Netflix’s ‘The Circle’: authentic, unique reality show

Netflix kicked off the decade with an all-new reality show, “The Circle.”In a very un-Netflix-like fashion, the episodes were released in a series of waves. The first wave was released on Jan. 1, 2020, with episodes one through four, with the second wave following on Jan. 8, 2020, with episodes five through eight and the final wave coming on Jan. 15, 2020, with episodes nine through twelve.

“The Circle” is immediately different from every other reality show out there because of its massive use of social media as the show’s main premise. Players move into the same apartment building, each in their own individual penthouse that is strategically spread out so that there is no chance of face-to-face interaction with one another.

Every penthouse apartment is fully equipped with TVs in each room that are all tuned into the show’s voice activated system called “the Circle.” Each player must create an online Circle profile, which is their only way of presenting themselves to the other players.

The special twist is that since the show has an extra layer of anonymity with the players being forbidden to make real-life connections, players are given the option of coming on the show as a Catfish.

A Catfish is a player who uses someone else’s photos and information to disguise who they really are to trick another person online. Since players are given this option, paying attention and reading into what each person says is a crucial part of the game. The other players never truly know if someone they are forming connections with are really who they say they are.

The point of the game is to form connections with as many people as possible. Players want people to like them so that every time there is a rating, players are held in high regard and placed higher on their ratings list. If a player gets a high rating average from the group, the people in first and second places become influencers.

Influencers are people who ultimately get to decide who gets eliminated from the game, nicknamed “blocked” in the show. The two influencers have to agree on who to send home after deliberating the pros and cons of each player in a separate group chat.

Every time a player is blocked, that player has the option to meet one of the remaining players face to face. Another part of being eliminated is that the eliminated player has to make a goodbye video that will be sent to the group chat in the morning.

If a player is a Catfish and an eliminated player comes to visit the Catfish’s apartment, there is a chance the eliminated player could hint that the Catfish is not who they pretend to be in their final video to the group chat. It could also be revealed that the eliminated player is a Catfish. Who the eliminated player chooses to visit is not made common knowledge to the group.

The day following an elimination, a new player joins the group chat. These new players are safe from the next rating and elimination. After a while of swapping players in and out, the numbers go from eight or nine players to the top five.

The top five compete to win $100,000 and also have the pleasure of meeting each other face to face at a celebratory dinner. There, it is revealed who among the top five are who they say they are, and who are the Catfish.

The finale consists of one-on-one interviews with the final five, with all the eliminated players cheering them on from the sidelines. The person with the highest rating from the final rankings will emerge as winner of the Circle.

Although the show is complicated and revolves solely around the creation of an online profile to win a popularity contest, “The Circle” is not nearly as bad as it sounds. For some reason, the show is pretty entertaining.

Looking at “The Circle”as a whole, the idea of basing likability on  online chat interactions and profile pictures seems shallow, but it also speaks to the times. Social media is as prevalent as it has ever been in our society. When people meet each other for the first time, the first thing they often do is check out their social media pages to pass judgement about what kind of person they are.

Nothing about that is truly authentic — people are looking at a finely manicured presentation of what someone wants you to see, but people buy into it because, in all honesty, they are probably doing the same thing with their own profiles. So, to see a show like “The Circle” not only exploiting this flaw of society, but embracing it arguably makes the show the most realistic reality show I’ve ever seen.

“The Circle” allows viewers a luxury the players on the show do not get. Viewers get to see every physical interaction between the players and the screen. Whether their motivation stems from a place of calculated manipulation or genuine emotion, viewers are given a sense of who each player is and watch as the other players draw the same conclusions or not.

Authenticity is a huge part of playing the game. Throughout the season, players are exposed at the slightest hint of fakeness. If someone’s pictures do not match the personality they had while conversing, they are labeled as a Catfish and sent home.

Lying on social media is no joke — people can detect a fake account or an insincere comment from miles away. One of the themes of the show is that people who are authentic and genuine with their feelings and open up to the group are held at a higher standard among the other players.

Players who are catfish are respected for their decision but ultimately frowned upon for not being themselves from the start. The players who are truthful from the beginning attack the people who are revealed as Catfish.

From what I gather, the people who disguise themselves and decide to be a Catfish do so for one of two reasons. One, they are there to play the game and get the money, and they believe if they have to be fake and try to please people, then that is what they are there to do. Or two: they feel as if their own true physical appearance does not uphold the standards that society holds as being beautiful, so they feel the need to put on a mask.

Again, what show could speak more to the modern era than this? Social media beauty standards and societal beauty standards have always been a point of hardship for society. Players Sean and Karen have similar reasoning for why they decide to catfish as slimmer, more stereotypically beautiful women. It all boils down to the fact that they both assumed that while their bodies didn’t meet societal standards, their personalities would blow people away.

When a professional basketball player named Antonio isn’t home, he goes to see Mercedez, also known as Karen, and discovers she is a Catfish. She asks him if he would have spoken to her had she gone into the game as herself, and his immediate response was that he did not know.

The show definitely highlights the problems that come with social media and the stigmas that accompany body image. Catfish Sean reveals her true self when she is still in the game, and some people are genuinely accepting, but others get upset that she wasn’t honest, which severs trust between Sean and those players.

Another example of authenticity playing a huge role is shown in the first episode when fan-favorite Shubham was ranked eight overall, and then proceeds to receive an influencer spot four weeks in a row. That moment is important in showing that the more the players get to know each other on a level past superficiality, they are forming real, personal connections.

Overall, the show is not as heavy as I might make it seem, and it is not one of those shows that is trying to be outstandingly different. It just so happens that it works that way. “The Circle”is hilarious and had me bursting out laughing at least five times an episode, if not more. The way these people say things and are so energetic about the challenges is what makes the show addictive.

I think Netflix has produced something that has the potential to make people think if they want to. If viewers want to watch this show simply for the entertainment that is reality television, “The Circle” can do that, too. It is all up to the viewers and if they want to stop and think about what the show plays with here in terms of social media. The next time you are bored and need a new show to binge watch, give “The Circle” a try.

9/10 Rating