because it’s the one she’ll probably remember the most.” While we remain unconvinced that these speeches serve any tangible purpose, I’m glad someone is at least acknowledging recency bias. Lest you thought the final-declaration speech would be a tool of the patriarchy, the girls are given the same assignment over at the Lisa Vanderpump for K-Mart suite. Each girl is handed a pastel journal, and they get down to business like they’re carving out alien-tattoo James’s entry in the Love Island Burn Book.
Suddenly, it’s nighttime. And that means the islanders have to do that thing where the guys stand by a big topiary while the girls come down a staircase one by one. Everyone must tell everyone else how good they look in order to continue to the speech portion of the evening. Cely and Johnny’s final declaration is up first. Cely talks about fairy-tale love stories, and Johnny struggles to nail down a consistent rhyme scheme while comparing their relationship to that of Bonnie and Clyde. Why he chooses a historically toxic and abusive relationship to idolize when there is a healthy, beautiful, and increasingly iconic one mere feet from him at all times is beyond us all.
Laurel starts off with the “As a little girl, I dreamed of the perfect love story …” thing, but it takes a hard turn when she explains that, as a woman, she has learned to find comfort in the imperfect. What a delight to see a woman serve up a backhanded compliment with no remorse. More of this energy, please. Just as our eyes were unrolling, Carrington and his thesaurus enter the chat. He celebrates Laurel’s sensational smile and incredible physique. He mentions that he can’t wait to wake up in Fiji, Thailand, or even Paris one day. While it’s an interesting choice to use a love speech to someone you’ve known for three weeks to manifest your future PTO, the real elephant in the room is not the question of whether Carrington and Laurel’s relationship could survive a transatlantic flight but whether transatlantic flights — as a concept — will survive the next few years.
It’s Justine and Caleb’s turn, and they predictably nail it. Both of their declarations are considerably better than every IRL wedding speech I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve witnessed a best man perform a surprisingly competent medley of Miley Cyrus covers — in a baritone voice. Justine reflects on how the experience has helped her redefine love, and how Caleb has challenged her, grounded her, loved her, and, in turn, reminded her how to love herself. Caleb is not only like, Damn, that was a really good speech, but also goes on say that everyone fortunate enough to spend a moment with Justine walks away a better person, and that the two of them have put in work on the foundation of their castle so it’s ready to weather any storm life throws their way. They will survive as long as they have each other.
Are they showing off at this point? Yes. Do we care? No. I wholeheartedly hope this season has been a lesson to the reality-TV industrial complex that they’ve been underestimating us. Not only do we, as fans, want more diverse casting, but we also want to see that cast as a portrait of nuance. Sure, a bit of comedic villainy is fun — but so is dynamism. Not every moment needs to be injected with producer-meddled drama. We’ll happily watch people build earnest relationship — romantic or otherwise — with all of their most mundane and goofy parts.
Speaking of which … back on speech island, it is Calvin’s turn. He talks about Miss Moira as if she’s a young Victorian governess who, in the fullness of time, rooted out the hopeless romantic buried deep within him. Then he quickly flips the tape and goes full Dr. Seuss, rhyming “ease” with “knees” and “prior” with “sapphire.” To the fortune of our gag reflexes, Calvin (read: whoever edited the footage) keeps it short. Two stanzas max. Can you even imagine what this episode would look like live?
Arielle shows up. Sidenote: What is Arielle’s job here? It’s starting to feel like she’s a bit unessential. The islanders managed to handle the entry procession and the reading of the vows without her. At least half of the recoupling ceremonies were hosted by whoever’s in charge of the closed-circuit texting system. Nonetheless, she gets to put on a sassy little dress and tell everyone that we’re finally gonna find out who America voted for as their favorite couple. That couple has a chance to win $100,000. Hold up. A chance?! You mean to tell us the money isn’t a sure thing? No further explanation is given at this time.
Before she announces the winners, Arielle wants to hear about each couple’s experience of the road to love. I’m sorry, but NO. We have been seeing these roads six nights a week for a hot minute now. There is not a single bump, bend, or Bennett we do not know intimately. The entire exercise feels just shy of patronizing. We don’t need another deep dive into Lauren’s British vocal fry or Aaron’s headbands or the lost Casa Amor bed-cam footage. The votes have already been cast. Tally that shit, and let’s get on with it.
Since the final week of this brouhaha has already been enough of a dramatic pause, let me just tell you: Laurel and Carrington come in fourth, Moira and Calvin come in third, and the winners of Love Island 2020 are … JUSTINE AND CALEB. Justine says, “It literally feels like a dream. I can’t cope!!!” Neither can Johnny, who’s crunching Cely’s fingers with his furiously shaking fists as he grits his teeth until his bottom molars shoot directly into his prefrontal cortex.
That’s not all. Arielle is holding two bedazzled envelopes. One of them contains the $100,000 prize money and the other contains absolutely nothing. Whoever gets the money gets to decide whether to keep it or share it. Justine’s envelope has $0, which leaves Caleb with six figures. Johnny tells him to keep it. MY DUDE, HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING? Someone check in on the TikTok fiance.
Alas, it’s happily ever after. Justine and Caleb are the first Black couple to win Love Island, and they win by a landslide. Caleb is splitting the money with his girl, no questions asked. Catharsis has been obtained. They all jump in the pool and thus ends perhaps the final chapter of American democracy.
Signs of the End Times
• Very bold of Caesar’s Palace to assume that this Usher residency will be happening in 2021. I sincerely hope they know something we don’t.
• Carrington out of context:
I’m gonna kill this. Very good at writing.
Have to give you baby kisses.
• Running count of COVID references: 35. All things considered, this is surprisingly low — things really tapered off around week two. May our winter curves flatten at a similar rate.