By Richard Miller
Arts & Entertainment Editor
A reality show about contestants vying for social media popularity may sound like a superficial and shallow nightmare, but “The Circle” is quite the opposite. The new Netflix show, which was released earlier this month and is based on a British TV series with the same name, fosters a message of self-love, anti-judgement and individuality.
In the show, contestants live alone in an apartment complex and are forced to cut off interaction with everyone except their fellow contestants. Their only communication is through the in-game social media platform. Netflix’s version follows the U.K. show almost exactly, even filming in the same apartment complex and using the same production crew.
The show’s tagline is “In this game, you never know who you are playing against.” This statement rings true, as all the communication between players occurs through a voice-activated system appropriately called “The Circle.”
Using voice commands, contestants play games, conduct private and public chats and stalk others’ profiles through monitors in their apartments. During each round, the players must garner enough popularity to become the “influencers,” which is determined after they rank each other based off of their interactions. The top two players gain control of the game and choose which at-risk players get eliminated. The last player standing takes home $100,000.
The contestants on the show, as well as the characters they are masquerading, are widely diverse. The cast includes a devout Christian drag queen from Texas, a self-proclaimed Italian mama’s boy from New York (who could have easily been a cast member of MTV’s “Jersey Shore”), a plus-sized model who is using her slimmer friends’ pictures on her profile and a Boston man who is playing as his girlfriend.
The show has been praised for its diversity in casting — nearly half the cast is from a racial minority group and over a third of the cast identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. This is often not the case for reality shows on major networks.
An interesting moment that reveals the game’s complexity comes in the pilot episode. Alana, a 25-year-old swimsuit model from Texas, is one of the contestants who is not being a ‘catfish,’ but still has her identity questioned. “The Circle” is able to even the playing field in a way that other reality shows cannot.
The positive biases that society would normally show towards the cute, bubbly, blonde model actually work against her in “The Circle.” In an environment where all the contestants have is a few photos, virtual small talk and artificial emotion to make a judgement, the more genuine someone seems, the better.
The best part is the show can provide an introspective look on how we use social media. But that’s not what it focuses on. The show is aware that it is slightly ridiculous in concept and boasts having one of the most entertaining and likable reality show casts. It definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, incorporating wacky games and hilarious narration by host and comedian Michelle Buteau. “The Circle,” which is the perfect combination of cultural introspection and entertainment, is a hidden gem among trashy, meaningless reality shows.