In last week’s premiere episode of Love Island, the contestants are introduced to us in pre-recorded interviews where they discuss past bad relationships, ideal partners, and their hopes for finding true love. These interviews are interspersed with footage of each one, inexplicably, attempting to look sexy while laying in a ball pit that also happens to include rubber ducks. There is no discernible reason why the ball pit is necessary nor is there a way to look sultry while flailing around in one. It’s totally ridiculous, and it’s perfect.
Love Island, a compulsively watchable reality dating series, originated in the U.K. and, thanks to Hulu, has found a legion of dedicated American fans. It was only a matter of time before the series crossed the pond: last Tuesday, CBS premiered the U.S. adaptation, set to air four (!) nights a week. (CBS’ other summer reality staple, Big Brother, airs only three.) It isn’t what you call “good” television but it’s far more purely enjoyable than much scripted fare, especially because it’s self-aware enough to never aim much higher than “attractive people hooking up, arguing, and working out.” It doesn’t want to be The Bachelor, and it knows there’s more fun (and drama) to be had when all the contestants want to fuck each other, rather than competing for one person. Based on the first week, CBS’ Love Island doesn’t live up to the charm and smarm of its U.K. counterpart (especially missing are the accents, the jargon, and the gleefully groan-worthy narration from Iain Stirling) but it’s still hard to look away.
The actual conceit of the show is this: a group of “sexy singles” temporarily live in a beautiful villa and pair off into couples while attempting to find true love and/or a cash reward by the end. Frequently, new “islanders” are brought in, couples break up, new ones form, people are voted out. Every once in a while, there is a “recoupling” ceremony to shake things up. (These ceremonies, by the way, are just about the only time everyone isn’t wearing a swimsuit.) In between, they participate in “challenges” that are mostly excuses for the producers to get everyone in even less clothing than usual and to blatantly introduce drama by revealing secrets or encouraging spontaneous makeout sessions. “Truth Or Dare” is a popular game, and the producers are also fond of introducing lie detector exams. It’s all decidedly unsubtle—and slightly sociopathic—but it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t. Even this simplistic description is too complex for Love Island: the highlight is watching them all interact with each other via painfully awkward flirting, immediate possessiveness and jealousy, and fumbling sex while sharing a room with about eight other people. It can be gleefully cruel but it’s so much fun to watch because you don’t have to think about anything except for the stupidity of the contestants.