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So, okay, yeah. Love Island. I wish there was something I could say, some argument I could make, to defend my seeming addiction to this UK reality show — streamable through Hulu here in the US — but, truth be told, there really isn’t. It’s almost joyfully irredeemable trash, and I have been wholeheartedly sucked in.

The premise is very simple: across a shockingly high number of episodes per season — around 50! — a group of quasi-attractive men and women are brought into a villa to try to find romance with each other. There are periodic “couplings,” ceremonies where one gender selects a partner, and for those left uncoupled, they’ll either be sent home or have the chance to find love with new people introduced into the villa. On the face of it, it’s nothing special.

In practice, it’s utterly compelling.

The high number of episodes comes from the fact that it’s essentially aired as-it-happens, with each episode edited together from footage shot within a 24 hour period, giving it a weird reportage effect — very little happens, so the minutiae becomes the focus, which makes sense given how dedicated the show needs you to become to each of its stars. Even taking a step back to look at the bigger picture(s) is fascinating, however: When did British men become so emotionally adept in expressing their needs, for one thing?

If it’s a social experiment, though, it needs to be noted that Love Island is a particularly limited one. At one telling moment in an episode of the season I watched, one of the men makes a comment along the lines of saying that the show demands everyone be straight, which answered one of my questions about How Things Work Behind The Scenes.

And then there’s the fact that it’s an experiment where cruelty isn’t a bug, but a feature. It’s a show that specifically plays on its participants’ anxieties and paranoias about trust, in a way that’s genuinely inhuman; midway through the run, the genders are split in different locations and introduced to potential new partners just to see how many leave their partners. It’s a breathtakingly cynical move, and one that the contestants buy into wholeheartedly — the one part of the show that made me queasy while watching, I confess. Why be so cruel?

I did keep watching, though. It won me back after with the small details and the players’ kindness winning out through the architectural cruelty, and because, honestly, I wanted to see how it was going to end. I’m not sure if I have the mental space to try another season — watching the one I did really feel like a commitment — but I’m as glad as I am ashamed that I got as caught up as I did this once, at least.

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