If you've been watching Love Island this year (and really who hasn't?) then you'll have mostly likely seen that clip of Hayley Hughes talking about Brexit. It was baffling to say the least, but not exactly out of step with what people expect of reality stars. And why? Because the stereotype about our telly faves being somewhat lacking in smarts persists. But why? Seriously, the Love Island contestants are a lot smarter than most people realise.
Anyone who has listened to criticism of the show will have likely heard it described as "vacuous" or "filled with idiots". In fact, Plusnet recently crunched the numbers and found that one of the most popular Google search terms around the ITV2 show, is "why are Love Island [contestants] so thick?" But aside from the show itself, the evidence that contestants are stupid is pretty slim.
After spending several weeks flirting and tanning in the Majorcan sunshine, most Islanders arrive home to hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. This paves the way for lucrative sponsored content deals and paid-for posts. Some might turn their noses up at charcoal whitening posts, but when high-profile Islanders are said to make thousands and even millions in the months and years after the show, it's not as easy to be sniffy. Yes that's right, crackin' on in a luxurious villa with hot guys and girls for two months really can apparently make you millions. Doesn't seem so stupid after all now, does it?
And it's not just social media that brings in the big bucks. Former contestants can reportedly charge thousands of pounds for club appearances, which is most likely why this year's villain Adam Collard has just announced a string of 61 dates around UK nightclubs. But while it might appear straightforward to capitalise on the public's attention, maintaining it and developing brand partnerships, as several former Islanders have gone on to do, isn't easy. Yet contestants as far back as the 2016 series are still continuing to secure sponsorship and endorsement deals, off the back of their Instagram presences, and I'm pretty sure you can't do that without a serious amount of social media savvy.
While Love Island's racial and body diversity might be lacking, it has included people from different social backgrounds from over the years. Although there will probably always be a majority of personal trainers and models on the show, this year we've had an A&E doctor in the form of Alex George, then, last year, there was bomb disposal expert Camilla Thurlow, and the year before that, there was nurse, Rachel Fenton.
Camilla recently spoke out about the dangers of pigeon-holing people, and sending out the message that women can't be both reality stars and role models. Earlier this week, she responded to a tweet which asked: "Young women. Would you rather be someone from Love Island, or have the work ethic, discipline, tenacity, talent, grace and magnificence of Serena Williams? Loaded question #RealRoleModels"
Camilla wrote on Twitter: "I cannot stop thinking about this tweet - I think it’s a really dangerous notion that we have the right to tell people that there is a correct way to aspire to live their lives. Below are a few points from a talk I did last year on the subject."
In the "points below" that Camilla mentions, she talks about the need to "break down barriers" and tells her followers not to let other people's perceptions define you. She wrote: "Please remember that you don't need to take someone else's perception of success and try to fit your dreams an aspirations into their box."
But going back to Hughes and her supposed inability to identify the difference between a continent and a country, things aren't always what they seem. When she was still on the show and coming out with clangers every episode, stories surfaced that seemed to suggest she might be deliberately dumbing herself down for the cameras. One of Hughes' school friends told The Sun that the 21-year-old achieved three B grades at A-Level in Science, ICT, and Social Care, before going on to study childhood and youth studies at Liverpool Hope University. The friend, who wished to remain anonymous, reportedly told the publication: "[Hayley] is not that stupid." I reached out to Hughes for comment on the claims.
So if Hughes has been faking her silly comments, why might that be? I reckon it's because, as Plusnet's analysis suggests, lack of intelligence is what we expect from Love Islanders and reality stars more generally. Therefore, who can blame them for acting the part?
Hughes' stood out for her comments, and on a reality show, you need to stand out in order to get air time. When Love Island contestants put on a show of stupidity, all they're doing is fulfilling expectations of what a reality show contestant should be. So perhaps the viewers should take a long hard look at their own prejudices before judging other people's behaviour. Just saying.