Why The Circle is the best reality show of our times

The American reality TV show on Netflix houses people together and allows them to participate in the show  —  and talk to each other  —  through the virtual assistant called Circle.

 |  4-minute read |   13-01-2020
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OK, this show is the greatest show if you’re looking to stay in for the weekend because contestants in The Circle don’t actually meet each other but end up having a great time anyway  —  just like real life!

The show, called The Circle, hit Netflix in the new year. It’s an American reality TV show where young girls and boys, mostly in their early 20s, compete for the influencer position every episode. There’s also an Indian-American in the show, Shubham Goel.

The only way the contestants can communicate with each other is through the virtual assistant application called the Circle on their TVs. They cannot meet each other face-to-face. In the show, you see all eight contestants holed up in their own studios, within the same building, doing things on their own. You’re watching them read, go to the gym, make their food, doodle away. You’re watching them talk to each other on the regular through the Circle. You’re watching them play games together. At the end of the show, the finale is this Wednesday, January 15, the winner, or the influencer as they’re known as, walks away with a 100,000 dollars.

main_the-circle_twit_011320022444.jpgA reflection of real life in the virtual world — The Circle. (Photo: Twitter/ @CircleNetflix)

But the most interesting part of the show is this  —  contestants don’t have to be true to their identity, they’re allowed to create a fake social account, a concept that is known as catfishing, and run with that account throughout the show. The heartbreaking thing is, nearly every contestant who chooses to create a mock social account and be someone else, feels a sense of insecurity about who they are online, but not so much offline. That is inevitably a downside of social media. In real life, social media has both encouraged people to be themselves — especially true for people of the LGBTQ community and other minority groups — just as much as it left others feeling like they’re not good enough to be at par with influencers on various platforms.


Unsurprisingly then, the show offers a running commentary on the very things that get tech companies into hot water all the time — that internet giants have too much information on us. Not ironically, the show is on Netflix, which, with or without sweeping the Golden Globes this time, remains the world’s leading entertainment service. In The Circle, you see contestants not just becoming great friends over a period of time, but also confiding in each other (personal things like their family history and if they’re close to their parents or not) in spite of not having met each other, and in spite of being aware about the possibility of being duped. But for the better or worse, it’s not very far off from the lives that we lead. American data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, for example, has shown how people use Google search to confide it in by saying things like “I am drunk” or “I hate my boss” rather than making queries. The tool was invented so people could learn about the world. Instead, researchers use it today to learn about people.

The final detail that makes the show this likeable  —  not because what I am about to say is a good thing by itself but because it builds tension and goads audiences into reacting to it, emblematic of success in the digital world — is that contestants, through their interactions with each other, rank each other based on their own preferences. The two who come out on the top earn a blue verified check, that is, they become the influencers for the day. The two go on a date — a date where they sit across from each other from where the TV camera shows them, unbeknownst to the other because they’re still communicating on the Circle — and decide who to block. That contestant leaves the show immediately.

So, the biggest and even startling takeaway for a reality TV show, let alone one that is based on an online world, is that The Circle is a genuinely refreshing show. It gets its name from Dave Egger's dystopian novel in which a young woman enters a tech behemoth, which is called the Circle, but isn't anything like the book. The show depicts the present—it is not about what has happened in the past or what happens in the future, and that's why it has a really feel-good element to it. Oh, and certainly because the contestants do what tech companies have failed at: they proved that they are not evil.

Also read: Why When They See Us was the third most searched TV series on Google in 2019


Roshni Majumdar Roshni Majumdar @roshnimaj

The writer is a Senior Sub Editor at India Today Magazine. She is passionate about geopolitics, technology, and the internet.

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