Justine and Caleb Turned Things Around For the Once-Fledgling Love Island USA

We fell in love with them just as they fell in love with each other.
  • Justine Ndiba and Caleb Corprew on Love Island. (CBS)
    Justine Ndiba and Caleb Corprew on Love Island. (CBS)

    SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses the outcome of Wednesday night's Season 2 finale of Love Island USA.

    Early on in the first season of CBS' Love Island last year, it became clear what would happen in the final episode: Whichever couple from Day 1 was still together by season's end would win. They'd be the only couple with enough goodwill built up with viewers to take home the prize. Indeed, Day 1 couple Elizabeth Weber and Zac Mirabelli, the only pairing to never recouple at any point in the dating show's run, won the $100,000 in the season finale.

    It was an expected ending, but not a particularly satisfying one. Elizabeth and Zac were notable for their stability, not for sweeping America off their feet. They did what they needed to do to win, but it was much like the rest of Love Island's first season: unsurprising, and quite frankly a bit boring.

    On the other hand, Love Island Season 2, which aired its season finale Wednesday night, has been anything but boring. There were fights, hook-ups, accusations of infidelity, couples splitting and getting back together, and more. It was a wild ride, one that saw not a single Day 1 couple last until the end. (The closest, Day 2 couple Cely Vazquez and Johnny Middlebrooks, had arguably had the most up-and-down journey of all, although they ended the season in a great place.) The overall lack of stability made for a much more interesting season — and, not coincidentally, allowed for a more organic love story to steal the audience's hearts.

    That's right, I'm talking about our winning couple, Justne Ndiba and Caleb Corprew. The two lovebirds and fan favorites didn't actually get together until near the end of the second of six weeks this season; they paired up on Day 12. It was something of a shocking decision at the time: Justine was not finding love with her partner Tre Forte, and started exploring things with Caleb. But Caleb, himself a later entrant into the villa (Justine was a Day 1 contestant), was happily playing things out with Justine's close friend Rachel Lundell.

    Justine and Caleb's flirtation was originally presented as putting uncomfortable pressure on her friendship with Rachel. The two had sparred over boys before, and Rachel couldn't handle the idea of fighting for a man's affections with Justine again. So when Caleb chose Justine over Rachel, it was a shocker — one of the few times I can remember audibly gasping at Love Island.

    Flash forward no time at all, and Caleb and Justine had begun winning over Love Island nation. Theirs was a slow burn kind of love: a connection made first out of curiosity that deepened with each passing episode. Their maturity as a couple — no drama, just an increasing appreciation of each other — stood in stark contrast with everyone else. At the same time, they felt like a response to the obvious result from last season. At no point was there anything predictable about them, from the start of their relationship onward.

    It's also noteworthy that Justine and Caleb are both Black, and that their love story was presented as something both relatable and aspirational. Their story was one that viewers could want for themselves whatever their background, yet their Blackness was more than just incidental. Season 1 winners Elizabeth and Zac are white, and thus their love story was one we're very familiar with on dating shows. (Think about The Bachelor franchise and its dearth of racial diversity in casting.) Justine and Caleb represent something we should be seeing much more of on reality TV,. but that's not the case. Caleb himself noted the importance of this in one of the final week's episodes when talking about their relationship being shown on the series: “A lot of people of color, specifically Black people, don't always get to experience privilege.”

    At a time when Love Island's CBS reality counterpart, Big Brother is failing its Black All Stars contestants, Love Island did just the opposite. Justine and Caleb were honest, vulnerable, and through-the-roof charismatic. We fell in love with them just as they fell in love with each other: organically and beautifully. Their win is a testament to the show's format, and one of the few bright spots in a truly lackluster summer TV season. Their win is a win for us all.

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    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.

    TOPICS: Love Island, CBS, Reality TV