Television

How An Online Gang of Twenty-somethings Hijacked Reality TV’s Best Show

Thousands of British gals who love cars and takeout food are skewing this season of Love Island to their liking.

A girl and guy stand in front of an illuminated heart-shaped statue outdoors. The woman is blonde and wears a yellow dress. The man has brown hair and wears a white shirt and khaki pants. He has his arms wrapped around her waist and she is holding his hands.
Millie and Liam, a.k.a. “Milliam”: The boring, but unstoppable, couple from Love Island. Lifted Entertainment/ITV

I first started watching Love Island in 2017, right before I moved to the UK. At the time, I was working as a barista. I would wake up and head to work by 5:30 a.m. and return home in the early afternoon, jittery to the point of shakiness from excessive espresso consumption, with long, empty hours to fill. Love Island was the perfect antidote to my liminal malaise; the first season of the U.K.-based dating competition series that I watched, Season 3, included an astounding 43 episodes, endless amounts of British slang, and a soundtrack that actually featured real songs (something sorely lacking in American reality TV).

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In the four years since, Love Island has held its place as my favorite reality show—and one of my favorite shows, period. The dating competition show, which airs six nights a week in the UK, is the ideal blend of escapism and emotional realness: The contestants quite literally escape to a luxury villa in Mallorca, but the daily coverage of the minutiae of relationship development, from awkward first meetings to shared glances that seem almost too intimate to watch, carries with it an overwhelming sense of relatability. The premise is simple: Over the course of six-to-eight weeks, hot twenty-somethings couple off, hook up, and fall out in the hopes of winning £50,000 (or about $68,000) at the end of the summer, as voted on by the viewing public. I have laughed; I have cried (more times than I’d like to admit); I’ve rooted for couples with an intensity that seems alarming to those who haven’t yet joined the Love Island cult.

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The current season, Love Island’s seventh, includes every beat of this emotional rollercoaster and more. In response to complaints of a boring start and following the lackluster sixth season, Love Island’s producers have ramped up the drama to create possibly the most divisive season of the series to date. In contrast to every other summer that I’ve spent watching the show, as toward the end of this season—which just wrapped in the UK, but whose finale won’t air in the US for another couple weeks—there remained no clear frontrunners. With so much uncertainty, the fate of the winning couple could be sealed by the opinions of one key viewer demographic: Fiat 500 Twitter.

I had never heard of the weird, wide world of Fiat 500 Twitter before Love Island, and for good reason: The group and its defining characteristics are very distinctly British. The name of this community itself comes from the name of the car model—a Fiat 500 —that an archetypal member would drive (bonus points if it was bought for her—and yes, the demographic is decidedly female— by her father). Fiat 500s are small, cute, and compact; think of an updated European twist on a VW Bug. They’re hugely popular across their native continent, but the cars are not as well-known in the U.S. Fiat 500 Twitter is defined by this and other categorically un-American interests: Tango Ice Blasts (some variation on a Slurpee), “takeaways,” and ending their tweets with the meaningless flourish “x.” Members of Fiat 500 Twitter also love to post about cheating boyfriends and use cringeworthy emojis unironically. No matter what they post, their tweets get an inexplicably high number of likes and retweets—upward of several thousand.

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The hero of this season of Love Island, according to Fiat 500 Twitter, is Essex’s Millie Court. Millie entered the villa during Week Two and soon formed a connection with 6’6” Welsh bricklayer Liam Reardon. “Milliam,” as the couple has been dubbed, looked strong until Liam flirted relentlessly with, and ultimately kissed, another islander. Nevertheless, after one of the most uncomfortable public apologies in Love Island history (one stage of which involved Liam leaving a Millie a note that read, “I may not be sticking in your back in bed, but you’re always stuck in my head xx”), Millie took Liam back. What is it about Milliam that appeals to Fiat 500 Twitter, which constantly posts about their love for the pair? In explaining the demographic’s support for Milliam, one Reddit comment reads: “tall dark and handsome meets blond and blue eyed woman. He cheats and she helps him grow = their [sic] winners.” Millie is undeniably stunning, and her quirky facial expressions in response to moments of awkwardness in the villa are endearing. Liam is—well, Liam is tall. Together, they comprise a generic but relatable fairy-tale narrative (with just enough of a struggle in the form of Liam’s infidelity to transform the story into a “journey”).

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Fiat 500 Twitter’s deep obsession with a pairing as relatively mundane as Milliam may leave the uninitiated to damn the cohort as superficial. Yet, as with virtually any profiling of a group of women, this view reflects the clear element of misogyny at play in coverage of Fiat 500 Twitter. While the nuances of how the media portrays the women of Fiat 500 Twitter differ from those of the more American, pumpkin spice-loving crew, the same elements define them: disdain for women liking what they like, simply because a lot of them seem to like it. A typical, critical post about the group might dub them as “basic, materialistic, and prone to drama” or spin them as empty-headed idiots. The demographic, in both the domestic and British context, is white and privileged, and recognizing this (particularly in the context of the racism that still plagues their beloved Love Island and features prominently in social media responses to contestants like Kaz, who is Black) is critical. A deeper interrogation of why Kaz, who is also from Essex— Fiat 500 Twitter’s home base—doesn’t share the same beloved status as a white woman like Millie would be welcome. Still, the frequent derision of a fanbase whose posts are written by women and geared towards other women feels, at best, tinged with sexism.

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Ultimately, while I’m fascinated by the world of Fiat 500 Twitter in all of its relatability, privilege, and public oversharing about exes, my problem is that their reality show obsession, Milliam, is just plain boring. This season of Love Island has starred some of the most complex and dynamic individuals to ever appear on the series. Give me Kyler. Give me Feddy. Give me Chloby. Give me anyone but Milliam, whose uncomplicated cuteness personally—to quote a common Love Island phrase—gives me the ick. But do not assign that same ick to Fiat 500 Twitter, please and thank you x.

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