In Norway, where cultural values tend to emphasize community over individual achievement, Rune Biseth, the show’s producer, had a difficult time finding contestants. “There are a few people who have a passion for getting famous,” he said in an interview. “But it’s hard to find them. And when you do, you have to be careful, because if they show off too much, the audience won’t trust them.”
Melinda Beckman, 29, a fan of the show from Kouvola, Finland, noted a similar difference. “The Finns haven’t been as quick to jump into action” as the British were, she said, referring to an episode in which only one woman announced the man she liked. “I think that’s more about us being reserved than not being interested.”
And in famously feminist Sweden, one of the games from the original British show that was criticized as sexist has been toned down. The original “melon challenge” required women to bounce suggestively atop a watermelon until it broke, while the men looked on. In Swedish Love Island, couples launched themselves together at the fruit.
The Danish version’s most obvious differences have to do with attitudes toward dating and sex, said Jeanet Rosenkjaer, editor-in-chief of Reality Portalen, a popular reality TV news website. Danes, she said, “aren’t judgmental about sex. It’s a paradox: We’re really open when it comes to sex, but we’re closed when it comes to dating.”
That was evident during a game in which the women felt up the entire bodies, including groins, of the men, who were clad only in underwear. “Since the ‘60s and ‘70s, women in Denmark have learned to take control of their bodies and their sexuality,” said Bastian Larsen, a sex therapist and dating coach based in Copenhagen. “So it’s normal for them now to take the initiative. They’re verbally upfront about what they want.” In the British version of the game, the women restricted themselves to touching biceps and abs.
Even with explicit groping, however, the Nordic versions of Love Island have not matched the ratings of their British forebear. Sweden, for example, averaged 73,000 viewers per episode, though streaming drew 94,000 per episode, according to ITV. In Denmark, the televised version has also lagged behind other reality shows.
Lars Sejr, a reporter who covers TV for the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, said a hit show on TV3 “normally gets between 150,000 and 250,000” viewers. “This one got 78,000 at its premiere. And it went down from there.”
Cecilie Hviid, 21, a student at the University of Copenhagen, said she understood why. She enjoyed the British Love Island, she said, but finds the Danish one boring. “The participants seem like they are afraid to completely open up about themselves,” she added. “I’m only watching because I know one of the contestants.”
Yet the lack of drama may be because of another strong cultural value: consensus. In the Norwegian show, Andreas Kronheim, 27, a programmer on an oil rig with flowing blond locks, was voted off two days before the final. “Everybody got along so well,” he said of his fellow cast members in an interview. “I never felt scared that any of the other guys would take my girl. It wasn’t a competition, it felt more like a vacation.”
“We’re a little reserved — we don’t want to stand out or act spoiled,” he said. “But maybe the show would have been better if there were more people who acted crazy.”
Or maybe, he added, “it would have been better if we’d had more alcohol.”