[This story contains major spoilers from the first season of Love Island Games.]
As singles looking for love returned to Island of love cottage hoping for a second chance at romance in the new Peacock spinoff Love Island Gamesthey were also met with more drama and intense challenges.
Although the islanders are usually used to public votes deciding who stays in the villa, in the new show, set in Fiji, they had to trust their own abilities as they took on challenges, games and duels for both the team and of couples.
Love Island Games also brought together fan-favorite islanders from various Island of love series worldwide including USA, UK, Australia, France, Sweden and Germany. Among them was Sally Vasquez, who competed in the second season of Love Island USA in 2020
But Vasquez wasn’t the only islander from her season to return for the new show. Her best friend Justine Ndiba and her ex Johnny Middlebrooks also returned, making for another interesting and dramatic moment in the villa. While Vasquez initially contacted Toby Aromolaran (Love Island Great Britain season 7) this season she later ended up with Eyal Booker (Love Island Great Britain season 4), with whom she became the final couple.
As for dealing with challenges while building a relationship with someone, Vazquez said, “It was definitely a struggle, especially for me, because when I tell you, my head is always in the clouds, I feel like I was so focused on love and how much I entertained.”
Now, as seen on Sunday night’s episode, host Maya Jama has surprised the final couples (Sally and Eyal, Jonny and Aurelia, Callum and Deb and Justin and Jack) by bringing back 17 previously eliminated islanders to determine who stays and who he’s leaving Among the returning islanders was Toby.
In an exclusive clip from the finale (below), shared with The Hollywood ReporterToby doesn’t hold back in speaking his mind about Celie and Eyal.
Before the dramatic finale of the first season, Vasquez spoke with THR about going back to Island of love cottage with Justine and Johnny, navigating the intense challenges, what she’s learned about herself this season and teasing what fans can expect in the finale episode.
It’s been a wild season for you, making it as a final couple with Eyal, but also being joined by your bestie Justine as well as your ex Johnny. How did it feel to be back in the villa with them again?
Oh my God, this is such a full circle moment. And it’s also so stupid, because like you said, it’s me, my ex, and my best friend, and we’re like, we’ve come this far. It’s crazy actually, but I’m just so happy and so happy that I had the chance to come back and it’s such an unnatural thing to even be living with your ex. Like, hello (Laughing)? But I’m so happy that we had the chance to put that behind us and try to work on a friendship, you know. But it was so much fun, just the best experience and I’m glad I was able to live with my ex and then be there with Justin again. We said, “Press rewind” (Laughing).
How was meeting islanders from different parts of the world Island of love shows?
It was so amazing to be in the cottage with everyone. I like to watch Love Island Great Britain, these are icons I know and are here with me now. It was so cool. It was so nice. Like exchanging languages with each other and… like the way we speak and stuff, it started to affect each other. And now I can’t stop using my British accent. I can’t stop saying “I’m mad as hell” because of Jess [Losurdo] (Laughing). It’s so nice and I’m so glad I made some new bests, international bests.
Since there was more of a focus on challenges on the new show, did you feel like it was more pressure or less since you didn’t have the public vote to worry about?
I feel like it worked out well for me. It was like these were my friends and I had to step out of my comfort zone. I mean, we’ve all seen me struggle with the dreaded incline and the wall [in the “She’s a Catch” challenge]. But I just gave it my all and it really made me work a little harder. It’s stressful though, I won’t lie, like the unions and all. But I think once you get out of your head and just tell yourself that you’re there to have fun and play the game and do the best you can, it makes it easier. But I will say it was a lot more pressure. It’s all in our hands and by voting for your best friends or people you’re starting to get close to.
What was your favorite game or challenge this season?
I would have to say The Mermaid [“She’s a Catch”] challenge and I think I’m just biased and it’s the only one I’ve been really, really good at. So that was the one that didn’t give me a hard time, so I really, really enjoyed it and Ray and I [Gantt] he ended up winning so it was just icing on the cake i guess.
Matchups were one of the most intense new elements of the season. What was the energy like in the cottage during the duels, with so much anticipation?
It’s like, thank god, I’ve really flown under the radar here and I haven’t had to duel because when I tell you, I feel like it looks intense like when you look at it, but I feel like it was even more intense over there . Just watching them fight for their lives, there are just no words to describe it. This is so, so crazy and I feel that way because Island of love it has so many beautiful, fun colors, with the duel it makes it a little less intense, but no, it’s that intense. But hats off to everyone, because I just couldn’t take that strain, to be honest. … But I’m still a fan of the duel. I love watching them. I just like not being in them.
Since you watched the season back, do you have a favorite episode?
I would have to say the episode that just aired [Nov. 16]. Then finally we all have to go back to our couples after the mess that Calum [Hole] and freedom [Poole] I did. It was so sweet for all of us to have our people back. We got to have the guys give their recovery speeches and I think that was my favorite episode to watch.
Was it a challenge to manage your romantic feelings and also your competitive feelings with the games?
It’s definitely hard there because I feel like a lot of us kind of struggle with the balance because I feel like I was going through all of Eyal and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is the best time of my life,” and then it’s like, ‘Oh shit, we really have to do well with these challenges to stay here to continue this romantic relationship.’ So it was definitely hard, especially for me, because when I tell you that the chapter I’m always in the clouds, I feel like I was so focused on love and how much fun I was having. … I was definitely like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to have fun because you never know here.’
How hard it was to see Ray and Imani [Ayan] to be sent home so close to the finale, especially since they were one of the original couples this season?
That was so hard. I think honestly, that was probably one of the hardest eliminations we’ve had because, obviously, we’re really, really good friends with Ray and Imani. So it was just really, really hard to see them go, even during Jack’s time [Fowler’s] the speech and Ray already seemed to know what was going to happen. It was so heartbreaking. But I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a game. You have to do what you have to do.
What was it like having Eyal as a gaming partner while building a romantic relationship with him?
Oh, Eyal is the greatest. I was really so lucky to be with him because I think he knew that some of these challenges were making it difficult for me, but he was so supportive and always lifting me up and always, you know, rooting for me. And I don’t think I could have been matched with anyone better at that moment. It was like he always lifted my spirits and right before I left [into the challenges]I felt fully prepared because I knew he would support me no matter what.
What was your strategy this season? Were you more focused on gaming or building a romantic relationship?
My strategy is that I have no strategy (Laughing). My strategy is that I’m here hoping and praying for the best. And then I quickly thought to myself, “Oh, people make alliances. People are like training every day. I really have to get on with it.” But you know what, it worked out because I was having fun again.
I said to myself, I’ll just let it happen because one thing for Love Island Gamesthere are too many twists and turns, there are too many variables.
Returning to Island of love villa years later, did you learn anything new about yourself?
I feel like after leaving season two and rewatching it, I learned that I can do a better job of speaking up for myself and standing up for myself. And I wish I could continue this season, I really did and I was so proud of myself for it because it’s definitely always been difficult for me. So that conversation I had with Johnny at the beginning and we were able to squash things and I was really just speaking how I felt. That was growth for me (Laughing), and something about Island of love is they will always provide all the growth.
You seemed to have so much confidence all season. what is your secret
I feel like I have a deep understanding that as long as you stay true to who you are, nothing beats authenticity. It’s like you never have to look at what anybody else is doing, you just focus on yourself and that’s where the confidence comes from, you know, not comparing yourself to others, just staying true to yourself. And yes, I feel like that’s where I get all my confidence from. I’m going to do what I’m going to do whether you like it or not.
Do you have any comments about your fellow finalists who made it this far with you?
I am so proud of each and every one of them. … I think everyone should understand that it’s not easy there and it takes a lot to become a finalist.
Can you tease what fans can expect during the finale?
Madness and wickedness. You know what, intensity and a great finish to an amazing show.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
First season of Love Island Games currently streaming on Peacock.