This article contains spoilers for The Circle season 3 episodes 1-4.
Long the bread and butter of network television, reality competition TV shows have become increasingly popular on streaming platforms. And why wouldn’t they? Reality television is usually cheaper to produce than scripted TV series and audiences tend to like unscripted content just as much anyway. Plus, if the past few years have taught us nothing else, it’s that there’s some truth in the notion that reality is often stranger than fiction.
Netflix, in particular, has found itself in the reality competition TV game more and more. Nailed It!, Blown Away, and Too Hot to Handle are all great examples of Netflix’s increased investment in reality competition programming, but our choice for the streamer’s best might just be The Circle.
Like any good reality series, The Circle is part competition and part social experiment. The show invites eight contestants to join a virtual popularity contest in which they craft online profiles then interact with one another only through “The Circle” social media platform. And to immediately answer the obvious question: yes, you can catfish.
Players in The Circle work to gain one another’s trust and then vote on their favorite contestants within the game. Players are occasionally “blocked” or removed from the game while fresh blood is often brought in, with the last competitor standing winning $100,000. All throughout contestants are subjected to the whims of The Circle’s twists and rule changes.
The Circle originated in the U.K. and is now a franchise with Netflix being home to the American, French, and Brazilian versions. The American series has a distinctly multi-time zone flair with filming taking place in British apartments (the show is produced by London-based All3Media and European electricity outlets are visible on the walls) but with all establishing shots filmed in Chicago.
Due to the geographical mismashing, The Circle has a sense of appearing outside of time itself. Quarantining all of its players within the same building but not allowing them to interact in person is another interesting twist. It all adds up to make The Circle one of the most logistically strange reality shows in a long time.
Suffice it to say, we have some questions about how the whole thing works. Thankfully, in advance of the show’s third season premiere, Den of Geek was able to chat with three of The Circle’s newest contestants: Ruksana Syed-Carroll, Daniel Cusimano, and Michelle Rider. The trio discussed their strategies going in, what day-to-day life inside a reality competition is like, and most importantly: what’s on the menu in The Circle.
Here are some of our biggest Circle questions, answered.
How many Circle alerts are there a day?
One key aspect of being in The Circle is that you’re operating on The Circle’s time. Contestants are free to do whatever they like during the day, but when the glowing blue circle on television screens in their rooms reports a “Circle Alert” it’s time to drop everything and pay attention.
Circle Alerts can run the gamut from voting updates, to new games, to big twists, but how often exactly do they arrive?
“It’s one, two, or three a day,” reports Ruksana. “You’re really not prepared. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s sort of like excitement and being paranoid at the same time.”
Based on the contestants’ reactions through three seasons, simultaneous excitement and paranoia seems to be right on.
What can you bring into The Circle?
Every time a new contestant enters the Circle, they are essentially just checking into a hotel room. As depicted in the show, players arrive with a suitcase filled with clothes and some personal items. So what do contestants usually bring?
“I brought a lot of books and my makeup which is my security blanket for any travel,” Ruksana says.
Since contestants are supposed to focus on the game itself, they are given only so many other entertainment options to pass the time.
“It was like a lot of puzzles and word searches,” Ruksana adds. “I’m a very arts and crafts type. So arts and crafts stuff, making things, painting.”
Other Circle members choose to hone their craft.
“I’m a stand-up comedian so I wrote a lot of comedy while I was there,” Michelle says.
What do you eat in The Circle?
Even though The Circle is a dispassionate algorithm, surely it knows that people need to eat, right? Thankfully, The Circle did get the memo on that one as contestants have a whole array of options on the menu.
While Daniel says he relied on frozen food, his fellow contestants put more energy into cooking.
“I’m a foodie,” Ruksana says. “I’m also very particular about food and seasoning because I’m Indian. ‘Takeaways’ is what they call takeout (in the U.K.) but I didn’t really like the food so I did a lot of cooking. It was easy for me because, where we were in the U.K., there was a big Indian population. So, that was very comforting for me because I knew that I couldn’t fail with that. Cooking does make the time go faster.”
Michelle also prefers to cook.
“Honey, I’m Southern. So you know I was cooking,” she says. “I would cook fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans, when you had time. Because a lot of times you might be cooking and they may go, ‘Okay, stop,’ and you have to stop what you’re doing.”
It seems as though cooking is among the easiest ways to pass time between Circle alerts.
What happens when you leave The Circle?
The Circle eliminates contestants frequently. The competition, however, is a relatively short one and ends with every contestant returning for one big finale. With that in mind, wouldn’t it make sense to just allow the eliminated contestants to hang out in their London hotel room for a couple more weeks?
According to Michelle, the second contestant eliminated this season, that’s not the case at all.
“When you go, you are gone,” she says. “You leave and that’s it. Then once everything’s done, then they call on you to come back for the finale and everything.”
What’s it like when The Circle throws you a curveball?
Though the rhythms of each season of The Circle are generally the same, each batch of episodes thus far has featured at least one new wrinkle. In the case of season 3, the first contestants eliminated (a pair of sisters posting under one of the sister’s identities) are given the rare opportunity to rejoin the competition.
Instead of getting a whole new profile though, they are tasked with “cloning” an existing profile. The sisters settle on Michelle, creating a “Blue Michelle (the imposter)” and the “Orange Michelle (the real one)”. The rest of the circle is tasked with choosing which Michelle is the real one and vote nearly unanimously on the wrong profile.
What’s it feel like to be at the center of one of The Circle’s many twists and be eliminated as a result? Not great as it turns out!
“It makes you angry because you feel like, ‘Well, I didn’t even have a chance,’” Michelle says. “I haven’t seen the show yet, but if you saw emotion, it was raw emotion because I was angry, I cried. I was so mad because I just felt like I didn’t have a chance.”
Even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry when confronted with a social media themed reality competition.
The first four episodes of The Circle are available to stream on Netflix now. Episodes 5-8 will be released on Sept. 15, episodes 9-12 on Sept. 22, and the finale on Sept. 29.