In early July, just before Love Island began airing on our screens again, the showrunners announced a new set of ‘duty of care protocols’ in response to the Ofcom guidance released earlier this year. How has the show fared since then?
Content warning: this article discusses emotional abuse.
While guidance focused on providing care for contestants during and after the show, there was one protection from Ofcom the showrunners didn’t directly address: ‘to make sure audiences are protected from uncontextualized offence that can arise from seeing or hearing vulnerable participants in programmes whose welfare they think might not have been protected.’
On Friday’s episode of Love Island, an incident between two contestants, Faye and Teddy, occurred due to the perceived breaking of Faye’s trust. This then led to a series of very heated and emotionally heightened confrontations on Faye’s part that lasted for the duration of the episode.
If you’d like to grasp the full situation you can read the Independent’s column on the episode, our article will be focusing more on the impact that the events could have on contestants and on viewers.
Elise Bell from the Independent column, said: “Simply put, these were the hardest scenes I’ve ever had to watch in Love Island history… After much attention has been paid to contestant aftercare, the constant fanfare of #BeKind ringing dully in our ears, it felt strange that this challenge had been allowed to air.”
Looking at the episode objectively, which we did, to write this piece, it is right to label Faye’s behaviours, the words she chose, how she handled the perceived breakage of trust, as inappropriate and unfair.
It is also very important to highlight that despite the title of ‘reality TV’, this is in fact, not reality. As reality TV has become more and more prevalent in pop culture we have become wise to just how orchestrated these kinds of scenarios are, whether that’s through in the moment ‘partially scripted’ intervention or through post-production editing.
However, when viewers see someone behaving so extremely, especially toward a contestant that has become beloved by the public, this is very easy to forget. It is dangerously easy for a reality TV show’s editing and manipulation of, what is actually a very traumatic experience, to seem entirely natural – after all it is supposed to look like reality, it is supposed to trick you into thinking that, but it never actually is entirely real.
Looking at the situation from a trauma informed perspective, it is clear that Faye has many insecurities and boundaries in place (whether healthy or not) in order to protect those insecurities from perceived betrayal or hurt.
When we experience interpersonal trauma in relationships such as being cheated on, neglected or having our self-esteem ground down by a person and we are unable to process that trauma, future relationships often suffer due to us being ‘triggered’ by a perceived similar threat.
Examples of this could be a smaller break of trust that makes us feel like we’re being cheated on, someone not responding to us how we would like which makes us feel neglected or not enough, a partner not positively commenting on our appearance and immediately taking a hard hit to our self-esteem.
It is important to emphasize here, that although this could be a possible explanation for Faye’s heightened emotional reaction, specifically how angry she became; it is not an excuse. A large part of learning to understand trauma responses is toeing the line between understanding why you may behave the way you do and using that to forgo any responsibility.
The other side to this is of course, how the incident impacted Teddy, who very understandably felt attacked, upset, and frustrated that there was no option of having an adult conversation in which he could explain his actions and reason with the person he cares about. Not to mention his friends and family at home experiencing the trauma of witnessing him being verbally attacked.
When we are triggered, the likelihood of having a reasonable, adult conversation declines as emotions become heightened. There were times where Faye attempted to walk away from the conversation, however, her behaviour outside of these attempts was inflammatory.
For the above reasons, it seems obvious that the situation should not have been allowed to continue throughout the entire episode. For the mental wellbeing of both Faye and Teddy, seeing how emotionally heightened the situation was; showrunners and psychologists on set should have stepped in and prevented it from going any further.
- See also: 'Has Love Island turned a corner in its handling and representation of mental health?'
- See also: 'Ofcom introduces guidance for reality TV participant mental health care'
- See also: '‘Just live life’: Dr Alex George urges young people to talk about their mental health'
Following the episode, ITV made this statement: ‘We take the emotional wellbeing of all the Islanders extremely seriously. We have dedicated welfare producers and psychological support on hand at all times who monitor and regularly speak to all of the Islanders in private and off camera, especially if someone appears to be upset. All the Islanders are therefore fully supported by the professionals on site and by their friends in the villa. Islanders can always reach out and talk to someone if they feel the need.’
However, the very fact that they aired this in the way they did, and allowed multiple confrontations right up until near the very end of the episode between the two contestants, despite the fact that Faye continued to be angry and Teddy continued to be verbally attacked, suggests the main priority was not the mental welfare and wellbeing of the contestants. Love Island must learn from this.
Handling viewer reactions responsibly
Going back to the Ofcom guidance that stated, ‘audiences are protected from uncontextualized offence that can arise from seeing or hearing vulnerable participants in programmes whose welfare they think might not have been protected’ we can see how allowing the events to play out as they did can cause further damage and harm.
The feeling of being triggered doesn’t only stand for the person directly involved in a situation; it can also apply to witnesses, whether in real life or on TV.
The response on social media to this episode and the events in it was immediate and unsurprisingly very strong. While some stayed objective and explained some of the trauma responses mentioned above, others were very upset and angry at how Faye behaved and began labelling her as an abuser.
The truth is, from the content of the show, it is impossible to know whether or not she is an abusive person; we aren’t seeing her in ‘real life’, as such it would be irresponsible to assume either way.
Faye herself - has since expressed her regrets to fellow contestant Millie, “I am sorry for what I done, there is no excuse for it, there is no excuse for the way I just flew out off the handle”.
What is essential in this discussion around trauma, wellbeing and abusive relationships though, is to distinguish between what happened in the episode: an inexcusable but reactive explosion of anger, where she verbally attacked someone and emotional abuse: where a person consciously controls another by isolating, invalidating, emotionally blackmailing and silencing them.
This is where the responsibility of the showrunners for viewer wellbeing comes to a cross section with contestant wellbeing. Many of the people coming forward and accusing Faye of being an abuser, may well be survivors of emotionally abusive relationships themselves who have been triggered. In turn, these kinds of accusations for Faye and her family can be very upsetting and negatively impact mental health; especially if they lead to online abuse and harassment.
This is particularly serious, as past contestants have struggled with the negative attention online after exiting the show. Many have voiced their struggles with mental health, and two sadly took their own lives.
What role does the consumer have to play?
A common part of the discourse around this summer’s Love Island toward the start was that it was, in fact: boring. Whether the start of this season was ‘tame’ due to the new ‘duty of care protocols’ and the psychologists on set forcing producers to air on the side of caution we can’t be sure of. However, as viewers and consumers, we must be conscious of how we factor into the equation.
Of course, the final burden of responsibility must always fall with the showrunners but being aware of what we put out into the world, especially on social media and how that might impact things in ways we can’t fully perceive at the time, is important.
It may seem ridiculous to give such serious thought to a reality TV show, but inevitably, discussions that stem from Love Island around emotional abuse, trauma and mental health have real world implications. We take these implications very seriously, and the showrunners, producers and public should too.
If the issues raised in this article have impacted you or relate to someone you know you can seek advice, guidance and help:
Refuge for women and children or call their helpline on: 0808 2000 247
Galop for LGBTQ+ people or call their helpline on: 0800 999 5428
Men's advice line or call their helpline on: 0808 8010327