The contemporary “augmented reality” hook-up shows that stream onto the small screen can arguably be said to be a dim bulb compared to the glow of the “special guest”-laden, white-suited, scripted fantasies of four decades ago. “Smutty” is what one critic called reality show Love Island, which is currently in production at a ranch on Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota Coast. “A horror” said another. Vanity Fair called the original U.K. version a “sexually humiliating version of dodgeball.” For the ranch’s neighbors, “too bright” is their take on the production’s late shooting hours that blast light out into the rural area, while others worry about a rumored campground in the works.
Love Island‘s marketing division describes the show as a “real-time dating competition featuring a group of sexy singles in a luxurious villa who must try to win the $100K prize by coupling up and surviving to the end.” The villa in question for Season 4 exists on a legendary piece of Santa Barbara County — Dos Pueblos Ranch.
The cameras focus on scenes set at the ranch’s Casa Grande, as well as on the beaches below the cliffs and at the mouth of the creek that gave the rancho its name. Therein lies another tale: The recorded history for the area dates back to 1542, when Juan Cabrillo spotted Dos Pueblos Creek from his ships. The first Spanish explorer to sail up the California coast, Cabrillo named the spot for the two Chumash villages on either bank, which have histories lost to the depredations of time and the Mission system.
Dos Pueblos Ranch may be an apt location for the optics attempted by Love Island, nonetheless. It shoots its footage across 214 acres of what was once a 15,000-acre rancho that sprawled from Refugio to the Goleta Slough. The rancho was granted in 1842 to Santa Barbara’s first doctor, Nicholas Den, an Irishman who embraced the Californio lifestyle — changing his name to Nicolás and marrying Rafaela Rosa Antonia Hill, the daughter of another Goleta Brahmin, Daniel Hill. Rosa Den raised 11 children with Nicolás.
That should matter to a reality show with “love” in its title. As far as today’s neighbors are concerned, however, the setting is incongruous. For one thing, the ranch is not on an island. For another, the bright production lights are sorely out of place.
Concerned neighbors contacted the Gaviota Coast Conservancy about 10 days ago, whose executive director, Doug Kern, said unusual activity was taking place without notice, like increased vehicle traffic, new tents on the mesa, and bright lights late at night. The show’s producers got a county filming permit, but it doesn’t mention lights.
“Pretty much anybody who’s familiar with environmental safety and protection of habitat resources at night knows that’s a big no-no,” Kern said of the bright nighttime lights, which likely disturb nocturnal wildlife roaming the ranch.
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The land has changed hands several times since Den’s day, and the most recent buyer was developer Roger Himovitz. At the very end of 2021, he announced his family had bought the property and was establishing an institute for the land, setting out goals for “environmentally responsible uses” like public trails, Chumash cultural preservation, and a retreat center. More recently, he’s been talking with the County Planning department about these plans, including the potential to develop a campground at the ranch.
The campground idea came up during preliminary discussions, said Lisa Plowman, county planning director, as well as topics like restoration projects and tribal ceremonies. She emphasized the talks were in the early stages and no permits have been applied for nor any concrete outlines or details made known yet.
“Roger has invested in and created these areas before, for example at El Capitán Canyon Resort,” said Kern, who is reserving comment on the campground idea because no actual plans currently exist. The resort located up El Capitan Canyon — the state beach below is also called El Capitan — offers luxury glamping in yurts or small tent-like structures, and Himovitz sold it in 2020 to Sun Outdoors Corp., which changed its name from Sun RV Resorts in 2021.
They were hoping to talk with Himovitz or his team soon, said Kern. The conservancy, which protects the environmental and rural character of the Gaviota Coast, understood the need to raise funds to restore the buildings, Kern said, “but as in anything, it’s all in the details.” Himovitz did not return an emailed request for comment from the Independent, and ranch representatives were not able to speak about the Love Island production due to a nondisclosure agreement.
The permit issued for the production indicates there are 305 cast and crew members, who have a long day that runs from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. The rules are fairly strict to protect the property, including “no-go” environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHAs) for people and their cars. An onsite biological consultant is required by the permit, who can alert County Planning to impacts affecting ESHAs; the producers would be financially liable for any necessary restoration. Qualified cultural monitors for parts of the property important to the Chumash are also required.
The show in production in Santa Barbara, which premiered on NBC’s streaming site Peacock last week, is the U.S. version of the 2015 U.K. Love Island, which offered on-set counseling in 2019 after two cast members died by suicide. (If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text TALK to 741741.)
The Dos Pueblos show is equally dedicated to a minimum of clothing and a maximum of gossipy conversational daggers. According to its Twitter feed, “pieing” is inevitable, which the Urban Dictionary defines as “The art of whining, complaining, and bitching while completely annoying you (or others) at the same time.”
The shoot is scheduled to end August 28, after which one more month is booked to strike the set.