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The Circle Actually Made Us Like Big Brother Brett

As one half of "Jennifer," he delivered bold strategy and hot chemistry with his co-catfish.
  • Brett Robinson on The Circle (Netflix)
    Brett Robinson on The Circle (Netflix)

    Note: Spoilers ahead, including who won The Circle Season 5.

    In a broadly likable season of The Circle, it's more than a little surprising that one of the standout cast members was a former Big Brother who'd built his brand by being an intentional jerk. But things operate differently in that Circle high-rise. The 5th season of the U.S. adaptation concluded on January 18, with the Bronx's Sam Carmona voted the winner by her peers. Sam's emotional, effusive response and her pledge to provide for her mom and grandma back home ended the season with a high note. But reflecting on Season 5 as a whole, we have no choice but to shout out a player who helped make it as fun and strategically bold as it could be: Vegas himbo Brett.

    We'd never have expected this on day one of the season. Brett entered The Circle as the lone quasi-celebrity of the initial cast. Reality TV fans may have known him from Big Brother, where he rode a wave of strategic anti-charisma and knowing arrogance all the way to sixth place in that show's 2018 season. Within a minute or two of his entrance on The Circle, not much seemed to have changed. "The biggest misconception about me is that I'm a douchebag," Brett smirked in his intro video, "when in reality I'm a lovable douchebag." Unfortunately for certain avowed Brett-haters in the audience (ahem), this turned out to be prophetic.

    To be fair, by the time Big Brother 20 had finished, Brett had attained a kind of renegade popularity. He'd steered so far into the skid of being a pumped-up, arrogant ass that some viewers appreciated the entertainment value and the chaos he often brought into that season's game play. One of the season's highlights involved Brett telling a bald-faced lie about another player's voting intentions, then letting his infuriating smugness cause her to melt down into barely coherent stammers (which in turn made it look like she was lying). All on her daughter's birthday! Disgusting!

    While Brett wouldn't be able to infuriate anyone with his physical presence alone, certainly his smug persona would be his undoing, right? But day one of The Circle was atypical for Brett in a few ways. Instead of coming off as an arrogant jerk, Brett was dinged for being too standoffish. He wasn't able to quickly adapt to the peculiar Circle way of interacting, which has almost no relation to normal human interaction but is instead a language all its own, dotted with elaborate hashtags and curated friendliness. Brett was a slow starter, which was bad news when two players would get blocked (i.e., eliminated) right away. To his surprise, Brett was one of those two, along with Greek-American model Xanthi Perdikomatis.

    But as often happens with The Circle, there was a twist, and Brett and Xanthi were allowed to re-enter the game as a “joint” catfish: middle-age auntie figure Jennifer. And surprisingly, Brett and Xanthi turned out to be an incredible team. Newcomers have a tendency to struggle on The Circle, and shared catfish identities can often play too tentative. But Brett and Xanthi made for a weirdly perfect team. He was the ruthless operator with a mind for aggressive strategy; she was able to reach out as "Jennifer" and form bonds with the other players.

    "Jennifer" managed to navigate the show's recurring catfish problem. The Circle encourages players to play under an assumed identity; it's one of the elements that sets it apart from other reality competition series. But at the same time it punishes people for catfishing, as once the other players suspect someone else is a catfish, they have a reason to vote them out. As a viewer, you start to wonder why anyone would risk catfishing at all. Recent seasons have become less of a catfish hunt, to the show's benefit, but in a game where the reasons to distrust someone and place them low in your rankings are pretty ephemeral as it is, successful catfishing takes some finesse. Brett and Xanthi realized that these days you can exist in the game as a catfish — even one who some of the other players think they've clocked — if you maintain a veneer of plausible authenticity.

    The distinction was made perfectly clear when Season 1's Shubham entered the show as catfish Sasha. Shubi was beloved on his season for being the sweet, unassuming nerdy young player. He used the authenticity of his own awkwardness to his advantage. This time around, Shubi was absolutely at sea as to how to play as someone else; "Sasha" never felt plausibly real, and the other players quickly targeted that inauthenticity and voted her out.

    The other issue is that the people doing the catfishing sometimes play too safe to avoid being discovered. Here's where Brett really shined. When "Jennifer" was given the power to become a hacker and take over someone else's persona for a short time, Brett pushed Xanthi to be aggressive. They "hacked" into Chaz's profile and initiated a private chat with Sam in order to target Tamira, the player who was most threatening to "Jennifer." It was a bold and risky move. Chaz was pretty clearly one of the most popular players in the game, and if it came out that "Jennifer" hacked his profile, she'd face consequences. That's more or less what happened, even if it was only Sam who was certain the hacker was "Jennifer." Brett and Xanthi didn't win the season, and maybe hacking Chaz's profile was why, but that's the kind of aggressive strategy The Circle needs more of. When Brett and Xanthi revealed their hacker strategy in the season finale, even Chaz had to give it up, telling them it was an "epic" move.

    There's also the not inconsiderable fact that Brett and Xanthi were two incredibly attractive people who had serious chemistry as a pair. The show never investigated any kind of romantic angle between the two of them, but viewers caught a definite spark between them. This was a much more enjoyable version of Brett than the one we got on Big Brother — maybe it was Xanthi's calming influence or the requirement to get into the "Jennifer" headspace. But he managed to be his best self this time around, improving on his sixth place Big Brother finish to land in fifth place as "Jennifer" (she should have outranked Tamira, too) on The Circle. He was still the himbo who was allergic to shirts, yes, but a himbo with a coherent strategy that went beyond just trying to make his opponents hit their boiling point. This was a version of Brett that even Rockstar's daughter could appreciate.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Circle, Big Brother, Brett Robinson