Warning: Spoilers ahead for the first four epsiodes of The Circle Season 3.
Ava and Chanel — known collectively as one player, Ava — are the first blocked from Season 3 of The Circle. Despite a unique strategy that sees Chanel, the older sister of the duo, acting as a manager of sorts for influencer Ava’s "brand," the pair failed to make it past the first round of Netflix’s social strategy reality competition. Like all players blocked, they get the chance to visit one of their fellow players.
But to quote RuPaul in the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, "this season, there’s a game within a game!" Or a twist within a twist, at least. Instead of being brought to the room of one of the Influencers that blocked them (Kai), they instead make their way into the "Inner Circle" control room from Season 2. There, they are presented with a chance to get back into the game — one that comes with a huge, on-the-spot decision. They can come back as a catfish, but only by choosing one of their fellow players to clone. They’ll then have to convince the rest of the players that they are the original, and get the actual player that they’re cloning blocked from the game.
This twist is a gag, and nothing short of brilliant. It’s an adaptation of a twist that actually first appeared on the third season of The Circle’s UK version, in which first-blocked player Yolanda took on the identity of fellow player Tally. That edition of the twist was a bit more stretched out, taking place over two blocking cycles and several episodes. Here, Ava and Chanel have just 24 hours and one blocking cycle to convince their competition that they are who they have cloned.
They go with Southern mom Michelle, and receive a starter kit of materials about her to help sell the fantasy. They get a brief moment to watch the other players chat undetected, picking up clues as to how they should approach the game. Then, after a "critical update" to the Circle social network, there they are: Michelle, but in a blue circle. The original Michelle, on the other hand, now appears in an orange circle. This sends the whole cast for a loop — particularly an utterly flummoxed Michelle.
What makes the twist so great is how it plays into already existing fears of catfish in The Circle. Though the game isn’t actually about finding all those who have fake profiles, the players often fixate on exposing catfish, even at the expense of their own game. The fear is that, if an ally is lying to you about something as foundational as their identity, what else might they be hiding?
With this twist, the catfish hunting is turned into a binary question: is this player real, or are they a clone? It’s an uphill climb for both players, but for the clone, it’s a second chance at playing the game. And for the real player, if you can convince the group that you’re legit, it can spare you from too much catfish suspicion moving forward.
On the UK edition, Tally was able to convince her fellow players that she was legit, and survived the head-to-head blocking with Yolanda. In this current US season, however, Michelle isn’t so lucky. Owing to some truths that sounded like lies — including an accurate story about her hair and dress in one photo that nonetheless seemed too dated to be real — the Southern mother drew too much suspicion. In a unanimous verdict, the cast blocked Orange Michelle, leaving Ava and Chanel in the game to fully take over Michelle’s identity.
I actually prefer the US version’s abbreviated timeline on this twist versus the UK’s longer take. It’s a compact, difficult task for the players: figure out who’s lying, and block one of the two. What makes it even more fascinating is that it doesn't really matter whether they choose the real Michelle — it’s about keeping the one who’s best for your game.
If The Circle is going to keep on churning out new seasons — Season 2 was released earlier this year, and 4 and 5 are both set to tape in the coming months — these kinds of advancements in the game are necessary. The show has done a great job of playing with existing themes in the game in their twists, this being just the latest iteration. And if we see more twists like this in the future, I think the longevity of The Circle is secure. It’s a tough break for Michelle, but the battle of the clones has really taken this season to the next level.
The first four episodes of The Circle's third season are now streaming, with new episode drops each Wednesday through September.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.