Praise be to the reality TV gods. It has only taken two series, a global pandemic and the nation manufacturing the initial “couplings” in the first week, but Love Island is finally back on form. The last fortnight has had more drama than the entire last two dreary series combined. And its bounce back is in no small part down to the arrival of Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu, a Turkish actor who must surely moonlight as a Love Island producer, given her unrelenting commitment to causing chaos.
On her slo-mo arrival into the villa in episode 3, Ekin-Su made her intentions clear. “I’m not here to make seasonal girlfriends,” she announced to the other women. “I’m here to find the love of my life.” Watching her pursue that goal has been dynamite. Night one she was blowing kisses at Luca as he lay in bed with his partner, Gemma. The next morning she grafted the villa’s entire male population by making them breakfast. In a few short days she had successfully made a move on Davide. Then before we knew it, she was crawling on all fours across the terrace to orchestrate a secret kiss with newcomer Jay, a move that will undoubtedly remain in the Love Island hall of fame for years to come.
Though things between her and Jay have gone tits up, she will be just fine. After making moves on new boy Charlie, last night’s episode saw her having to pick between three love interests in the recoupling. Viewers crossed their fingers that she’d go back to Davide, realising the “enemies to lovers” cinema trope in real time. And she did just that, giving the public what they want, as ever. Ekin-Su is carrying the series on her back. Since the Love Island format is essentially the same each series, casting is half the battle – just look at the impact the various Italians have made on the show (another secret ingredient to a great series, given Davide, Luca and Jay’s efforts). In Ekin-Su, producers have blessed us with the best of Love Island archetypes: the female savage. This femme fatale bombshell is a character we are lucky enough to see every few series and, like this year, ends up being the best thing about the show.
Ekin-Su hails from a long line of Love Island femmes fatales, like series five’s Maura Higgins or series four’s Megan Barton-Hanson before her. Effortlessly iconic, instantly meme-able, these women have identical energy. They are hot and know it, they have worked out what they want – and go for it.
All the show’s femmes fatales have been “bombshells” (contestants that arrive later and unexpectedly), but not all Love Island bombshells are created equal. Any new islander is likely to change the chemistry of the villa; even a cat with no nefarious intention causes panic among a flock of pigeons. But late-comers like Megan, Maura and now, Ekin-Su, are Machiavellian man-eaters. They treat the game show like … well, a game show. They are on Love Island in the same way they would be on Survivor. They do whatever it takes to get to the top and don’t give a fig what the villa (or the viewers) think about it.
Whenever producers find that rarest of birds, it makes for seriously dynamic television. Series four was wildly overrated but made watchable by Barton-Hanson. Who can forget her shirking Eyal only to put the moves on Wes? Not only did she ask him for a kiss while he was still in a couple with Laura, but she then went off to Casa Amor and came back coupled up with someone else. Then there was Maura Higgins, whose antics will go down in history. Everything from maintaining full eye contact with Tommy as she sucked an ice lolly while he sat by his partner Molly-Mae Hague, to deciding out of nowhere to couple up with Curtis – leading to Amy’s premature departure.
Many male contestants have given these bombshells a run for their money (honourable mentions to season two’s Terry and season five’s Michael). But there is something particularly enthralling about women behaving badly, and exhibiting brazen behaviour that is normalised in men.
I have no doubt there are already endless tweets hailing Ekin-Su as a feminist icon. While that is debatable, she is one thing for certain – a reality TV rarity. I predict that, like her predecessors, she will be one of the most successful contestants in terms of how far she makes it, as well as a breakout star. And she will have earned every single collab that comes her way. The show is never the same without women like her in the cast. Long live the Love Island chaos queen.