by Madeleine Pemberton.
If you’re anything like me, you would’ve also spent your winter break keeping warm in Mallorca, Spain, through the screen of your television. Love island is arguably the world’s hottest reality program; a simple premise of a group of attractive bikini-clad people in their twenties seeking romance, locked in a villa like a libido-driven Big Brother.
It’s so bad, so why do we continue to give this sexy dumpster fire our attention?
Maybe, it’s me, desperate for a justification for investing my time in this show which I know inherently goes against my morals, but does love Island simply have the world hooked through using age old economic thinking?
Let’s begin by understanding the market; the market generated inside the villa through the system of the game. Not to simply reduce these real people to economic agents, though that is categorically what I am doing, the islanders act as both the buyers and sellers in the market facilitated by the producers. The market loosely resembles the monopolistically competitive market; a quick equilibrium is reached within the first episode as the boys choose girls to couple with.
This equilibrium is reached on a few premises; there’s largely no price competition, as coupling up with anyone can get you some of that sweet prize money at the end, imperfect information as everyone is yet to even have a conversation, essentially homogeneous goods (I mean they’re all attractive people in swimwear), and demand and supply is mostly equal as every islander is in a couple.
As the show goes on, the producers continue to manipulate the market through demand and supply shocks to throw the market away from equilibrium. The way they do is through manipulating the demand and supply. You have these 5 couple in equilibrium, and suddenly a new girl arrives in the villa. This increases demand for the men and excess supply of women — reminder, this show is largely some heterosexual bullshit, and the girl are now the suppliers because they are competing for limited buyers. The market will not reach equilibrium again until a recoupling ceremony arrives and boys make their choice, sending the excess supply to dreary hometowns and into a life of teeth whitening promotions.
This isn’t the sole change to the market; the remainder predominantly come from the islanders themselves. You many be familiar with the idiom ‘dating is gathering information until you realise you don’t like that person’ — this is where imperfect information comes into play. As time progresses, in the villa, the amount of information islanders gather on each other increases. This normally results in turning of heads, or the confirmation of a stable equilibrium. This, in turn, converts the market away from a monopolistic competition as the goods become progressively less homogeneous. Rather than abs and ass, personality becomes an element to buyers and sellers, and product differentiation greatly increases.
The increase of knowledge about the islanders later on in the show begins in the element of pride competition. Through later entrants, public voting eliminations and challenges where the islanders see headlines and tweets regarding them, the public favorites are identifiable. Public voting dominated dumping of islanders towards the end of the game and the 50k cash prize is ultimately decided by public vote. This turns some heads. Conversations tilt in the villa to weather a person is genuine or playing a game, and latecomers can use this information to target those who have the public vote to form couples. Two of the finalists in the UK season of this year entered only 12 days before the prize was drawn, being the latest entrants as the show runs over 8 weeks, riding the wave of their popular partners to coming both 3rd and 1st in the competition.
For a fairly mind-numbing show, the economic analysis doesn’t stop here. Game Theory brings in some more elements of disruption to the villa. Mid-season as the couple begin to approach a steady-state equilibrium, the producers split the genders into different villas, and introduce an equal number of new boys to the girl’s villa and an equal number of girls to the boy’s villa. They have no contact whatsoever and remain in these different villas for several days before being faced with a choice of recoupling with a new boy, or returning to the one villa single to remain a couple with the partner they had prior.
This is essentially replicating the prisoner’s dilemma, an economics problem that details two associates in crime being arrested and held in separate cells with two options; to stay silent or to confess. If they confess, and their partner chooses to remain silent, they walk free while their partner serves a three year sentence, and if their partner also confesses, they both serve two years. However, if they remain silent and their partner also remains silent, they both only serve one year, and if their partner confesses, they the serve the three year sentence.
We can equate the satisfaction with outcomes to the years in prison to determine the dilemma faced by the couple in different villas. Think of this on a 1–10 scale; if you decide to remain single to return to villa and you returned to find that your previous partner had made the same decision to be together, you’d think you’d be about 7. However, if you returned to find that your partner walked had recoupled and you are now alone in the villa with your ex and their new beau, you’d be pretty mugged off and place yourself at a 0. If you choose to recouple, and your partner walked in single, you’d be pretty smug that you’re not only in a couple, but you didn’t have to suffer the embarrassment your ex-partner just did; you’d put yourself at an 8. However, if your partner also recoupled you’d be happy that you’re not single. But the nerve if your partner to recouple too? You’re at 5.
Now what we understand at the optimal outcome as a couple is where the factor of each partner’s scale is largest, where both walk in single as seven squared is 49. However, this is not necessarily how the individuals will make their decision; instead the outcome will be the Nash equilibrium, where they both recouple. The Nash equilibrium is the optimal choice for the islanders as individuals. If you recouple, you’d either find yourself at a 5 or an 8 depending on what your partner does; on the contrary, if you remain single, you face a 7 or 0. You’d both choose to recouple. It’s muggy, but s the islanders say, it is what it is. However, realistically, it is what is Nash.
Lover Island may be harsh look into the modern dating culture we would all rather have avoided, but it’s not to say the problems they face aren’t as old as time. However, the level of usefulness of this information is slimmer than the girl’s gracing the villa. You can run the numbers as much as you like to try and win the competition, but the reality is no one is coupling up with the person drawing out Nash equilibrium problems on the mirror with lipstick.