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The nation’s romance with Love Island has lost its spark. Five years ago, the dating show was a reality TV phenomenon, alluring and addictive enough to make us curtail our social lives in order to make it home in time for the synthy opening music. But after season upon season of identikit casting, concerns over the impact on contestants’ mental health and a few lacklustre winter spin-offs, ratings have gone into freefall. In 2023, just 1.3 million tuned in for the summer launch episode, 1 million fewer than the previous year. Can anything rekindle this ailing relationship?
ITV execs must be hoping that a new All Stars format shake-up will be enough to do just that. Instead of gathering a new cohort of genetically blessed singles and flying them out to a villa in South Africa, the show’s producers have this time dug out their old contact books. They’ve recruited former islanders who have “been there, done that, got the personalised water bottle”, as narrator Iain Stirling puts it in his opening voiceover, but are still up for a second shot at finding love in a highly artificial televised scenario.
On paper, to borrow one of the many, many catchphrases that Love Island has spawned, it’s a clever move to tempt lapsed fans back by capitalising on nostalgia. Thanks to some strange psychological quirk, it’s still easier to remember contestants from the best part of a decade ago (it’s been nine years since 33-year-old Hannah Elizabeth and 29-year-old Luis Morrison appeared on the first season) than it is to commit new characters to memory.
Each boomerang islander’s introductory video sparks recollections of hours spent watching inane chats around the firepit. Here’s Anton Danyluk from season five, who experienced love at first sight when he saw Craig David DJing at the annual Ministry of Sound-sponsored pool party! Here’s Georgia “I’m loyal, babe” Steel, screaming when she sees that her catchphrase is now written in neon lights in the All Stars villa (basically the Love Island equivalent of having your face carved into Mount Rushmore). Here’s, checks notes, Mitch Taylor, who was on the show last summer (surely you should have to stick out more than six months on the club PA circuit before qualifying as an All Star?).
Somehow, everyone’s teeth are even shinier and tans more burnished than they were the first time around. Are they in it for love? Or are they in it for the appearance fee and a nice spike in Instagram followers? Everyone protests that they are older and wiser than their first Love Island stint (this is the first time in years that we’ve had a couple of islanders in their thirties, and there are a handful of parents here too). And some contestants have experienced genuinely seismic changes. Demi Jones has survived thyroid cancer, while Georgia Harrison has successfully campaigned to change the law around image-based sexual abuse, making it easier to prosecute perpetrators. These are the sort of life events that will inevitably colour how you approach relationships, and it’ll be interesting to see how those dynamics play out further down the line.
The first few episodes of each Love Island series are, let’s face it, a bit of a slog, as the villa’s new inhabitants trade banalities in the name of getting to know each other. All Stars’ biggest advantage is that much of the groundwork has already been covered off-screen: even if the cast aren’t all best friends, they’ve probably all stood in front of the same step-and-repeat board at a fast fashion launch at one point. Everyone’s vaguely aware of each other’s romantic backstory – some of them even share it, like Liberty Poole and Jake Cornish, who broke up a few days before the season seven finale back in 2021 and haven’t spoken since. When he walks into the villa, you can see the colour briefly drain from her face. It’s pretty safe to say we’re unlikely to see her trying to give things another go (and these days, her ideal type is “Harry Styles as an electrician”, which sounds like a niche type of One Direction fanfiction).
Their fellow season seven star Toby Aromolaran also has some opaque history with Georgia Steel (“Do you still feel how you felt in Fiji?” she asks; presumably what happens in Fiji will not stay in Fiji). Unluckily for them, the viewing public has been placed in charge of pairing up the All Star couples – and Love Island fans clearly have a twisted sense of humour. Both sets of exes are put back together by the public vote. “Is there any room for a rekindle?” host Maya Jama asks Poole and Cornish – and the former’s expression says it all.
There’s a final act twist, and it’s a good one. Barely a minute after the new couples have been finalised, Jama welcomes ex-islander Callum Jones to the poolside. Then she calls in his former girlfriend Molly Smith. It’s everyone’s living nightmare, and has the potential for great, awkward TV. Clearly, the producers aren’t messing around this time (perhaps realising that they’re going up against The Traitors has made them raise their game). Can theatrics like this keep our attention on All Stars for longer than the first week or so? I’m not entirely convinced, but at least some of the old fireworks are back.