Reality TV

The American's Guide To Love Island

It’s never too late to become a diehard fan of the franchise.

Only on Love Island can a couple get into a raucous fight, exchange declarations of love, and tearfully break up within the span of a few hours. Thankfully, there are nearly 250 episodes of the original U.K. version of Love Island — all available to stream in the U.S. on Hulu! — filled with exactly that kind of chaos. Part popularity contest, part dating show, and part surveillance state, Love Island is the ultimate pressure-cooker reality show. Islanders must couple up in order to stay in the Villa for the chance to win £50,000. But the show encompasses more than just hot singles from across the U.K. coming together to date, yell, and flirt with reckless abandon: Along the way, they compete in challenges, are forced to vote each other off, and are subjected to the whims of a public vote. Hidden cameras capture all of it, broadcasting the best bits nightly to a country so obsessed with following the drama that members of Parliament once revealed they’d sneak out of votes to catch the latest episodes.

But if you’re a reality TV aficionado who can’t tell an MP from a PM, this guide is for you. Kudos on being true to your basest impulses and admitting there are few activities more fun than watching a group of bikini-clad 21-year-olds strain to communicate their innermost feelings to one another. To help you understand how the show works, its long and complicated history, and the sea of British slang you’ll be using after you digest a single season, here’s the American crash course in Love Island UK.

The Basics

How does Love Island work?

Each season of the show begins with five boys and five girls (yes, this show calls them “boys” and “girls”) who immediately must pair off based on looks to make the starting lineup of couples. From that point forward, the Islanders are left to their own devices for a mix of sexy challenges, dates, and nights spent sleeping in the same bed (couples must share a bed even if their connection isn’t romantic). Throughout the season, which usually runs for around 50 episodes including the series’ weekly Friday recap show, new people enter the Villa and Islanders get voted off by a mix of public vote (where you can text in who you want to save or dump) and votes from the Islanders themselves. The couple who makes it to the end and gets the most public votes, wins!

The Love Island Villa.ITV2

Where is Love Island UK filmed? What are the rules for living in the Villa?

Love Island takes place in the sunny oasis of Majorca, Spain, apart from Season 6, which aired in the winter and took place in South Africa. The Villas are always decked out with hectic neon décor and words like “lick” or “sexy time” written in cursive lettering on the walls, but the sprawling poolside views are unbeatable. Despite the vacation-like feel of the show, the Villa does have some strict rules, many of which were instituted in Season 3 and after. Smoking is no longer allowed on the show (Season 3 was the last time we saw Islanders railing cigs), you can’t have sex without a condom, you can’t masturbate, you can’t be fully nude anywhere, and if you do choose to have sex, you must see a therapist afterward. Currently, Islanders are allowed one or two drinks a night, but they keep it casual with beer and wine over hard liquors.

Is there a host? Who is the narrator?

Unlike other dating shows, the Love Island host only pops in for special occasions like recouplings or dumpings. Thankfully, there is a witty Scottish narrator, comedian Iain Stirling, who helps guide viewers through each episode's drama with hilarious play-by-plays and brutal jokes at the Islanders’ expense. The current Love Island host, Laura Whitmore, always shows up dressed to the nines and bearing bad news. She replaced the late, great Caroline Flack (more on her later). Fun fact: Whitmore is actually married to Stirling and the pair recently welcomed their first child.

What key slang words should I know?

Much has been written about the show’s slang, which is a combination of regular British dating slang that’s new to Americans and some that has become specific to the show itself. Below, some of the key terms to know.

Banter (n.): When two people have a playful rapport. Having banter is essential for success in the Villa.

Bird (n.): A woman, a girl you are interested in.

Crack on (v.): To pursue and engage in romantic activities with someone.

Geezer (n.): A term of endearment used to refer to a man. Can be friendly or insulting, depending on the context.

Graft (v.): Hardcore flirting, pining for someone, and really working for someone’s affections.

The Ick (n.): The sudden and often unexplainable feeling of finding someone you previously found attractive utterly revolting.

Kick off (v.): Start a fight, freak out, make a scene.

Mugged off (v.): To be disrespected or had some suspicious behavior occur at one’s expense.

Melt (n.): Someone who is acting dumb over a love interest, being sappy, someone to be looked down upon.

Pie off (v.): Breaking things off, to dump someone, a breakup.

Prang (adj.): Anxious or irritable.

Recoupling (n.): A formal ceremony in which Love Island contestants choose their partners for the foreseeable future. As everyone grows closer, this is often like a renewal of one's love that sometimes involves stealing people's partners and upsetting the balance in the Villa.

Slag (n.): A very insulting and disrespectful term akin to “slut.”

Stick it on her / him (v.): Making a move on someone.

*Hot tip: If you’re having a difficult time understanding the mile-a-minute banter or any of the Scottish accents, turn on subtitles. You’ll thank me later!

What’s The Best Love Island UK Season?

If there is anything you take away from this, let it be that the order in which you watch the seasons of Love Island UK matters. Here is our humble opinion on how to organize your marathon, listed in the order that we recommend watching the seasons (this is not including Season 7, which just began airing in the U.K.).

Season 3

Kem Cetinay and Amber Davies reacting to one of many bombshells.ITV2

General vibe: Sex, screaming, and stress-smoking cigarettes.

One of the most raw and unfiltered seasons of Love Island, Season 3 is a constant barrage of screaming matches and conflict. It feels like every single contestant on this season is someone that you would likely find being messy at a bar at 3 a.m. and for that, it never fails to entertain. This is Love Island distilled down to its most potent form. Be warned there are a lot of big personalities this season, which makes it difficult to watch at times, but it’s in your best interest to power through.

Key Islanders: Montana Brown, a drama-averse breath of fresh air; Kem Cetinay, the Villa's resident hairdresser and comedic relief; Olivia Attwood, a hothead whose actions are a study in running from your feelings; Camilla Thurlow, a truly relatable mess whose journey working through deep-seated insecurity strikes a chord.

Best moments: Marcel telling everyone he’s in Blazin’ Squad, Camilla teaching Johnny about feminism, Olivia screaming at the top of her lungs, Chris and Kem’s rapping, the postcard from Casa Amor, Kem asking why Theo called him “little man.”

Season 5

Maura Higgins will ensure you’re never bored.ITV2

General vibe: High drama, betrayal, first loves.

This is arguably the best season of the show. Without giving away the biggest twist, there is a betrayal that occurs about halfway through the season that: 1. You will not see coming and 2. Will undoubtedly bring tears to your eyes. If Season 3 is the flashy opening number that draws you in, Season 5 will be your reason to stick around to the final curtain call. Be warned that this season is a slow burn, and it might feel like nothing is happening, but I assure you that it’s all building up to the second half, which is frankly a masterpiece.

Key Islanders: Amber Gill, a masterclass in not taking sh*t; Maura Higgins, the horny Irish life of the party; Anton Danyluk, the Scottish mama's boy with a heart of gold; Ovie Soko, the chillest and possibly the best Islander of all time.

Best moments: Every time Maura says “Fanny Flutters,” Anton crying over Craig David, Curtis giving everyone terrible advice, Amber calling another Islander a “dead ting,” this one smash-cut from Lucie and Joe fighting to him in the shower with white facewash on his face where he looks like a haunted ghoul (trust me, you won’t want to let this one pass you by, I think about it every day).

Season 6

Luke Trotman and Siannise Fudge deliver a breath of fresh air.ITV2

General vibe: Laid back, silly, romantic.

If you’re tuning in for savage fights, Season 6 might not be it, which is why we’ve sandwiched it in between some of the more ruthless seasons. This season has the wholesome energy (well, as wholesome as a show where people have sex under covers in view of night-vision cameras can be) that many of the others lack. This is in part because a lot of very strong couples — many of whom are still together — find each other this season and stick together through good and bad. After the roller coaster of Seasons 3 and 5, Season 6 is a reminder to chill out and hold those you love close.

Key Islanders: Siannise Fudge, the Disney adult who knows her worth; Callum Jones, a clueless hunk of a scaffolder; Luke Trotman, the Justin Beiber lookalike with a megawatt smile; Paige Turley, a loyal Scottish singer with a sense of humor.

Best moments: When twins Jess and Eve make their grand entrance, the wild penguins, Ched’s laugh, Demi’s big fall, the discourse around Connor’s teeth, Ollie’s very suspicious exit.

Season 4

Hayley Hughes and Eyal Booker not feeling the love on Love Island Season 4.ITV2

General vibe: Funny and hot, if a little predictable.

This season has a very strong starting lineup: everyone is very hot and there are some extremely funny moments (see: Catherine Cohen’s recent Nylon piece that spotlights Eyal and Hayley telling each other that they are “not exactly Jim Carrey”). In general, this is a very good season to put on while you’re doing other things because there aren’t a lot of intense blowouts or convoluted conflicts to get caught up in. Casa Amor offers up some drama, but other than that, things are pretty even keel.

Key Islanders: Hayley Hughes, a joy to watch as she figures out the basics of U.K. politics in front of millions of viewers; Adam Collard, a cocky villain whose face makes you forgive him immediately; Megan Barton-Hanson, a gorgeous flashpoint for drama who continues to be an entertaining U.K. tabloid staple; Dani Dyer, the rare Islander who seems like a genuinely fun hang.

Best moments: When Hayley learns about Brexit, Adam’s body, Niall’s Harry Potter tattoo reveal, Hayley and Eyal bickering bitterly.

Season 2

Horny fighting courtesy of Scott Thomas and Kady McDermott.ITV2

General vibe: Sexy and intense, with a slightly less palatable side of slut-shaming.

This season is exceptionally horny. People are having sex 24/7 and not even trying to keep it discreet under the covers. One of the contestants even loses her Miss Britain title for hooking up in The Hideaway. This season is definitely messy as the show works to find its footing, but there are some very memorable personalities sprinkled in to make it worth watching. For those who adore trash TV, this season will deliver a fair share of fights, drama, and unexpected twists.

Key Islanders: Kady McDermott, who arguably understood the assignment to bring drama a little too well; Olivia Buckland, the voice of reason; Cara De La Hoyde, a burlesque dancer and the Villa sweetheart.

Best moments: The Love Island dogs, when Kady gets caught eavesdropping and puts her butt on the plexiglass in response, Malin and Terry’s bitter reunion, Sophie's Miss Love Island speech, the multiple montages of every couple having sex at the same time.

Season 1

Hannah Elizabeth, style icon.ITV2

General vibe: Confused and unrefined, but not without some bright moments.

Watching it back, Season 1 feels like Love Island lite: because the show is new, nobody knows what to expect — including the production itself. Caroline Flack hosts a few episodes with a live audience in front of the actual Villa, where she interviews new Islanders, but the format led to more confusion than drama. The Islanders’ fights are generally a lot more toxic, and they lack the dynamic arcs of other seasons, where toxic behavior at least had a storyline. Still, Season 1 is worth watching if you’re craving some drama and have already gone through all the other seasons.

Key Islanders: Jess Hayes, whose unapologetic horniness is too often punished; Jordan Ring, a good kisser with gauge earrings; Lauren Richardson, the resident normie whose claim to fame is a misconstrued tabloid photo with Zayn Malik; Hannah Elizabeth, a Liverpudlian Playboy bunny who’s exceptionally funny when drunk.

Best moments: The boys talking in the middle of a club, the speed dating episode, the Jess and Bethany fight, Hannah’s intro where she calls the girl her boyfriend cheated on her with a “doghead.”

Controversies To Know

Love Island is unfortunately no stranger to tragedy. Beloved host Caroline Flack died by suicide in 2018, as have past contestants Sophie Gradon (Season 2) and Mike Thalassitis (Season 3). As a result, the show has instituted significantly more mental health resources for the Islanders during and after their time in the Villa. The Islanders have on-site therapists who they can speak to if they are having a difficult time and the show offers aftercare for contestants after they leave the Villa and re-enter society. Because episodes air the day after they’re filmed, contestants are unable to see audience reactions to their time in the Villa until they leave — a stressful experience in which they’re suddenly catapulted into fame, with millions of new followers and often a slew of nasty tabloid stories about them.

There have also been questions surrounding the handful of times Islanders have been ejected from the Villa with little to no explanation from production. One notable example is Sherif Lanre, who disappeared from Season 5 with a simple note from narrator Sterling saying he’d left the show. The reason for his removal is rumored to have been related to an incident with Islander Molly-Mae Hague, in which he accidentally kicked her in the crotch and then used the c-word. After leaving, some Islanders have critiqued the show's lack of support for Islanders of color.

Should I watch Love Island US or any international versions?

The short answer is: meh. Season 3 of Love Island US premiered July 7, and while there’s hope it will continue to improve on Season 2’s moderately entertaining quarantine season, it still hasn’t lived up to the heights of the U.K. original. Love Island Australia is also available on Hulu, but while that one also has the excitement of stunning accents, it has a noticeably smaller budget and doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the U.K. franchise. Whether it’s the U.K. party culture, the slang, or the casting that makes it so special, the U.K. original still reigns supreme.

Are any Love Island UK couples still together?

Weirdly for a show about hooking up and breaking up with abandon, yes. There are roughly 10 couples who are still together after the show at the time of publication. Some left the show together as a couple and got married (and even had babies!), others were torn from each other's arms by the public vote but rekindled after the show, and some even found each other despite being on different seasons or never being coupled up on the show. Perhaps there’s something about the experience of spending every moment together for eight weeks that bonds people. As of 2021, there have been five Love Island babies, and many more between former contestants and their new partners. Not bad for a show about mugging people off.