As the host of Love Island, Arielle Vandenberg watches over the villa and occasionally drops by to announce twists that are too hot to text. She's the bearer of bad news, the Islanders' go-to shoulder to cry on after painful eliminations, and she has a front-row seat to the action in the villa. As such, she knows exactly what it takes to go far on the CBS series. And as the Love Island Season 1 finale approaches, Vandenberg shared some of her thoughts on how strategizing to win is a fruitless task. So if you're thinking of applying for Season 2, be prepared to lead with your heart instead of your head.
While the point of the show is to find love and snag the prize money that comes with being anointed America's favorite couple, Vandenberg says it's impossible for contestants to game the system, since the rules inside the villa are ever-changing. The best thing contestants can do, she says, is be open to the experience.
"I don't think that coming with a strategy really works," Vandenberg tells Bustle over the phone from Fiji. "You see that, more times than not, kind of fail. The relationships that are real actually are the ones that are kind of winning, not the people that come in with strategy."
Take Caro, for example. "She had a hard time [at the beginning]. People were like, 'Oh my God, you like everybody,'" Vandenberg says of Caro's initial indecision after jumping from Cashel to Cormac to Ray, with many flirtations in between. "But I think she was just really trying to come in and fall in love. I mean, she was doing what the show is made for — you know, going around and meeting everybody, and [the audience] was getting mad at her."
Caro played the "game" of Love Island with an open heart, not an ulterior motive, and now she has an amazing connection with Ray. "She's like fully in love with this guy," says Vandenberg. "I love it. It's amazing."
Being true to yourself may be cliché advice, but it's the only real way to win Love Island and leave the villa with memorable connection, even if a whirlwind romance isn't in the cards. And while no one comes to Love Island to call it Friend Island, Vandenberg says the lasting friendships that form on the show were what surprised her the most about witnessing the action up close.
"Most of the time, when you're watching reality shows, you see a bunch of people getting in arguments and fighting over the same guy," Vandenberg explains. "But most of the people that are on this show, they're coming out of this and they're saying that their favorite part is the friendships."
Say it with me, all together now: the real Love Island is the friends we made along the way. But it's true! Everyone sobbed when Yamen and Cashel left the villa, and it had nothing to do with their significant others. The Islanders were genuinely sad to see their friends leave — and Vandenberg can attest to that.
The fact that the show films near constantly (except for one day off) means that the cast has no choice but to be incredibly exposed and vulnerable both emotionally and physically. Given the fact that many of the contestants were bona fide Instagram stars before they came on the show, it's surprising and refreshing to see so many beautiful people before they put their makeup on in the morning, and to peek inside their true unfiltered interactions with each other at all times of the day (and night). Watching models make scrambled eggs in the rain while wearing pajamas may be the secret best part of the series, actually.
"It's so funny to see them with without all the makeup and without all the extensions and everything," Vandenberg agrees. "Gotta let your guard down here on Love Island."