[This story includes spoilers from season five of Love Island USA.]
It was another summer of love, heartbreak, intense emotions and dramatic moments as season five of Love Island USA wraps up.
The Peacock series, which saw Modern Family actress Sarah Hyland return as host, follows a group of singles who come to stay in the Love Island villa, all searching for a romantic connection. As the Islanders couple up, they will also face challenges, twists and bombshells along the way to help determine if they want to stay with their current partner or recouple with someone new. Viewers at home also get to vote on who gets to stay and who gets sent home with a broken heart.
The show’s executive producer Simon Thomas said the goal is for the Islanders and the audience to “feel like the best summer vacation of all time” with “a little bit of drama along the way.”
And this season, which took place in Fiji, was not short on any drama, from an Islander calling out Hyland during a dramatic dumping to an ex-girlfriend coming in as a bombshell and more. Ultimately, several couples were able to power through and make it to the finale.
Below, Thomas spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the creative process behind each season, how they handle intense moments while filming, what’s it like being in the back room during the return from Casa Amor, mental health resources for the Islanders and teases the new series spinoff Love Island Games.
How was it having Sarah Hyland return as host?
Sarah’s fantastic! She’s just such a natural and so likable and, you know, I think the Islanders all look up to her as well. So she’s been, she’s just a joy.
What’s the planning process like for the initial group of Islanders and that first episode when they all couple up for the first time?
What’s interesting about the show, as opposed to other shows in the genre is that we don’t do a huge amount of matchmaking. The casting process is long, right? We see probably more people pound for pound than other shows, and partly because our cast is so large over the course of it. So basically what you end up doing is you end up picking a collection of people, you know what I mean? All mixes of personality types. And so when they come together, we’ve learned not to sort of push our expectations onto what they’re going to do. And that’s fun because then they sort of surprise you in the way that it goes – there’s no expectations, there’s no disappointments. You don’t want to sort of push them in any one direction. You just sort of want to set them up for love and then hope that something happens, then see what happens when you throw some more people in there for love.
When planning the group of Islanders, are you just hoping everyone is going to get along?
No, 100 percent. I think you want everybody there to find something, right? Like you want everyone to find someone so that when someone else comes in they might find someone else again. You don’t really want people to be in there and sort of feeling like, “Oh, I didn’t find my one.” And you also want it to feel like the best summer vacation of all time. You want it to feel like when you were 23 and you were abroad or whatever with your friends and you had this amazing summertime. And so at the end of the day, maybe you scrabbled once or twice, but you sort of bonded over this experience and that’s what we want the audience to feel. Because in many ways, because it’s a summertime obsession show where you have to watch every night, you’re kind of taking the audience on that vacation. And so you want everyone to be having a good time, even if there’s a little bit of drama along the way.
There’s so much anticipation around the Islanders’ return from Casa Amor. What’s it like being in the back room watching that in the moment?
What’s really interesting is that we actually run Casa, like the final coupling up, we kind of run it twice because we have two villas. So you have to have them couple up in Casa Amor before you can then bring them back to the main villa. And we don’t show that bit because of, you know, spoilers. So it’s sort of like you get this Christmas Eve and Christmas with Casa because you sort of go, “Oh this, this and I can see the shape of this and maybe this is gonna cause that,” but you don’t actually know how it’s gonna all play out. And then it plays out in all kinds of explosive ways. We’ve seen the full gamut, like we’ve been doing Casa since season two and every year I can think of a different moment that’s either like, grabbed me by the heart and pushed it into my throat or many, many other feelings. I think it’s a great vibe. I mean, Casa Amor aside, watching the live streams internally on the show is hazardous for your health because it’s completely addicting, and you could easily find yourself up till 1 in the morning, 2 in the morning, watching things happen.
Because you’re watching all 24 hours of content, whereas viewers are only seeing an abbreviated cut, one hour each day.
You know what’s really interesting? I was thinking about this because some of the shows this year have been, like, exercise because we’ve just had so much drama and so much fun stuff to pack in, and you’re like, well that’s a 24 hour day and we’re basically just showing you like a whole 24th of it. And if you account for people sleeping, it’s even more than that. Like, that’s a huge chunk of a day to be that dramatic and that engaging. Other shows would shoot three or four or more days per hour and we’re sort of getting like that multiple times every night of the week. And it’s just a phenomenal show in that sense.
A surprising scene during the “red wedding” in episode 29 when Islander Mike Stark calls out Sarah Hyland got a lot of attention on social media. How do you handle those intense moments?
You’re immediately wanting to make sure everything’s OK, and that it’s not going to sort of evolve into something worse. But frankly, Love Island is not a show of set pieces. Our cameras aren’t perfectly positioned and we don’t do repositioning, and all the cameras are sort of either tucked away or robotic. So when something happens, that’s quote unquote off script, we just follow it. And Sarah is such a consummate professional and amazing talent, but she’s just able to roll with that and hold her own. And that’s what you need in a Love Island host. You need somebody who is fully present in the room who knows them all intimately from having watched the show and the streams and caring about all of their experiences, and then being able to back up what they’re saying. Like Sarah’s talking to these people, she’s asking the questions that she wants to know the answer to, and so if Mike [Stark] jumps in, she knows exactly what she’s gonna say to him because she had a reason to ask that question in the first place. And if he thinks that’s shade, well, that’s on him. Sarah can hold her own in that situation, and I think that’s the thing we again pride ourselves on is that we don’t do retakes. This is all just unfolding in the villa. Obviously, you clench [in those moments] and then you see what happens.
There are obviously many dramatic and emotional moments throughout each season. Do you have mental health resources for the Islanders if they need them?
Yeah, 100 percent. And more than that, we have proactive check-ins with everyone. Love Island is made from the ground up to be like a good faith dating show. We don’t let them [Islanders] drink to the point of getting drunk. We don’t manipulate and we don’t push things because these are real people. And so when people make bad choices, we will showcase those bad choices, but we won’t pass judgment on them because sometimes one person’s bad choice is actually a good choice for them or vice versa. So even if you make a bad choice and even if you hurt somebody and even if the audience turns against you, you still have the right to feel OK about yourself and to learn from your mistakes and to get on with your life. So we would never set fire to that person. And it is important that we have our daily check-ins with our team – not the producing team, the producing team checks in with them [Islanders] twice a day, three times a day to make sure they’re OK – but like people who are agnostic of the TV production process: [psychiatrists] and talent managers for lack of a better word, who are there to make sure their mental health is good. And then we follow that after the show as well. No one’s just dropped from the island.
Bethenny Frankel recently made comments, calling for reality TV stars to stop filming and unionize amid the ongoing actors and writers strikes. What are your thoughts on the idea of reality TV unionizing?
I can’t really speak to her experience as I’ve not produced her or any of that sort of stuff. I really couldn’t say. I just sort of point back to what I was just talking about before: I think all we can do is take care of ourselves and we have a genuine series of processes and care that we place in with our Islanders that are a priority, and not just with our Islanders, on all our reality shows. Both crew and cast are a priority to us, particularly in a show where we’re turning around so fast, we just want to take care of people because ultimately, at the end of the day, television is docked on a screen. We love making the show, we’re passionate about it, but not at the expense of people.
What would you say to the Love Island USA season five winning couple?
I’d say – and it sounds so asinine but it’s so true – enjoy it. This is a combination of several weeks of hard work. I know it sounds silly to say, “Oh, you’ve been on a sun lounge for six weeks and that’s hard work,” but they’ve been going through it, they’ve been making big decisions for themselves, and so now they’re at the end of that process and they found someone, hopefully. And I think we’ve got some serious couples here [this season] who actually have really found some people, so go enjoy each other and not look for the next thing but enjoy the thing that is right here. I think everyone on the show is picked because they’re genuine and we don’t really want people who are just seeking, you know, TikTok views and Instagram followers. So I would just hope that the winners enjoy that moment and aren’t wanting to look at the next thing. Frankly, we’ve had a pretty good run of that.
Normally at this point, I would have an inkling [of the winners] but I actually think the way that the show has swung, and people’s behavior has changed through the show this year, I’m rooting for every one of them. I think there’s genuine emotions across the board there. They’re really a fantastic bunch.
You have been involved with Love Island USA since it began in 2019. Is there anything you learned from season five that you would want to change for the next season?
What I would say is that we’re always learning. There’s no hubris on our show. We play like underdogs and it’s been lovely to have the response that we’ve had this year on the show because I think the show’s been great since Day One. And I feel like we’re finding our place in the zeitgeist here [U.S.] and not being compared as much to the UK [version] as we have in previous [years]. But we watch all the versions around the world, right? Like I was on with the Israeli creators yesterday [and] we’re close with the many different teams around the world and we exchange text messages. We’re always sort of seeing what they’re doing and seeing how people act, and then tweaking things accordingly. So I would imagine that there will be things next year that you will see which will surprise you, much like there were this year, as we try out a bunch of new stuff and maybe some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t, but we’ll see.
What can you tease about the new series spinoff, Love Island Games, that is set to debut this fall?
We developed that format here at ITV Entertainment, purposefully built for Peacock. So there are some little tweaks to that format – it’s gonna feel like Love Island – but the things that we’ve changed and moved around, I’m really, really excited about because it’s going to make it feel like a slightly different show. And we’re gonna have some fantastic Islanders that people are really familiar with, and they’re gonna really enjoy not just seeing them again but seeing them across the Love Island multiverse and sort of seeing them all mix and match with each other in a show that is going to be super fun and super surprising.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Season five of Love Island USA is currently streaming on Peacock.