Ovie Soko Life After Reality TV: Love Island Star Opens Up On The 'Dark' Side Of Fame
"When I first told my agent that I was thinking about going onto a realty show he said, 'Look boy, you're crazy'," laughs Ovie Soko from behind a Zoom screen.
"I never really understood quite how big Love Island was. I had never watched any series before. So going in and then coming out to that reception was just like... what? It's just whacky isn't it. It's really wild."
Fast forward to 2020 and there probably isn't a millennial in the UK that doesn't have a crush on Ovie. The 6ft 7in basketballer strolled into the ITV dating show with a trunkful of lairy Hawaiian shirts, a hat collection that your nan would be jealous of and a head full of worldly life advice - and walked out with the hearts of the nation.
But he's all too aware that other reality stars have met with very different fates.
In recent years, we've seen the tragic deaths of Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon by suicide, as well Steve Dymond, a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, which was subsequently pulled.
And just a matter of months ago we saw the passing of the show's host Caroline Flack, who also ended her own life.
But while social media feeds filled up with the #BeKind messages in the wake of these tragedies, it remains to be seen whether those sentiments have brought about any real change.
Can anybody truly prepare themselves for reality TV fame? Is it possible to edit someone as their true, authentic self on screen? And can you really prosper in the reality bubble unscathed?
These are all questions Ovie investigates in his new BBC documentary, Life After Reality TV, in which he talks to stars who have found monumental success from the show, and those who have born the brunt of it.
During the show, we see Ovie interviewing the likes of multimillionaire I'm A Celeb winner Vicky Pattison and TV power couple Alex and Olivia Bowen, who argue that lack of privacy and public opinion are "a very small price to pay for all of the good stuff" - like money and a gigantic fan base.
But on the flip side of the coin, Ovie has also seen friends from his own series being put through the wringer as a result of their time in the spotlight.
The documentary shows Ovie meeting his former co-star Michael Griffiths, who was trolled mercilessly and even faced death threats after being portrayed negatively on his season.
"Some people just love to be haters," Michael reasons. But Ovie thinks there's more to it than that.
"I know from my time on reality TV that shows always simplify characters," he says. "I had the role of the good guy in Love Island, but bad boys make much better stories".
Explaining this point further, he adds that whether intentional or not, editing will always make somebody look like a hero, and someone a villain.
"At the end of the day, reality TV is not exactly reality, is it?," Ovie tells us. "Anything that has gone through editing is no longer as it once was. It's being put together to tell a story. It's like a drama... like a soap opera, however, the actors are just real people."
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Despite his own positive experiences behind the camera, Ovie reflects that using normal people as if they're actors in order to "draw the crazy numbers" is actually "really, really dark."
Whether it was the dogged emphasis on his completely platonic friendship with Amber Gill as 'something more', or the public's determination to prove Molly-Mae Hague's feelings for Tommy Fury were "fake," sensationalising people and relationships will always "make a good story", he argues.
Some might ask, is that so wrong? After all, reality stars know what they're signing up for, don't they?
But the conversation around whether producers are adequately prepping people for TV stardom, and ensuring they receive the right aftercare, has come under increasing scrutiny with every tragedy.
After Mike Thalassitis' death, for example, ITV pledged a brand new welfare package for its islanders, which included repeated psychological assessments ahead of their TV appearances, detailed coaching on both positive and negative aspects of taking part in the show, and bespoke training on dealing with the aftermath, from social media, to advice on finances.
Plus, they promised all contestants would be provided with a minimum of eight therapy sessions and 14 months of contact with the Love Island crew following the series, should they need it.
While the new safety measures were welcomed by many, some Love Island stars - like Zara Holland and Jonny Mitchell - claim that they don't go far enough.
Adding his two pence, Ovie says that no matter how much support there is, the simple answer is that "nothing can prepare you" for what is to come.
"It's the same thing as when our parents tell us what its going to be like when we have to work and we have to get a job and make a living," he says. "It's very different from when you actually are in the situation.
"It's the same kind of thing. You're warned [about the negative implications]. You're told. They tell you over and over again that these are the possibilities, then they write it down. But nothing can prepare you for that."
Commenting on backlash fired at ITV over the deaths of contestants, Ovie adds: "I think a lot of the criticisms around reality TV and mental health of participants [ignore the fact that] this is a collective problem.
"It's not just the producers. The producers aren't the ones who are trolling. They're not the ones saying nasty things. It's a 'we' problem.
"Whenever I see anyone getting trolled, its just a bit crazy to me that people can say such nasty things, and this social media era has given people the ability to say things they wouldn't dare say otherwise," he adds.
In his documentary, Ovie likens the reality TV industry to a "rotten apple that's been dipped in gold" - acknowledging that while it's undoubtedly glamorous and appealing, it has underlying issues at its core.
While the dark side of TV stardom "100 per cent" scares him, he feels fortunate to be straddling both the TV and sporting world, so that he doesn't have to commit fully to the rat race.
He's currently signed with LNB Pro A basketball club Le Mans Sarthe, meaning a lot of his time is taken up with training and professional matches, rather than chasing fame.
"I feel like I've been in a privileged position to be honest with you," he says. "Reality TV has brought about opportunities as far as being able to meet certain people and able to get in certain doors but I was already lucky enough to be an athlete [so I could] see it as a bonus.
"I'll still keep my hands in the pie but for now basketball is my primary focus".
Does that mean no more Ovie on our TV screens? Well, never say never.
"As far as reality, if theres something that would be a hell of an experience, like the Jungle (I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!) - err yeah, I think thats probably one of the ones I would do," he teases.
"Well, gosh, I guess we'll just have to see..."
You can watch Ovie: Life After Reality TV on BBC iPlayer from Tuesday 10th November.
Featured Image Credit: BBC
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