Content warning: This article deals with suicide and may be triggering for some.
Over the weekend, former Love Island UK host and TV personality Caroline Flack was found dead in her London home. A lawyer for Flack’s family confirmed that the 40-year-old had taken her own life.
Listen to the GOAT team breakdown the reality TV wake up call on the most recent ep of It’s Been A Big Day For…
At the end of last year, Flack was charged with assaulting her boyfriend Lewis Burton and as a result stood down from hosting season 6 of Love Island UK telling The Sun, “In order to not detract attention from the upcoming series I feel the best thing I can do is to stand down for series six.”
Following the assault charge, Caroline Flack’s boyfriend defended her on Instagram and slammed the “witch hunt” against her.
Flack herself also took to Instagram telling her followers, “This kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot to take on for one person…I’m a human being at the end of the day and I’m not going to be silenced when I have a story to tell and a life to keep going with.”
The death of Caroline Flack is incredibly heartbreaking, but sadly, it’s not the first suicide of a Love Island star. In 2019, former contestant Mike Thalassitis took his own life and it was a similar story for season 2 contestant Sophie Gradon who committed suicide in 2018. Twenty days after her death, Gradon’s boyfriend Wayne Linekar also took his life.
The multiple deaths of people associated with the show has spurred much debate around what kinds of support services are offered to reality TV contestants, cast and crew.
According to The Independent, ITV announced it had “revamped” its aftercare package last year. The channel announced it would be offering contestants “a minimum of eight therapy sessions following their appearance on the show.” Islanders also have access to a “psychological consultant throughout the series.”
“Due to the success of the show our Islanders can find themselves in the public eye following their appearance,” ITV Creative Director Richard Cowles said in a statement. “We really want to make sure they have given real consideration to this and what appearing on TV entails. Discussing all of this with us forms a big part of the casting process and, ultimately, their decision to take part.”
While a lot of the responsibility to provide adequate mental health support services falls on the production companies behind these reality TV shows, it also falls on the media, how they treat former contestants of reality TV shows, and even the audience who tunes in to watch.
And speaking of the audience, what effect does an increase in reality TV shows have on us – the consumers? In 2012, Mike Fleiss – who is a creator and executive producer of reality TV show The Bachelor US – told the Today show that “70 to 80% of the shows on TV are (bull).”
“They’re loosely scripted. Things are planted. Things are salted into the environment so things seem more shocking,” he revealed. This ‘dramatised’ reality could be particularly harmful for younger viewers.
In an interview with Healthline, Nancy Molitor, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said, “There is this appeal to these shows that comes down to making people feel superior to others. You see contestants being laughed at, rejected, voted off, made fun of. And watching these shows makes kids feel superior as well.
“It’s reinforcing all kinds of negative behaviour that we don’t want to see in our kids, including relational aggression.”
Reality TV also shine a light on a hunger for overnight fame and success. “It dovetails with society and the emphasis on self,” Molitor told Healthline. “Heavy viewers of reality television tend to have the most Facebook friends and the biggest Instagram followings. They’ve grown up with promoting themselves and their friends.
“They think nothing of being on camera. To them, reality shows are a natural extension. It’s just part of their culture. They don’t see it as weird at all.”
That’s why it feels more important than ever to keep this conversation going, make the realities of reality TV common knowledge and take each show with a grain of salt.