'Why Ekin-Su is the Love Island contestant who deserved to be queen of our screens'

Alice Porter takes a deep dive on the special appeal of Ekin-Su, who won—alongside Davide—this year's Love Island UK

Ekin-Su on Love Island UK 2022
(Image credit: ITV)

The rollercoaster of a season that has been Love Island UK 2022 came to a conclusion last night. In the grand Love Island UK 2022 final, held against the backdrop of the stunning Spanish villa we've come to know so well, we saw Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu crowned winner alongside Davide Sanclimenti. To most fans of the show, it probably came as little surprise that the 27-year-old Turkish actress had emerged victorious as queen of our screens. 

That's because Ekin-Su fitted perfectly into a trend across books, film and TV over the past few years for completely despicable women to be revered. From Gone Girl to My Year of Rest and Relaxation to Killing Eve, there has been a clear appetite for non-conforming, ostensibly selfish women who do bad things. This isn’t necessarily because viewers condone the way they behave, but because it’s interesting and exciting to see female characters who don’t follow the rules and are unapologetic about it.

In this way, Ekin-Su—who has been described as a reality TV show producer’s dream—stole the hearts of the show's viewers. Since entering the villa part way through the series (here's how to watch Love Island UK if you need to catch up), she has caused serious drama—from changing her mind about which boy she wanted to couple up with and going behind people’s backs to get what she wanted (and producing some of the best Love Island memes of 2022). Those at home may have been shocked by her behavior, but she has become one of the most popular contestants on the series, with the tag #ekinsu (opens in new tab) on TikTok gaining over 650 million views and the country rooting for her to ultimately triumph hand-in-hand with the 27-year-old Italian businessman.

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So what is it about Ekin-Su and other non-conforming women that viewers are so fascinated by? “Ekin-Su is a menace and I am all here for it,” says one TikTok user (opens in new tab). “The devil works hard but Ekin-Su works harder,” wrote another (opens in new tab)

Obviously, Ekin-Su brings some much-needed drama to Love Island, with the show’s ratings having decreased year-on-year thanks to repetitive storylines and dull episodes. But she also paves the way for women to act differently. Without a doubt, on every series of Love Island, the men on the show betray their partners, gaslighting them and going behind their backs to “test” their relationships or figure out if “the grass is greener” (which has also happened a lot this season). Meanwhile, generally, the female contestants are loyal and offer emotional support to their partners when they’re struggling—as was the case with Paige Thorne and Jacques O'Neill in this year’s series.

Ekin-Su and Davide on Love Island UK

(Image credit: ITV)

It’s refreshing to see a woman like Ekin-Su go after what she wants—even if that means upsetting the men she’s dating—knowing this is what her male counterparts have been doing on the show for years, often without criticism. In fact, 2021 Love Island winners, Millie and Liam, are notorious for one of the show’s biggest ever betrayals, when Liam Reardon cheated on Millie Court (with a girl called Lillie) in Casa Amor. And even if he did receive some heat for his actions, he still went on to win over the other islanders, Millie and the public.

One TikTok user (opens in new tab) commented: "The reason why men dislike women like Ekin-Su is because they can’t stand the sight of their own reflection.” And, seemingly, it’s her willingness to play men at their own game that is making her so popular with female viewers.

“The most refreshing thing about Ekin-Su and the reason why she is my favorite female Love Islander of all time is her unapologetic energy and self-awareness,” says 44-year-old fan of the show Kellie. “Yes, she is a drama queen [but] Ekin is unabashedly herself.”

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Love Island has been criticized in recent years for recruiting contestants who seem to only be interested in being on the show for the fame and the lifestyle that will inevitably come after they leave the villa. This means that their actions are often very guarded on the show, as they try to appear likable. However, Ekin-Su appears to have no interest in trying to appear likable and this means that viewers get to see a completely multi-faceted woman on their screens. The success of fictional shows with unlikable female characters has proved that this is what the public is craving. After all, it’s exciting to dislike someone one week and find yourself rooting for them the next.

But the impact of Love Island shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to changing our attitudes and beliefs, especially when it comes to issues like feminism. After all, three million people turned into the first episode this year. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that seeing a woman like Ekin-Su present herself totally truthful without shame is revolutionary. It creates space for other women to feel comfortable in being themselves while also opening up conversations about the ways women have been expected to act and how that is changing.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that seeing a woman like Ekin-Su present herself totally truthful without shame is revolutionary.

“I like how Ekin-Su is able to share her opinion and isn't afraid to address her feelings and what bothers her in the villa,” says Jo, who is 30 and describes Ekin-Su as her favorite Love Island contestant. Especially when the men on the show are being criticized for manipulative and damaging behaviors to the women, it’s so important to have someone like Ekin-Su on the show who stands up for what she wants.

“Her ‘I’ll do what I want attitude’ and commitment to what she wants, as opposed to other people, is as admirable as it is anarchic,” says 26-year-old Sophie of Ekin-Su. “The feminist in me loved it. ‘You do you gal!’ I would think as she flitted between one tanned, gym-obsessed man to the next.”

You might not be able to vouch for every decision Ekin-Su has ever made, but do you know a woman in your life who you could do that for? Ekin-Su represents the reality of what it’s like to date as a woman in 2022 and she does it with a confidence and lust for life that most of us could only aspire to. No wonder she is so well-loved.

Alice Porter
Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering relationships, entertainment and digital culture. She is particularly interested in how women are portrayed in the media, whether that's on reality TV or TikTok. She writes for publications including Stylist, Refinery29, Grazia, Cosmopolitan and Glamour and has been featured as an expert on the BBC radio show Woman’s Hour. When she’s not writing about any of these given topics she’s probably thinking about them elsewhere: either during an all-day Netflix binge, a deep conversation at the pub or during a long walk on the beach.