I can’t stop watching Love Island. I’m not the target market. Reality TV is not my thing; a lot of it is cruel, and despite the name, fake.
I’ve never watched Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity, preferring the gentler end of the genre. The first season of Strictly Come Dancing had the rugby league player Martin Offiah on it, and I hung around for a few more seasons because my girlfriend would put it on – that’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it. And the wholesome teatime food porn of things like Masterchef and Bake Off are a good way to kill time while waiting for the microwave to ping.
But for the first time, I’m hooked on Love Island. After a long day observing the interactions of over-confident, vain people shut away far from home surrounded by an overabundance of alcohol, the best way to unwind is tuning in to ... basically the same thing but with swimwear and much better physiques.
Skip ahead for the tortured political metaphor – for now, I’ll say the genius of Love Island is you can just about suspend your disbelief.
The housemates in the villa are trying to couple up and prove their compatibility to the public to win a £50,000 prize. But over two months’ worth of programmes, you can convince yourself that they really are looking for companionship, intimacy and love – and that the emotions and behaviours on display are real.
The set-up is bizarre but the characters – and their hopes and failings – are totally relatable. Your heart went out to Yewande, who struggled to let her guard down and find a match, only to be horribly betrayed. And while I get the sense from the social media chat that I’m alone in this, I’ve been rooting for Anton, the Scottish gym bunny who went into the villa claiming to be a heartbreaker but couldn’t hide the fact that he’s a mummy’s boy who wants to be mates with everyone, and has been taken seriously by no-one, especially the women.
The theme of this season is the men getting a crash course in Sexual Politics 101, with the ones who seemed like ‘good guys’ turning out to be bang average and capable of the same emotional manipulation and cowardice.
The problem is that with six episodes of Love Island a week, I have fallen hopelessly behind thanks to the even less realistic matchmaking saga in my life.
At times, I forget which I’m watching. Are these scenes real or staged? And which couple is he really into? It’s impossible to tell with Boris Johnson. Want to see a man debase himself for someone he’s not that into just to stay in the game? Just listen to Matt Hancock. Most of all, the inhabitants of the villa and the Tory leadership candidates are carrying on the same pretence.
Only one winning Love Island couple is reportedly still together, with most struggling to make it last until publicity for the next season.
Likewise, the Conservative Party pretends it’s looking for a long-term partner, but it’s lying to itself – that’s why it’s about to pick Boris Johnson.
As the Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie sets out in today’s Scotsman, the leadership race isn’t about who would be the best Prime Minister. The next Tory leader isn’t going to get to govern, let alone fight an election, if he doesn’t deliver Brexit. And since a no-deal exit means the collapse of the government, it’s about who can get the ERG to vote for a deal – one that looks a lot like Theresa May’s.
That’s why Bowie, who has been one of May’s most loyal allies, is also one of Johnson’s most unlikely backers – because the party needs a Prime Minister who can put on their grafting boots, really get to know Brexiteer MPs and win the only prize that matters.
As they say in the villa: it is what it is.