The circle and what it says about perceived authenticity on reality TV

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The final episode of the final season of the competitive reality series The circle dropped on Netflix on May 25. Fans of the show have finally found out which of the five finalists is the fourth winner of the social contest. Frank Grimsleya 28-year-old social worker, beat out other competitors Yu-Ling, Eversen, Racheland Imanwinning the $150,000 prize.

It is an unsurprising victory. After all, Frank was a favorite to win the game from day one. Extremely positive and energetic, he quickly got along with most, if not all, of the other players, establishing himself as a recurring influencer and a force to be reckoned with. However, Frank does not owe his success to The circle exclusively to his good humor and his kindness towards others. More than fiery, he was also perceived by at least a good part of his Circle-companions as genuine.

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Authenticity is a valuable asset in The circle. Created by UK network Channel 4 and originally released in 2018, the show’s format was picked up by Netflix in 2020. So far, the streamer has released four seasons of the US version of the game, as well as a version Brazilian and a French version, each with a single season on the platform. The premise of the series is quite simple, similar to what viewers have grown accustomed to seeing on other social competition reality shows, such as Big brother. Confined to a single place, without contact with the outside world, players must compete and form alliances to reach the end.

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There is one quirk, however: Locked in small one-bedroom apartments, candidates can only talk to each other via a text and photo-based social media platform called The Circle. They can play as themselves or fish as supposedly more interesting people to be elected influencers and avoid being blocked. In The circlethere’s no way to tell if you’re chatting with an italian-american mom from new jersey named Carol or if you really slip into her son’s DMs, John. To keep the disguise, it is important to create an aura of sympathy and, of course, authenticity.

It doesn’t always work. Circle-momma Carol, for example, quickly caught the attention of players who smelled something catfish in the air and were eventually kicked out of the game. Still, Season 2 winner DeLeesa Sainte-Agathe managed to avoid any suspicion that she was not really his husband, Trevor, and every final so far, American and international, had at least one surprise contestant in the mix. It says a lot about how easy it is to fool people online and that authenticity in social media isn’t always genuine, but something that can be engineered with some level of expertise. That’s pretty much the point of the whole experiment. However, The circle also tells us a lot about the inner workings of social reality TV.


Sniffing catfish is not a rule of thumb. The circle. Or, at least, not spoken. Yet, from the very first episode, players were on the lookout for these profiles that just didn’t seem real as far off the prize as possible. If you had to take a picture every time someone in The circle says the words authentic, real, genuine, or catfish, well…let’s just say you better live near a well-stocked liquor store.

This obsession with busting imposters has led to some interesting developments. In The Brazil Circlemodel and former Miss Brazil contender Ana Carla was blocked because players considered her too pretty to be real due to her professional-looking profile picture. A model afflicted by a similar problem Lou in The France Circle. In season 3 of the American series, 52 years old Michelle had to face a catfish version of herself and lost because she couldn’t satisfactorily answer a question about her wedding photo. Her hair looked too 80s for someone claiming she got married after the turn of the millennium, and no one considered the possibility that some people didn’t follow fashion trends.


This shows that in The circleyour true self sometimes just isn’t real sufficient. Even when entering as themselves, players must create a character that matches what is expected of them, at least to some degree. When Michelle, who had a profile picture with two adorable puppies, claimed not to allow her dogs to lick their mouths, eyebrows were raised. Similarly John from season 4 said that Carol’s behavior in the game was just himself, except his personality usually doesn’t match what people expect of a 24 year old, so come in as his mother seemed like a safer bet. . The complexities of being a real person in the real world often don’t sit well with authenticity. To be considered authentic in The circle, you need to curate your character, setting aside aspects of your personality that just don’t fit the character you’re playing and heightening those that may seem more legitimate. If only Michelle had said she was okay with a little dog kissing…


This personality crafting, however, is not exclusive to The circle. In every social experiment-type reality show, from the above Big brother at Survivor at Too hot to handle, participants must make themselves as nimble, reliable, and trustworthy as possible to curry favor with potential allies. Some prefer to play dumb, pretending they’re not as smart or strong as they really are so others don’t see them as a threat – the same strategy adopted by The circleit is alexander, a nerdy 34-year-old catfishing as a fraternity brother in his early 20s. There are also those who like to assert their dominance over their fellow players, as well as those who like to go the lone wolf route. To say that no reality show contestant exhibits in real life any of the traits they exhibit in the game would be a lie, but they certainly aren’t allowed to be as three-dimensional as they would be in a non-TV storyline. . After all, due to the pressure of the game and their limited time to bond, they have to show who they are very quickly. If you refuse to do this, other players might think you are too secretive and therefore untrustworthy or just plain annoying. And doing it in a way that’s actually true to yourself, well, that could lead to your behavior being misinterpreted as erratic or just plain wrong.


Examining your every move and word through strategic lenses is Reality Competition 101. Yet in no show do we see this strategy as well as we do in The circle. Big Brother House Guests can explain their line of thinking to fans in the diary room, and most shows have at least some form of confession for participants to talk about their thoughts and feelings, even those in which the competition isn’t social , as Project track Where RuPaul’s Drag Race. But, aside from the farewell videos that blocked competitors leave for remaining players, The circle has no confessional. Nonetheless, we still see a lot of what’s going on in the minds of every competitor. Circle members are encouraged to speak their thoughts out loud when discussing among themselves or deciding who will take last place in their evaluations. It gives us a unique insight into their game plans, because while there’s almost always a difference between what we think and what we actually put into words, they don’t have time to cook up a full statement. on their decisions. We can see and hear them planning their every move as they go.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the person we viewers see on our screens is 100% the real deal, and not just a constructed character. After all, The circle is not only a question of price. Most gamers also aspire to become media personalities, as is usually the case with any reality show, competitive or not. In order to achieve this goal, they need to create a character that the audience can relate to and enjoy watching. Those ugliest qualities we all have should be left outside the Manchester apartment block in which all versions of the series are filmed. The problem is that these flaws are sometimes dropped alongside interesting personality traits, resulting in one-note characters that just aren’t relatable or memorable. When we consider the editing that spins confessionals, loose conversation pieces, and random daily shenanigans into a cohesive story, it’s not hard to see how many layers separate the reality TV contestants we see on the show. screen and the people they are in real life. But, by adding an extra degree of separation and forcing its competitors to reveal their plans out loud, The circle shines a light on just how inauthentic TV authenticity is, whether or not you’re playing as Catfish. However, this should in no way be construed as an affront to reality TV. Just as in fiction, it is important to distinguish the performer from the performance.



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