Opinion: British reality TV prevailed this summer

Megan Keane, Columnist

Maybe you all are in on the hype—maybe you’re not—but the UK’s reality dating show “Love Island” has been iconic for five seasons now. 

Every summer, the whole UK, like clockwork, settles in on weekdays with Iain Stirling to watch strangers crack on and compete for £50,000.

So, let me get to the point real quick: This summer, the U.S. attempted to launch their own branch of “Love Island” … and it tanked. This isn’t just a personal opinion; the show received terrible ratings. It’s receiving a second season, but it was awful.

Over the last decade that I can account for, I’ve noticed the U.S. has tried to adapt popular UK shows to US/Canadian television. MTV tried to adapt the UK’s hit show “Skins,” for instance—which is like a raunchier “Degrassi”—and it stunk.

The U.S.’s two success stories from these culture-culture experiments they engage in are Shameless (U.S.) and, of course, The Office (U.S.) Both of those shows have originals based in the UK. 

Back to “Love Island” and why the U.S.’s version failed (but is getting another season). So, the concept of the show is a simple one. It follows our regular schema of a heteronormative dating show. We have an equal number of cisgendered males and females that are taken to a beautiful island and are meant to couple up.

Right away, the “islanders” are made to pick a person of the opposite sex to share a bed with—scandalous—but are encouraged to get to know the others and make connections. Of course, there are big plot twists, people leaving, people cracking on behind other peoples’ backs and lots of drama—but there’s a new cast every season. 

The U.S. took this show, thought, ‘Oh, we can do that, too,’ but it was missing aspects that, at the heart of “Love Island,” keep viewers coming back. The host, Caroline Flack, and the narrator, Iain Stirling, are the secret. 

Caroline Flack is a TV presenter with a well-known presence in the UK. She’s intense. When she shows up, the audience knows someone’s heart is about to be broken. Her presence is feared and revered by the islanders. Iain Stirling is a comedian. He never actually interacts with the islanders; he’s more so interacting with the viewers through the medium of the TV show. 

The U.S. casted Arielle Vandenberg as the host and Matthew Hoffman as the narrator. Vandenberg is an actress and model and Hoffman is, like, a TV presenter. I didn’t know anything about them or what to expect, but I can guarantee it’s their fault that it failed. Vandenberg was too warm toward the islanders, claiming they felt like her “babies.” Caroline Flack would never. And, for me, Hoffman just flat lined. A lot. It was cringy humor. 

I understand that adaptations of anything have differences. To change what works, though? What’s the point of adapting it? I’m not saying the U.S. needed Flack and Stirling themselves to succeed; they just needed to cast better. 

Megan Keane is a psychology and English major. She can be reached at [email protected]