When personal trainer Jack Fowler locked lips with aspiring actress Georgia Steel on Love Island, the torrid kiss summed up everything that has made the show a guilty pleasure for millions.
He was shamelessly cheating on Laura Anderson, another contestant – and Laura's supposed friendship with Georgia was shattered in an instant.
But the deception went far further than a single broken heart. For the passionate embrace in last year's series is one of many instances of TV fakery in the supposed reality show, according to whistleblowers who have spoken to The Mail on Sunday.
ITV acknowledge the show is a "combination of reality and produced elements" but deny it is fake. However, a string of former participants allege that programme-makers have cynically contrived not just single scenes but entire storylines and relationships in the show which has become a cash cow for ITV. Indeed, it is so lucrative that the network announced last week there will be two series a year from 2020.
It is said that the manipulation is now so brazen that "Love Islanders" are given lines to learn. A whistleblower told The Mail on Sunday: "People don't realise how scripted it is, how much the producers influence it.
"It is completely disingenuous and a lot of the time very, very fake. It isn't fair to mislead the audience like that. The producers don't care what they're doing to people as long as they're making their ratings. We were treated like performing animals and the current cast are still."
Unheralded when it first began in 2015, the ITV2 show's popularity has soared and now up to six million viewers a night watch the attractive contestants living – and bed-hopping – in a villa in Majorca.
Companies are flocking to advertise their products on Love Island – the ten-week series, which reaches its finale tomorrow night, attracts large numbers of the sought-after 16-to-34 age group. Love Island has added a staggering £136 million to ITV's coffers – Uber Eats paid £5 million to be the main sponsor this year, and the current season has already earned £8 million more in clothing, make-up and merchandise licensing than last year's.
Yet amid the success there has also been tragedy. Two former contestants – Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon – committed suicide, calling the future of Love Island into question.
Programme bosses have since made reassuring promises that contestants will be given psychological support. But whistleblowers paint a very different picture of cold-blooded manipulation behind the scenes to manufacture the much talked about moments that boost ratings. According to one participant in last year's series, the kiss between Fowler, 24, and Steel, 24, was so fake that it had to be filmed "three or four times" before it was ready to air.
Deliberate contrivance is said to have first begun the previous year. Until then, Love Island was exactly what it seemed to be – young people falling in and out of love, and caught on camera at almost every moment in a way that made Big Brother look positively buttoned-up. But in 2017, with the nightly audience reaching almost 2.5 million – a figure previously unheard of on ITV2 – the backroom staff became far more hands-on.
Nothing could be left to chance. A second female whistleblower who took part in the show in 2017 remembers how she overheard a group of boys being primed before they went on camera. The producers explained what they should say in a scene where they would be choosing which girl they wanted to stay with.
She said: "We heard them learning their scripts off by heart. They were going over and over what they were going to say. Nobody would have had to practise so long if it was genuine. We were kept away so they had time to do it."
But the claims go much further than stars being given lines to parrot. The all-important question on which the show turns is who the contestants choose to pair off with. Yet whistleblowers claim those choices are dictated by the producers. One former contestant said: "In the first episode, when the boys choose which girl they want to pair up with, they are told by staff who to go for."
Later in last year's series, Steel hooked up with personal trainer Sam Bird but what viewers saw was a "completely fake relationship", according to a co-star: "It was set up by producers. They kept it going for a few months after they came out of the villa but then split."
However, a spokesman for Steel last night insisted her relationship with Sam had been genuine.
Perhaps it's not surprising that the cast members will go along with the artifice because staggering amounts of money are at stake.
The £50,000 prize awaiting the winning couple at the end of each season is just the start of it. Further appearances on the various spin-off shows keep the stars in the public eye, raising the value of their image rights and appeal to advertisers. Singer Amber Davies, winner of the 2017 season, is the first Love Islander to become a millionaire off the back of the show.
But the story viewers saw play out that year – leaving her and Kem Cetinay as the last couple – had been manipulated almost from the start. Seeing interest rise in Amber and Kem's on-off relationship, producers sent in barber Simon Searles to break up the couple and create a dramatic falling-out between the lovers. The plan was for Searles to be paired up with Amber. He had been selected specifically for his ethnicity, because Amber was said to prefer mixed-race men. However, to the producers' chagrin, Searles instead took a shine to student Montana Brown – and his refusal to take orders led to a huge bust-up behind the scenes.
An eyewitness said: "Amber's type on paper was mixed-race men so they sent three in to prompt a scene where Amber couldn't make up her mind between one of them and Kem. But Simon really fancied Montana, so there was a conversation between him and one of the producers, which was basically Simon being told that they needed him to go for Amber.
"Simon said no, he was happy with Montana. Amber and Montana fell out because they made it look like Simon had moved in for Amber but he was told to do it for the cameras.
"There was a massive kicking-off with the producers because they were making him look a certain way. After all of that, he was the next person to be voted off."
The same witness says she saw Kem being taken aside by production staff to warn him against choosing Amber at that point. To maintain the narrative of a rollercoaster relationship between the pair, they wanted him to choose stylist Chyna Ellis. If he refused, he wouldn't stay in the show.
Last year, viewers saw the eventual winner Dani Dyer – the daughter of actor Danny Dyer – distraught after her boyfriend Jack Fincham was taken to the neighbouring villa, Casa Amor, to meet up with his ex-girlfriend, Ellie Jones.
Dani sobbed uncontrollably as producers made her wait to see whether Jack would leave her for Ellie. The scenes prompted 650 complaints by the public to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.
But viewers would have been equally concerned to learn about what was happening already behind the scenes the previous year.
One female star had been assured in the audition process that the show wasn't scripted. But later, when she was on the show, she was forced to wait in a room for almost three hours with four other girls while a trio of boys – Chris, Kem and Dom – were being told which three they should pick to stay. "We were all getting upset but we had a producer standing at the door so we couldn't get out," she recalls. "They even tried to stop us going to the bathroom in case we went to see what was happening. Meanwhile, other directors were outside telling Chris, Kem and Dom who to pick.
"The producers have their favourites. Some of the contestants are barely shown. If you're not a favourite, they won't give you any time at all. When you're in there, you do know that they don't really want to show you or side with you. You can feel it. I knew I wasn't going to benefit from being in there – the producers make it very obvious. They flock around who they like, and if they don't want to talk to you then they just won't."
On one occasion, it seems the contrivance escalated to misleading viewers outright. It happened when one of the girls was under a duvet with 2017 runner-up Chris Hughes – only for another girl's name to be flashed up on screen because that better suited the storyline, it is claimed. A fellow contestant said: "Chris asked her to share with him. She said yes and got in but it wasn't what the producers had envisaged.
"So instead of telling the truth, they flashed up another girl's name on the screen, which was Chyna. She wasn't in the bed – she was with someone else – but they wanted to portray a relationship with Chris even though it was untrue. It looks like they chose not to put the name of the girl who was actually in the bed on screen. The viewers were none the wiser. It was outrageous."
Even scenes that may have had genuine beginnings are recreated so that they can be caught on camera exactly as the show's bosses want them. "If producers hear a juicy conversation going on, they'll ask you to say it again," said a cast member. "They want you to come across more bitchy, or in way that will create drama.
"At other times the producers would tell us to go and have a chat with such and such a person during the day. You don't get to choose who you talk to. Or they will put together a storyline and tell contestants how to behave to ensure that it happens.
"They would prompt you, or tell you about conversations other people had had about you, so you react – to stoke up drama. The reality is that it's not reality. It's acting."
ITV said: "As anyone who watches the show regularly would know, Love Island is a combination of reality and produced elements that are reflective of what's happening in the villa, and is a fair and accurate representation of villa life.
"We have always been completely transparent about this and the way the show is produced. This is often acknowledged in the voiceover by Iain Stirling. It is absolutely untrue to suggest that Love Island is fake.
"The opinions they have and the relationships formed are completely within the control of the Islanders themselves.
"As we have said since series one, Love Island is a combination of reality and produced elements."