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Friday, October 15, 2021

Review: ‘The Circle: A Social Media Competition’

Season 2 brings all the outlandish antics of reality TV without unnecessary drama

“The Circle” has filled the “Love Island”-shaped hole in my heart. In a year that absolutely calls for mind-numbing—and often flat-out ridiculous—reality TV, this show delivers on all fronts. 

In the second season of the miniseries, which consists of 13 episodes that are each roughly 45 minutes long, viewers were introduced to a host of colorful characters. From Teralisha, the confident Leo with bright blue hair, to Bryant, a breathwork instructor and certified nice guy, everyone who appears on screen is memorable and fairly likeable. However, as with any really good trashy show, there’s a catch. 

Any one of the competitors could be lying about their identity. 

If you hadn’t already guessed from the extended title “The Circle: A Social Media Competition,” this game takes place entirely online via a Facebook-esque app that gives the show its name. The players reside in individual rooms and can only communicate with one another through online chats. 

Naturally, this format leads to some serious distrust and paranoia amongst the contestants. The allure of a $100,000 grand prize for the winner means that some will toss morals to the side and completely fabricate a profile in hopes of bringing home the money.

There are also some interesting power dynamics that go down in The Circle. Each week, players rate each other, with those rated in the top two becoming “influencers” and having to decide among themselves which of the other players will be “blocked” from The Circle. 

As a self-proclaimed reality TV aficionado, I appreciated that “The Circle” stuck to certain tropes necessary for any good reality show, including a surplus of attractive people with memorable personalities (cue Mitchell’s love of the word “ferk”), while still seeming fresh and unique. It certainly had elements of classic reality TV shows, including a toned-down version of “Big Brother” gameplay and all the cheesy catchphrases of “Love Island” (#CircleFamForLife).

But “The Circle” is by no means a carbon copy of other beloved shows. 

Even though there is a large prize for the winner, at no point in the season do any of the contestants come anywhere close to the vicious nature of those on similar shows, such as “Survivor” or “America’s Next Top Model.” Everyone genuinely seems like they will be friends at the end of the day, which may be due to both the online structure of the show as well as the (seemingly) minimal intervention of gameplay by the producers.

 Though you can never truly be sure what goes on behind the scenes, the overall tone of the show is lighthearted, and even when there is conspiring, the worst that happens is a contestant being branded with the #TwoFaced and getting blocked from the Circle. This can best be seen in the finale, an episode many other shows peg as a night marked by fighting and the most entertaining drama reality TV has to offer. 

“The Circle,” however, is a little different. The contestants were all ecstatic to meet each other, and the most tension was a brief moment between two contestants who had a slight spat earlier in the season. Even Chloe, the fiery Essex girl with a personality to match her lipstick, voiced no ill will toward Deleesa, a woman catfishing as her husband who’d toyed with Chloe’s emotions all season by strategically flirting with her. The lighthearted nature of the show really shone through in the way the contestants treated each other—sans name-calling, violence or tears of rage.

However, as entertaining as it is, make no mistake—“The Circle” is absolutely identifiable as a Netflix original. There is no lack of cheesy hashtags, and the abundance of forced pop culture references make it clear that there is no one under the age of 40 pitching ideas in the production room. 

And even though “The Circle” is silly and all in good fun, I couldn’t help but feel a bit strange watching a show where people catfish and blatantly lie about their whole personalities to others in the pursuit of a monetary prize. Think too much about the concept, and this jovial show starts to seem more and more like an episode of “Black Mirror,” sugarcoated with a sassy narrator and text conversations so dated that they’re worthy of being put in a millennial museum exhibit about social media. But hey—no one ever claimed that reality TV shows were meant to make you think about much at all. 

Overall, “The Circle” is a great escape from the mundane reality of everyday life. Watching the show transports you into a space that blurs the lines between reality and the facade of social media, all while maintaining the fine balance between kitschy fun and a cringy waste of time. It’s worth the watch—even if it’s just to see a 22-year-old man and the 40-year-old assistant to Lance Bass of NSYNC attempt to make the other players believe they are a 60-year-old gay psychic who dresses as Santa on the weekends. 

Written by: Clara Fischer — arts@theaggie.org

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