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The Circle proves reality shows can be trashy and satisfying

  • "Adapted from a British game show, The Circle is exhilaratingly stupid: a popularity contest waged online through selfies, two-sentence bios, group chats and private DMs by competitors isolated in their own apartment units," says Inkoo Kang. "Delusion has long been a mainstay of reality TV, and we’ve got two varieties at work here: the competitors’ often wrong perceptions of how they come across to other people in their social-media self-presentations, and the personae they project onto their fellow players based on the tiniest and flimsiest of data. There’s $100,000 on the line, which inspires some contestants to catfish, or pose as someone of an ostensibly more preferable sex, size or generation in the hopes of racking up likability points." What makes The Circle especially relevant to our times, adds Kang's colleague Lovia Gyarkye, is that the show "indulges in and rewards the artifice of social media...What does it mean to be 'real' online when every platform offers you an opportunity to curate your image (Instagram) or your thoughts (Twitter)? The show queries this sentiment and reveals that even the quest for authenticity, to present a 'real' self, can feel like a performance. Part of that has to do with the fact that social media has broken our brains and warped how we relate to one another. When you’re getting to know someone, there is always a chance that they might not be who they purport to be, but online life has probably heightened that paranoia. Season two pushes the envelope even more and embraces the freedom of crafting an online persona. It felt less about, 'How can I present the most real version of me?' and more like, 'How do I create and craft authenticity? Who do I want to be and how do I make that person feel real?' That, to me, feels true to how some people approach life online these days. It’s less about presenting a fixed version of yourself and more about using the freedom to be whoever you want to figure out who you are. On a less fake-deep note, the show is also surprisingly fun!" Kang adds: "Reality competitions are all about hokey challenges and artificial environments, and in a time when we’re all so cynical about the genre, I find endlessly charming how The Circle foregrounds the ersatz-ness of its entire premise. Reality participants have said for years that they spend most of the time when they’re not on camera in social isolation with little to do, and I love that on The Circle we see how these competitors kill time, making bad food, bad music and bad poetry. Those aren’t the most riveting segments, but we do get a fairly good sense of who they are as people, whether it’s Chloe and Lee drawing the other competitors, Deleesa switching wigs or virgin Mitchell just … never wearing a shirt...I never thought I’d ever go on any reality show, but I actually think I could make it to the final round on The Circle?"


    • The Circle totally catfished viewers again: "Everyone had the exact same thought going into The Circle Season 2: there’s no way a follow-up season could come close to matching the giddy rush that was Season 1," says Brett White. "That cast took a show all about social media (the downfall of society, TBH) and made it into something warm, open, and uplifting. As I said way back when, Season 1 of the show totally catfished the audience. We went in expecting the messy drama that actually dominates social media IRL, and instead we saw a whole bunch of truly disparate strangers find common ground and leave the show a legit #CircleFam. There was no way Season 2 could live up to that—but the show totally catfished us again."
    • The Circle's Season 2 casting was exceptional: "I was intensely in love with the first season of this show and was so relieved that my love hadn’t stalled following a global pandemic that left us much like the Circle cast," says Daniel Schroeder. "They did a great job mixing things up like adding in the Joker, but as with all reality TV it just comes down to the casting. And this group nailed it. Could’ve watched that finale dinner party for hours."
    • The Circle winner: "I feel like if you want to make it kind of far in The Circle, you gotta go with less drama, right?"
    • Does The Circle winner have regrets?: "If I was to ever do another competition game like that, I would do things differently. I would try to build alliances in the beginning. But I don't regret anything, obviously."

    TOPICS: The Circle, Netflix, Michelle Buteau, Reality TV