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Voices: Has The Traitors finally killed off outdated reality TV formats like Love Island?

Last night, I heard something I hadn’t in a while. “So, I was watching Love Island…”

“Sorry, what?” I asked my friend, concerned she was spending her January nights alone watching reruns of reality TV.

“Not the old seasons,” she assured me. “The new one.”

It was the first I’d heard of the new Love Island, an all-stars version featuring memorable castmates from seasons gone by who, still single, have been sent to South Africa to copulate and cause drama for the sake of our small screens. Having been a die-hard Love Island fan in the past, the fact I didn’t even know about this series speaks volumes.

With a major marketing campaign and a lineup of recognisable – and now fairly famous – faces, the new format had everything going for it. And yet, literally no one seems to be watching it. Despite launching at ITV’s coveted 9pm slot on a Monday evening, the episode peaked at just 1.5 million viewers – a far cry from the 3.3 million that tuned in for the series five premiere back in 2019.

Today, Love Island seems to have fallen out of fashion. Who really wants to watch a bunch of lithe-limbed, tangerine-tanned wannabe influencers play kiss chase around a neon villa, anyway? Isn’t that all the show has become now? A farm factory for plucked and puckered twenty-somethings in pursuit of a six-figure fast fashion deal?

The modern iteration of Love Island is nothing like it was. Back in the heyday – think the days of Chris and Ken – it dominated public discourse. There were daily think pieces. Podcast spin-offs. Viral clips. Music videos. Margot Robbie was hooked. Lena Dunham wrote about her obsession with it. I was actually kicked out of a Love Island WhatsApp group for not contributing enough.

The truth is that reality TV has changed; tired formats have fallen flat. Frankly, I couldn’t bear to sit through another series of Love Island

The trouble is: no one cares about it anymore. Why? Well, ask yourself: what have you been watching recently? Claudia Winkelman wearing tartan. A gloomy castle in the Scottish Highlands. Strangers huddled together in cloaks. Yep, like nearly 4 million other Britons, you’ve been watching BBC’s The Traitors.

This, it seems, is what people want from reality TV. Gone are the devastatingly good-looking identikits that have populated our screens in the past. No. The Traitors is all about gathering diverse people from diverse parts of the UK and plunging them deep into the ultimate murder mystery game. Since the second series launched on 3 January, it’s all anyone who watches telly has been able to talk about. I’ll bet you that you’ve had at least three conversations about it today alone.

On Thursday, even ITV tried to cash in on the attention by tweeting a photo of the recently banished Paul Gorton against the Love Island backdrop, writing: ‘Shall we get him on the next season of Love Island? #LoveIsland #Traitors.’

At least Love Island isn’t alone in washing up on the shore alongside a bevvy of reality TV relics. Next month, The Apprentice starts up again on BBC. Yes, that is still going. In fact, this will be its 18th series. Then there’s The Weakest Link. I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. None of these shows boast the ratings they once did. And why would they?

The truth is that reality TV has changed; tired formats have fallen flat. Frankly, I couldn’t bear to sit through another series of Love Island. You’re far more likely to find me ploughing through a bowl of popcorn in front of The Traitors or The Masked Singer, where famous faces compete in a singing contest wearing ridiculous costumes as disguises (this year there’s a “dippy egg” character).

Creative, joyful, and genuinely interesting, good reality TV tells us something about the world we live in. It reflects and refracts as opposed to just sitting there, glistening like an oiled-up six-pack. Today’s audiences need something more tangible: narratives to unpack, absurdities to gawp at, and characters that mess with our heads and hearts. Avaricious youngsters looking for sun and sex simply won’t cut it anymore.