Most college students don’t get the chance to say that they competed on a hit reality TV series, let alone met their partner on the show. But last summer, Emily Salch traded in her chilly Binghamton gear for string bikinis and stilettos.
Salch, a senior majoring in political science, competed on the first season of “Love Island,” an American reality dating show based on the popular British series of the same name. The show invites 25 contestants, or “Islanders,” who live together in an isolated villa in Fiji and are constantly under surveillance. To win the grand prize of $100,000, “Islanders” must be coupled up to avoid being “dumped” from the island — and sometimes the public plays a role in who stays and who goes.
According to Salch, being a contestant on the show didn’t cross her mind until a producer reached out to her on Instagram and asked her to audition.
“I thought it was a scam at first,” Salch said. “I asked what the show was called and they said ‘Love Island.’ I watched the show on Hulu and I thought, ‘Oh my god. This is amazing. I’m definitely down for this.’ Then they put me in contact with a casting producer and he called me and asked me questions.”
After three weeks of phone calls and Skype interviews, producers flew Salch out to Los Angeles for her final weeklong interview, where hundreds of other potential candidates were also competing for a spot on the show. Contestants were not allowed to leave their hotel room if they weren’t being interviewed, as producers wanted the finalized cast to be a surprise.
“I was so nervous for the final interviews in LA because you’re literally confined to your hotel room,” Salch said. “I had an hour that I could go to the gym, but I couldn’t leave my room otherwise, unless I was doing an interview.”
For her last interview, Salch met with CBS producers, who had the final say on whether she would be one of the 25 contestants to score a spot on the show.
“I was nervous for all the interviews because you go in and have to dress nice and this is your only chance,” Salch said. “You have to think quickly on the spot because they ask random questions to see if you’re entertaining and funny. It was really nerve-racking but it was so much fun.”
With the constant questions, Salch said producers were looking for certain qualities that could make the show more interesting or attention-grabbing, though the universal qualities were someone that could hold a conversation and is well rounded.
“They definitely look for specific characteristics so that they can create somebody that might be a villain on the show or someone that’s going to be America’s sweetheart,” Salch said. “I feel like they do have certain parts planned out and they look for people to fill those specific roles.”
For Salch, producers typecasted her as the “crazy” and “fun” contestant.
“I remember they kept asking me, ‘So, you’re like spicy, right?’ They wanted to know all my crazy stories. So I thought, ‘OK, I guess I’m going to be that girl on the show,’” she said.
Before going on the show, Salch was skeptical about whether the reality series would be scripted or not. She said contestants on “Love Island” weren’t told what to say.
“For my show, it’s not scripted at all, though certain things, like conversations, were prompted,” Salch said. “Producers would be like, ‘Emily, we know that you kind of like that guy, why don’t you have a conversation with him?’ But it was never them telling me what to say.”
The most surprising thing Salch experienced while on the show was that the villa wasn’t actually isolated, but was surrounded by producers and crew members.
“When I watched ‘Love Island,’ it always seemed like it was just the ‘Islanders’ and the villa and there’s no producers, just hidden cameras everywhere, which for us, there were hidden cameras and microphones everywhere, so every single moment and every single thing you say is caught,” Salch said. “But it’s weird because on TV it looks like a villa on an island, but it’s actually on a campus and we’re like this little small thing surrounded by production.”
While on the show, Salch was certain she would go back to Binghamton University in the fall and finish her pre-law track, though being on the show exposed her to opportunities she couldn’t pass up.
“Once I got off the show, so many opportunities opened up that had to do with traveling, and I was getting paid to do all these things,” Salch said. “I knew this was such a good opportunity and it’s obviously something that’s not going to last my whole life, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it while I have it. It was definitely a hard decision for me, but I knew that it wasn’t something I would regret because you can always come back to school.”
Now finishing up her final semester of college, Salch said she feels like the same person she was before the attention from “Love Island.” She still works at The Rathskeller and Venue, and she still pays for her own college.
“I had to come back because it’s my last year and last semester with all my best friends that I’ve had since freshman year,” she said. “But also, I did not do three years of studying, taking all those tests, writing all those papers and paying for school to not get my degree.”
For those who also want a shot at reality TV, Salch believes you should accept the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Even though this was something scary for me, you only have one life to live so you gotta make the most out of it and do anything that will make it more fun and more worth living,” Salch said. “If anyone is interested, I highly recommend taking that leap and trying because there’s no reason not to.”