U.K. Reality Dating Show ‘Love Island’ To Launch In U.S. Amid Controversy Over Contestants’ Mental Health

After the suicides of two former contestants, Britain's most popular show — which comes to the U.S. on Tuesday — is grappling with how to take better care of its stars.

Arielle Vandenberg attends the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards.
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

After the suicides of two former contestants, Britain's most popular show — which comes to the U.S. on Tuesday — is grappling with how to take better care of its stars.

The British sensation Love Island, one of the most dramatic dating series in reality television history, is crossing the pond, but it comes with some pretty heavy baggage.

The U.K. version first aired in 2015, and since then, has swept Europe off its feet by spawning versions in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. It has all the salacious details that combine to create a must-watch series: hot guys, beautiful women, bikinis, hard bods, and drama. So much drama. Think Bachelor in Paradise on steroids.

Starting July 9 on CBS, five men and five women will be plonked into a luxury villa in Fiji where viewers can catch their every word, kiss, embrace, and betrayal five nights a week. The ultimate end goal is to couple up with another resident, and at the finale, the most popular couple wins a big cash prize. And, because nothing is that easy, they will have to face challenges along the way that force pairs to swap, switch, or “re-couple.” Also, anyone who isn’t coupled up will be at risk of being dumped from the show by popular vote.

Taking on the role as host and breaking down all of the coupling and uncoupling will be actress and comedian Arielle Vandenberg.

But a dark side to the flirty fun is starting to rear its ugly head. Within the last year, two former Love Island contestants have taken their own lives after appearing on the show.

First, Sophie Gradon, a 32-year-old British beauty queen who appeared on Season 2 in 2016, was found dead June 20, 2018. She hanged herself after taking a cocktail of alcohol and drugs, according to The Sun.

Then there was Mike Thalassitis, a 26-year-old former soccer player who was a contestant on the third season. After getting the boot from the show, Thalassitis went on to be a contestant on other reality shows. But behind the scenes, he had moved in with his grandmother to be her caretaker. She died in March, and he hanged himself days later. A jogger, who was running through a North London park, found his body on March 16.

Neither Gradon’s nor Thalassitis’s death is directly connected to Love Island, but the incidents have led former Islanders to speak out about how the show has negatively affected their mental health.

Alex Miller, a contestant from last season, told Cosmopolitan that he was “in a very dark place” in the months after he left the show.

“I feel like I was used a little bit after the show for other people’s gains. People you thought were your friends.”

Loading...

According to GQ Magazine, the show’s network in the U.K., ITV, issued a statement about their revised duty of care processes. The network made changes to place an emphasis on the mental health of the participants.

Since the deaths and subsequent inquiry, Love Island producers said they will increase psychological support for contestants after they leave the show. Assistance will include eight therapy sessions, training on how to handle social media, and financial management support.

According to The Sun, 38 people around the world have died in suspected suicides linked to reality TV shows since 1984. British parliament has even opened an inquiry into the treatment of reality show contestants, The New York Times reported.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.