Love Island is back, and after the persistent boredom that accompanied the last two seasons, things are (thankfully) more active – there are more chats, more insatiable quests for love (predominantly in the form of Ekin-Su) and endless speculation over one’s ‘type’. Season 8 itself has already been marked as ‘different’: in their pre-loved collaboration with eBay, Love Island cut ties with fast-fashion – a relationship which increasingly came to define the show.
And at first glance, the show is noticeably more diverse, too – model Tasha Ghouri, 23, from Thirsk in North Yorkshire is the show’s first deaf contestant. Other contestants include microbiologist Dami Hope, who is of Nigerian Irish heritage, the numerous Italians, including the ‘Italian Stallion’ Davide Sanclimenti, and bombshell Danica Taylor, who identified herself as half-Jamaican. But while the show’s onscreen diversity has ostensibly increased, the absence of any Asian representation this year – whether East Asian or South Asian – is particularly striking, with no Asian contestants appearing in the past two weeks.
A lack of authentic diversity on Love Island is indeed nothing new – the show has been criticised in the past for its lack of diversity, box-ticking, and treatment of people of colour. When the original line-up was revealed, previous contestant Sharon Gaffka, who is of Indonesian and Polish heritage, criticised the line-up for its lack of Asian and plus-sized contestants.
A 2018 Ofcom report indicated that South Asians have the lowest representation of all minority groups in the media. Dating shows rarely feature South or East Asian women, with Love Island typically including 1 or 2 Asian contestants the entire season. And while some may argue that it’s not a win to be perceived as ‘desirable’ on reality television, there’s an issue rooted in how such shows warp social ideals: who people deem “hot”, “their type”, and worthy of love. In a show which views women through the lens of physical attraction and elevates them on the basis of them conforming to one’s ‘type’, which is more often than not ‘blonde with blue eyes,’ Love Island’s exclusion of South Asian contestants is emblematic of the modern dating world in which Western beauty standards take precedence.
But it’s no secret that South Asian representation on shows like Love Island is frequently tokenistic – a mere look at Shannon Singh, who – despite being part of the original line-up – was dumped less than 48 hours after entering exemplifies this. Singh, 23, was the shortest-lived contestant in the show’s history. Only a couple of South Asian contestants have appeared on the show in previous years: Malin Andersson appeared in season two, Kaz Crossley, who is of Thai heritage, appeared in season four, and Nabila Badda entered the villa in season five. The issue of a lack of representation extends to South Asian men too, who rarely enter the villa. Nas Majeed, who appeared on Winter Love Island, was the third South Asian to enter the villa. After being repeatedly picked last, friend-zoned, and – to top it off – compared to “Aladdin” by Siânnise Fudge – Majeed’s treatment cemented the view that South Asian representation simply isn’t worth it for the degradation experienced in return.
Last year, the show received backlash for how its treatment of South Asian contestants, which was grounded in colourism and tokenism. With South Asian contestants (such as Priya Gopaldas, last year) typically introduced later on – when it’s too late to make an impact – Love Island’s usual depiction of the South Asian experience is shrouded by tokenism. There may be other reasons as to the lack of representation, but maybe it’s not solely that South Asian individuals haven’t applied – it’s that they haven’t been cast, and why they haven’t been included remains unanswered.