Just shy of twenty four hours since its finale, I wanted to write a post reflecting on Channel 4’s latest reality spectacle, The Circle, created by Studio Lambert.
What is The Circle?
For those of you who have been living under a rock* for the past three weeks, the premise of the show is somewhat a digital version of the infamous Big Brother, tailored to fit the obsession with the online world that fills and fuels our society today.
*doing actual things** at 10PM every night
**something other than sitting in your pyjamas eating chocolate brownies whilst glued to your TV or laptop for an emotional rollercoaster of an hour
The premise of the show is as follows:
A group of strangers stay in the same block of apartments, but none of them are allowed to meet each other. Instead, they interact only through a group chat. They form impressions of each other through their online interactions and Circle profiles, individual feeds like that of a Twitter or Instagram user. The player voted most popular by their fellow contestants wins £50,000.
A New Kind of Reality TV
The stigma attached to reality television is one thought to be near-impossible to escape, but The Circle has done a pretty good job in avoiding it. I’ve seen countless tweets and had many conversations about how gripping the show is and how surprised we are that we enjoy watching it so much.
Reflecting on these conversations and on the past three weeks, I realise just how much I learned from the series. It was like getting an insight into a case study which interrogates the relationship between social media, identity and human interaction online.
It isn’t just within the genre of Reality TV, it’s mirroring our reality right now, which many shows of the same genre don’t do (unless you too are a real housewife of Beverly Hills).
The format of The Circle itself – a social media platform called ‘The Circle’ created for the show’s contestants – is much like the social media platforms the majority of us use every day. From sharing our opinions on the latest news stories to forming a judgement of whether we ‘get’ someone by their facial expression in one photo, the show is an opportunity to look behind the screens of people across the country who we interact with on a regular basis.
We all know that there’s an element of performance on social media (more on that later), but actively watching someone send a lovely message and laugh to themselves about how much they’re lying is shocking, entertaining, and a huge reality check.
– SPOILER ALERT –
In fact, the winner of the show itself was a catfish, twenty-five-year-old Alex who used his girlfriend’s picture and interacted with his fellow contestants under the guise of ‘Kate’, a made up character he created with the intention of conveying the ‘perfect’ online persona. Well, frighteningly, it worked, with Alex walking away £50,000 richer as a result of winning the show.
Despite many of the other contestants increasingly doubting Kate’s legitimacy, Alex only needed the trust of one player – the lovely Dan – to give him support and ‘rate’ him high enough (a sort of ‘likes’ system, as such) in comparison to other contestants to get the edge to win the finale. Whilst others were voting everyone else painfully low, Dan’s trust in ‘Kate’ allowed her to win.
Testing the Friendships Formed in The Circle
There were various friendships (and on some occasions, potential relationships) that formed within The Circle, and it was absolutely fascinating to watch them develop. Not only the speed at which we’re able to decide whether we like someone or not without having met them, but the speed at which bonds and trust can be formed. As mentioned previously, Dan quickly ‘clicked’ with Kate and this saw the start of a friendship that lasted right up until he found out Kate was actually Alex. I really hope they managed to clear that up and build the bromance they deserve in real life.
Sian and Freddie – Dan and Kate’s fellow finalists on the show – formed a super strong bond throughout the process too. Interestingly, whilst players entered and were inevitably blocked from The Circle‘s group chat (the result of receiving the lowest ratings), the four contestants in the final had been there from the beginning. This gave them the time to build friendships over a period of three weeks (chatting to each other all day every day, remember) that I really do hope last a long time!
It was interesting to see the lengths people would go to for that £50,000 prize though. Whilst I’m not surprised they’re desperate to take home the cash, watching the switch between ‘Love you bestie’ to ‘I’m rating you two stars out of five’ in a bid to win is pretty brutal! I think it’s the raw honesty and judgement that makes the show so gripping and unlike the overproduced, scripted shows out there in the ‘reality’ genre.
The Future of The Circle
Don’t worry, if you missed the series – you can catch up on Channel 4’s website. I am told that Netflix have bought the rights to The Circle and will be producing it in the future, which is very exciting. I think The Circle‘s raw depiction of the effects of solitude and social media is going to continue doing really, really well.
In the mean time, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the programme!