‘Love Island’ and the Future of the Reality TV-to-Influencer Pipeline

@kazkamwi/Instagram Remix by Cole Mitchell

I recently finished the latest series of Love Island U.K.—which was a flop to say the least, but we’ll get back to that later.

A frequent criticism of “disingenuous” (as if the entire premise isn’t disingenuous) contestants is that they’re game players—only in it for the £50,000 prize. In reality, no one has ever taken the cash prize for themselves, but many of the show’s “islanders” have successfully turned their 15 minutes of fame into lucrative social media presences. 

Over the past few years, the “game player” critique has slowly morphed into “they’re only in it for the PrettyLittleThing deal” or something of the sort.

That is the true prize of Love Island and other popular reality shows that spotlight young, attractive people: a new career as an influencer. And the longer you can hold on—and avoid being dumped—the more followers you will likely gain.

It’s been said before, especially about Bachelor Nation, but these shows have increasingly become pipelines to Instagram fame. Of course, the Kardashians can be credited as the blueprints for this now-expected transition. But as social media influencing has grown in legitimacy and profitability, exposure via popular reality TV shows can help give folks the boost they need to take their influence to the next level.

Last week, Love Island series 5 runner-up Molly-Mae Hague was named the new creative director of Instagram-favorite fashion brand PrettyLittleThing. Hague was already an Instagram influencer when she entered the show, and she does not credit Love Island for her subsequent success, saying she would have gotten to where she is eventually. However, her follower count did blow up while she was on the show, entering with 150,000 and leaving with 2.5 million by the show’s end. Plus, her first PrettyLittleThing partnership, a £500,000 brand deal, came on the coattails of her success from the show. Looking at those numbers, it’s fair to say that her time on the show helped catapult her into bigger online stardom. 

Brands have capitalized on the potential selling power of other islanders too. Series 5 winner Amber Rose Gill landed a £1,000,000 MissPap deal. Fellow series castmate Maura Higgins bagged several six-figure deals with brands like Ann Summers and Boohoo in the months following the show. Series 3 winner Amber Davies scored a £500,000 deal with Motel Rocks. The list goes on and on forever

Love Island, in particular, feels like the perfect influencer testing ground, specifically because of their fast-fashion partnerships. First introduced in the 2018 series, Love Island’s fashion partners, first Missguided but more recently I Saw It First, have provided wardrobes to the contestants that viewers can buy themselves. This has proven to be very effective marketing for the brands, as their clothes are cross-promoted on the show and on the islanders’ own social media accounts. Even if it isn’t necessarily their end-goal, islanders are effectively utilized as influencers—ambassadors to sell clothes—while they are on the show. Whether they continue to do so afterward is up to them, but as illustrated above, it is often the natural path after they exit. 

In 2019, when Hague went on the show, the influencer industry was already oversaturated. I have no doubt that Hague would have grown on her own, but I think Love Island helped her, and her castmates, stand out. On a reality dating show like Love Island or The Bachelor, we see contestants in vulnerable, albeit edited, situations. Jolie Jankowitz, Head of Influencer Marketing at FabFitFun, told Refinery29 that this vulnerability and intimacy creates trust between the contestant and the audience, which makes them perfect brand partners.

With a show like Love Island, if you watch it religiously, you are watching these people six days a week. It is incredibly easy to form a parasocial relationship—a one-sided, emotional connection—with the contestants. When a series ends, we want more content to fill the hour-long gap in our hearts every night. Thus, we flock to the islanders’ social media pages to get an even more intimate peek into their lives outside of the show. 

But again, we only see what the producers allow us to see, and that can tip the scales toward certain contestants and not others. The villains, for instance, may be a harder sell for some companies since they are intended to be unlikeable to a degree. Additionally, Love Island and The Bachelor have historically had problems with diversity in the past, both in the actual casting and especially in their (lack of) care for Black contestants. This undoubtedly impacts who finds success and the biggest deals after the show. 

The high-stakes of these shows often takes a toll on the contestants’ mental health. Love Island series 6 contestant Leanne Amaning said in a Q&A on her YouTube channel earlier this year that she wants hopefuls to understand what they’re getting into when applying for the show.

Love Island is not the only way to do whatever it is you want to do,” she said in the video. “There are other ways to find love. There are other, less invasive ways, less stressful ways to find love. If you’re trying to get a bag, there are other ways to do that too.”

Love Island has been criticized in the past for a lack of support given to islanders after they leave the show. After the deaths of two former islanders by suicide, they’ve implemented more resources in their aftercare process, which now includes psychological support, social media training, and financial advice.

All of this being said, this year’s Love Island series was terrible. It received the most OfCom, the U.K.’s broadcast regulation authority, complaints in the show’s history. They bungled their promise of the “most diverse cast ever” so hard. The episodes typically ranged from boring to palpably painful. And as I’ve complained to my boyfriend many times throughout the summer, almost every islander was framed to be boring or unlikeable at some point. These are obviously production mistakes, but it reinforces the point made by Vice’s Emma Garland: the golden age of Love Island is over. Will that impact the success of its future contestants? 

Only time will tell. While the series was a flop, a couple of islanders have already signed to management companies, including fan-favorite Liberty Poole. Finalist and fan-favorite Kaz Kamwi is also expected to land big deals now that the series is over. That being said, none of this year’s islanders have announced definitive projects thus far (although the series just ended last Monday). We are likely to see another round of collaborations and six-figure contracts, but the peak of these could be past us. With the series in apparent cultural limbo, series 3 contestant Montana Brown put it best to Cosmopolitan U.K.:

“Future contestants need to know what they’re getting into, and also understand that fame and money don’t last forever.”

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