This post is part of Avidly’s “Too Real” series, guest edited by Carissa M. Harris: a series of short, vivid essays focusing on a single moment, scene, or episode from reality tv that has lodged itself in the writer’s soul and refused to leave.
The most iconic scene in Love Island U.K. season six is a premise from my nightmares: would you like to sit around a fire pit and wait to see if your partner has decided to dump you for another person, on live television, in a dramatic ceremony?
The mood in the show’s villa is understandably tense. For a few days, all the boys have been in another villa, Casa Amor, getting to know a whole new set of girls—and the villa’s girls have been getting to know a new set of boys. Each person can decide to stay loyal to their couple or bring a new person into the villa, which is, of course, revealed in an intense ceremony. Only after the girls say whether they want to stick with their couple or not does their partner walk in from an upper staircase. Will he come back alone? After all the other boys have returned, some splitting up and some staying loyal, the host has saved one girl for last: Shaughna, who has been happily coupled up with Callum, has been anxious since he and the other boys left for Casa Amor. She stands nervously, saying that she’s “preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.” It’s a familiar feeling to me, this dread, but it’s the kind of feeling I like to experience alone, in the dark, sending a risky text at midnight. So when Shaughna covers her face with her perfectly manicured candy-pink nails, it looks like she’s seeking that same privacy.
All eyes are on the upper staircase where Callum will emerge. The music swells…and Callum walks out with a petite blonde woman, Molly, on his arm. He looks down to see Shaughna standing alone and whispers, “Oh fuck.” Around the fire pit, the girls look shocked that Callum has returned with someone else. They have, after all, been reassuring Shaughna all week long that he will come back alone. The boys look deeply uncomfortable, looking at Shaughna as if to say they wish they could tell her. When Callum comes down to the fire pit, he announces that he’s “gone with his heart,” and everything seems to freeze.
Everyone looks to Shaughna, anxious to see where her anger will erupt. Will she scream at Callum, swear at Molly, start sobbing hysterically? The scene is excruciatingly tense. Shaughna stands silently, her face fixed in a small, tight smile. It seems like she won’t say anything, until the host prods, asking Shaughna what she wants to say to Callum. Shaughna utters two words, slowly and deliberately: “Congrats, hun.”
This scene confirms platitudes of a group: men are trash, he was the worst, all the nice ones are gone. Yes, Callum has screwed Shaughna over. Yes, it’s painful to watch. Yes, this is a literal nightmare of mine. But this scene articulates something beyond the untrustworthiness of men or the discomfort of public rejection: Shaughna’s response charts the limit of acceptable anger.
I’m obsessed with these two words: “Congrats, hun.” This phrase stretches out long and slow, punctuating the awkwardness, refusing to avoid it. It’s the place where I’d usually say “no worries!!” and “totally fine!” So “congrats, hun” seems like the perfect rejoinder to the hurt that has been done to Shaughna. She gives Callum no ground here: it is not until later, with only the girls around, that Shaughna will break down and cry. She remains composed and poker-faced, yet her words betray a deep anger, a hurt that makes everyone sitting around the fire pit avert their eyes from her.
Shaughna could be sincerely congratulating Molly on landing her man, but it seems to me that she is directing the congratulations at Callum. Because “congrats, hun” is petty. This is also to say that this phrase is a refusal: a refusal of nicety and politeness, a refusal of expectations. With different words, Shaughna could mend the situation, make Molly feel welcome in the villa, absolve Callum of his guilt, let everyone breathe a sigh of relief. But she doesn’t. She lets the moment be as agonizingly uncomfortable as it is. Shaughna gestures towards it, but doesn’t move past anger or apologize for her pettiness. She lets Callum and Molly and the rest of the villa sit in it.
Perhaps it is because of my white, Protestant, Midwestern childhood that I find Shaughna’s refusal so surprising. In my life, anger was always a bad feeling, something to be avoided, something to be apologized for. Psalm 37:8 (NIV, of course) still lives rent-free in my brain: “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Being angry was a bad feeling, but more than that, it was unbecoming, unladylike. Forgiveness was the provenance of women, it seemed to me, making anger an emotion that belonged to men. It’s easier to bear, easier to forgive, the anger of men than to awaken to your own.
This refusal of forgiveness and docility is striking to me, precisely because of these gendered dynamics. Shaughna refuses to “no worries!!” her way out of awkwardness. It’s iconic, it’s cringey, it’s powerful. I want to adopt her attitude, to feel that kind of anger without dismissing it. But the risk here is looking like Shaughna: the vulnerability of being visibly hurt. It isn’t very cool—it’s the sort of position that makes everyone around the fire pit search for something to look at besides her. If Shaughna’s anger is unacceptable, her hurt is unbearable to witness. She put it all out there—and still got dumped. Her heartbreak is deeply embarrassing to behold, and we want to be far from it. Far from her.
Shaughna will eventually move on. The day after her fire pit embarrassment, the producers will make Shaughna get coffee with Molly and sit down with Callum for a chat. They make it right, or as right as you can make it on reality television. But “congrats, hun” Shaughna is an icon precisely because she doesn’t rush the resolution. She lingers a little bit longer in the anger, she refuses to repair, to brush it off. If I get anything from Shaughna, it’s the invitation to turn towards wrath instead of away from it. To be angry not because I think it is particularly productive for me, but because it is exactly the opposite: I just feel like it.
Bekah Waalkes is a PhD candidate at Tufts University. She’s months behind on Love Island season 8 so please…no spoilers.