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Love Island has finally come to America.
CBS last year announced a U.S. version of the international reality TV phenomenon and, since then, fans of the original U.K. series have been left to wonder if this latest iteration will stick to its tried-and-true format.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, ITV America chief creative officer and executive producer David Eilenberg confirmed that Love Island USA will closely resemble its British cousin. From the show’s five-night-a-week broadcast schedule to cheeky commentary from a show narrator, CBS is banking on the staples that have made Love Island a massive success not only in the U.K. but other countries such as Australia, Germany and Denmark.
“People are craving points of difference in a highly saturated TV landscape — and particularly in today’s unscripted TV landscape. Love Island is a viewing experience that’s not available to you elsewhere,” he says of the dating competition series, explaining why he believes it will resonate with U.S. audiences. “That’s exactly why I believe it will work in America. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Below, with help from Eilenberg, THR answers more burning questions about Love Island, which airs weekdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
What is the premise of the show?
On the surface, the premise seems simple. Couples are initially paired up in a selection ceremony before competing together in a variety of games and challenges. While under 24-hour camera surveillance, the goal is to remain part of a committed couple as new contestants infiltrate the villa, tempting singles away from their original partners. Uncoupled individuals are sent home by their housemates. “The show is warm-hearted, funny, dramatic and always, first and foremost, about love,” says Eilenberg, adding that the show favors fluidity over tight production. “One of the hallmarks of Love Island is that the format itself is always fluid enough to accommodate twists and surprises that amplify story. We’re going to take the same unpredictable, cliffhanger-driven approach to our storytelling that has generated such fanatical viewing in the U.K.”
How will the U.S. version be different than its U.K. counterpart?
According to Eilenberg, Love Island USA will be nearly identical, save for the accents. “I’m delighted to say that the show is the show,” he says. “Obviously, the [five-night-a-week] frequency is all you could ever hope for in terms of the way that U.S. networks would program. There will certainly be differences. Some of those differences won’t just have to do with the type of platform it’s on, but simply the cultural differences between American Islanders and U.K. Islanders. We don’t know what those are yet until we actually put our Islanders into the villa, but we’re very excited to find out.”
How does the show compare to Temptation Island, Bachelor in Paradise and Big Brother?
“Love Island is like an unscripted ensemble romantic comedy about root-able characters from a diversity of backgrounds hoping to find love, connection and adventure in a sexy and aspirational setting,” Eilenberg says of how his series stacks up to other dating shows. “Though there are, of course, elements of gameplay and competition, those are there to help drive character-based storytelling, rather than the story being a byproduct of the format elements.”
How will the show be toned down for American broadcast standards?
Though Love Island USA will carry many of the same elements of its international predecessors, its oftentimes risque challenges — and even swimwear — will most likely be attenuated for U.S. viewers. “Of course, we’re going to conform to broadcast standards. We’re on at 8 o’clock on a major broadcaster. That said, even the way that the U.K. show has evolved, it has shifted more toward a mainstream, general entertainment audience,” says Eilenberg. “Probably the biggest difference of all is likely to be around language because we’ll have some bleeping obligations that the U.K. simply doesn’t. I don’t think that’s going to make a huge difference in terms of the experience of it. But for superfans of the show, that will probably be notable because the U.K. version doesn’t require censoring in the same way.”
Why does it air five nights a week?
In the U.K., Love Island is a “communal experience,” Eilenberg says of the format being paramount to its success. (The U.K. show’s fifth season became the most-watched show ever on ITV2.) The hope is to capture that same inescapable excitement stateside with five nights a week over the course of a month. “Because of the quick-turn nature of the show, because of the interactivity with the home audience, and because you’re generating so much content during the experience, a version that was highly postproduced and spread out across 13 weeks once a week, we believe would be a really diluted version of what the format is supposed to be. CBS took a gamble but they knew that this type of frequency is an integral part of the format,” says the TV vet, who has also worked on reality hits such as Shark Tank and Hell’s Kitchen. “The network recognized that from the beginning. Love Island just happens to be one show where the frequency and the intensity — and, in some respects, the brevity — of the experience is part of what the show is about.”
Plus, as Eilenberg adds, “The way people experience first love over a summer in real life is not spread out over the course of four months with cliffhangers once a week. It’s all at once and you can barely keep track of it happening to yourself emotionally. Part of the reason why the show works is that we’re able to capture that.”
Does the show air in real time?
Almost. Each episode is shot and mainly edited the day it airs, helped by a 19-hour Fiji time difference. “It’s a very ambitious production schedule that moves at a very fast pace. And that is all part of the fun and immediacy of the format, which is what the fans love,” he says.”The nice thing about Love Island is it really is happening 24/7 during the airing window. A big differentiator from other U.S. reality shows is that each episode has not been in the can for six months. People want to feel that sense of urgency and immediacy.”
Who makes up the cast?
CBS chose 11 young, sexy singles — aka “Islanders” — who are currently trapped inside a sprawling seaside villa, where they are looking to find love and have fun, while inevitably creating drama along the way. There are six women: Alana Morrison, Elizabeth Weber, Kyra Green, Alexandra Stewart, Mallory Santic and Caroline “Caro” Viehwig; and five men: Cashel Barnett, Yamen Sanders, Michael Yi, Weston Richey and Zac Mirabelli.
“We have cast, most of all, on sincerity of intent. No matter what other attributes somebody has, they have to have some degree of really wanting love, a connection, an adventure and something that can be transformational for their lives,” Eilenberg says of the cast, which features people of various ethnicities. “Once you see that the person is in it for the reasons that drive the show, then you’re interested in the diversity of characters, their backgrounds and viewpoints. It makes it that much more interesting when you have a really wide range of people coming in from all over.”
Where does the cast live?
The villa is located in Fiji — where CBS has also filmed multiple seasons of their long-running reality hit Survivor — with digs exclusively designed by Jonathan Adler. One mile of neon lights offer a romantic glow around the entire compound, while 6,000 screen-printed tiles adorn the floors and walls. Some walls are covered in custom murals from artist Betty Larkin. And, making the villa’s outdoor space feel extra tropical, more than 3,000 locally sourced Fijian plants fill its lush garden.
Will the show feature any LGBTQ romances?
Love Island has received criticism for not featuring LGBTQ contestants in its other iterations. And while there weren’t any discussions about making America’s season one cast more inclusive, queer romances aren’t entirely off limits in the future. “We’re consistently talking about how to include people with a range of experiences and being more inclusive,” says Eilenberg. “That’s really the best I can give you on that front. We’re really open to seeing how the show evolves, not just here but worldwide, in order to be as inclusive as we possibly can.”
Who is the host?
Social media personality, comedian and avowed Love Island superfan Arielle Vandenberg was named host in late June. “As a huge fan of the show, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be hosting Love Island this summer,” she previously said of the gig. “I’m here for it all … the love, the relationships, the re-coupling. Bring it on. I feel so honored to be at the head of the table watching it all go down!” Eilenberg is equally thrilled for Vandenberg to be involved. “She is a fan, a host, a source of wisdom and a comedic voice,” he says. You’ll also see her as an active voice for and about the show on our social platforms.”
Will the show feature a narrator?
Just as the U.K. version employs the comedic talents of Iain Stirling, Eilenberg says Love Island USA will include narration — from Stirling’s American counterpart, media personality Matthew Hoffman. “We are utilizing voiceover, which we were very happy that CBS was committed to, because we think that is an integral part of the U.K. show but not a device that gets used very frequently in the U.S.,” Eilenberg adds.
How can the audience participate?
Via an official Love Island app, America will have the chance to vote for their favorite couple to win the $100,000 cash prize at the end. “You’ll see similar opportunities as you do in the UK for the home audience to impact certain aspects of what happens in the villa with the Love Island app that viewers can use while following the show,” Eilenberg explains. “You will also likely see the tactical introduction of social dialogue around the show into some of the challenges the Islanders play, which is a treat that you only get on a quick-turn show.”
Love Island premieres July 9 on CBS at 8 p.m. New episodes will continue every weeknight through Aug. 7.
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