Spoilers below for The Circle Season 3!
Hello, it is me, Heather Hogan the Autostraddle TV Team Editor, here to ask questions about Netflix’s reality game show social media experiment The Circle, which I have never seen, but which I have read a lot about because so many of our writers and readers love it so much. The debut season, which aired all the way back in January 2020, was referred to by our TV Team as “bisexual chaos” and “the best mess I have seen in a minute” and “intensely relatable.” Sadly, season two featured no queers. But now season three has arrived! And: queers! I’m going to be honest with you and say that I don’t actually have a handle on who is queer, and who is pretending to be a person who was pretending to be a different person when the show started, or who even on this show IS a person. I think that’s intentional? I saw someone on Twitter describe an interaction this season as “a gay man catfishing as a bisexual woman talking to a lesbian woman catfishing as a straight woman.” Which sounds also like a plot on Glee? ANYWAY, let us speak now to some experts.
Hello, and welcome back, Circleheads! Everyone please describe The Circle in one sentence.
Shelli: A show where you are encouraged to live alone and lie to win 100,000 very taxable dollars.
Drew: Big Brother by way of Instagram.
Natalie: It’s basically if your quarantine life was suddenly a game show.
Riese: Working from home with co-workers you’ve never met in real life, but with prizes.
Meg: Attempting to balance authentic community building with effortless lying, in the hopes of winning a life-changing amount of money.
KaeLyn: A remote office virtual retreat teambuilder gone terribly wrong.
Okay, so, are there actually queer women/non-binary humans on this season of The Circle for real? If so, can you please tell me what you think of them?
Shelli: Yes! There is Sophia who is queer, who is pretending to be her sister who is straight but apparently one hell of an ally. I fuck with Sophia, she’s cute and gay and wears matching PJ’s to bed so I’m into it. I like how she’s playing the game so far, she could be smarter with her catfish radar but I’m for the lesbian agenda so I hope she makes it far.
Drew: I don’t mind Sophia except that she’s on the wrong side of the alliance as far as I’m concerned. I hate Nick and am rooting for Kai and I just think it’s interesting that Sophia looked at the players in this game and decided Nick was her guy. I get it might be a product of being her sister and wanting to flirt, but The Circle is social media so I’m going to project some personal feelings onto it. Let’s just say it’s very revealing this cis white lesbian decided a cis straight white guy was her go-to.
Natalie: As Shelli and Drew mentioned, we’ve got Sophia and we have Ashley, being played by her gay best friend, Matthew, who was a lesbian, until Nick flirted with her, and then she became bisexual to help her advance in the game. [Editor’s note: WHAT?!] I thought it was cute when Sophia said that she had to be careful not to flirt with Ashley while playing the game. But, honestly, I’m not a fan of Sophia’s for exactly the reason that Drew’s hit on… there’s something unsettling about schisms that form in a group with all the white people on one side and all the people of color on the other… and no one seems bothered by it?
It’s been interesting to watch The Circle as I read about this season of Big Brother, wherein the people of color all got together and formed this airtight alliance (affectionately known as “the Cookout”) to ensure a Black winner… and it spurned cries of “reverse racism.” Meanwhile all the whites on The Circle align and we’re like, “oh, must be a day that ends in Y.”
Meg: I was really excited when Daniel, Sophia, and Matthew all seemed eager to own their queerness in the game — but as Drew and Natalie have already mentioned, I’ve also been super uncomfortable with the white queer folks seeming to team up against anyone of color. We’re seeing the dynamics that so often play out in real life manifest within this weird, insulated little microcosm on-screen, and while it’s uncomfortable, it does really demonstrate how easy it is for this to happen. But the fact that none of them are aware of it, or troubled by it, or call it out in any way? The fact that they consistently align themselves with straight white people, like Nick? I absolutely hate it.
KaeLyn: Not much to add to what folks said above. I really wanted to like Sophia when she first appeared, but her choices in allies are too predictably disappointing. Ok, but I do crack up when she flirts with Nick as a straight woman and is so incredibly uncomfortable and cringey and Nick just eats it up.
In that first season, all of y’all were in love with Sammie and Natalie was afraid she was a Miranda. Who are we identifying with / crushing on / hoping not to be this season?
Drew: I’m not crushing on anyone like I was Sammie in season one or DeLeesa in season two. But I’m rooting for Kai because I identify with how she’s playing the game. She’s genuine and thoughtful but she’s also a game player. It’s not the insidiousness of Nick but it’s still strategic and I like that.
Natalie: Yeah, I don’t really feel the connection to the contestants this season that I had to those in the first or even the second. Like Drew, I’m cheering for Kai but I think that’s more because I’ve grown to dislike Nick so much and she feels like his greatest adversary. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, you know?
As for the contestant that I’m hoping not to be? Daniel. Definitely Daniel. I’m trying to give the kid some grace because he’s only 20 but GOOD LORD… why does he feel like he needs to tell everyone he’s a virgin every five minutes?
Riese: Agree, I don’t have a favorite like I’ve had in previous seasons, but if I had to choose it would be Kai, and as Drew mentioned earlier in this roundtable, Sophia is cool and I wanna root for the lesbian but she’s very much on the wrong side of the alliance! I’d be down with Ruksana or James winning. I am perpetually frustrated by the success of “Jackson,” like get that girl off the show already and replace her with someone I like better!!! But Kai’s days feel very numbered.
Meg: I’m absolutely team Kai/Ruksana, but the fact that all the white queers are against them has me feeling like neither of them are going to make it to the end.
KaeLyn: No surprise here, I’m rooting for Kai or Ruksana, but I think Kai is just too damn good at the game and has a target on her back because of it. Ruksana is the so, so cool and sweet and I would love for her to win, but she doesn’t seem to be connecting as much with the other players so I feel like she’s going to be in the middle for a while, but will go quickly after Kai is eliminated. I would love to be very wrong about Kai!
How does this season compare to that first one, in terms of the structure of the show and your enjoyment of it? Cause on other shows, people get better at the games the more the seasons go on, right? Like if you make it on The Amazing Race at this point and are too scared of heights to complete a challenge, buddy! What are you doing! Is that the case here?
Drew: The first season was great just for the novelty of it and the second season was great because I felt so invested in DeLeesa. But what this season offers — in addition to some new twists — is it’s the most strategy that’s ever been deployed. I’d say I’m probably enjoying this season the least but maybe that’s just because some of the strategizers are really bad at it.
Natalie: The longer The Circle goes on, the more people believe that you can strategize your way through it, instead of building genuine connections with others. Part of strategizing means that you don’t even really care who’s a catfish and who isn’t (when, in the past, authenticity was really your cache on The Circle). So you’ll have Rachel/Jackson do something that brightly shines a light on them being a catfish…or Matthew/Ashley switch from lesbian to bisexual…and no one really cares? That’s taken some of the fun out of the game.
Riese: They do keep adding new twists, I think to prevent people from getting too strategic, but also sometimes everybody is so stupid I just want to scream! The Real vs. Fake Michelle thing was handled so profoundly incorrectly by every party involved, including Real Michelle visiting her imposters after getting booted instead of a player who could spread news of their mistake to the group, thus actually getting her imposters out of the game. This season has been interesting in its way, but the racial breakdown of the alliances is … unsettling? Nobody is really forming genuine connections with each other in the way I loved in previous seasons — Calvin and Kai were an interesting story but he was Gone Too Soon.
Meg: I don’t mind people being more openly strategic — it does feel like part of the game at this point. But my favorite piece of the show has become watching people that are playing themselves form genuine connections, both romantic and platonic, and twists like the Michelle clone or the endless obsession with rooting out catfish that take away from those authentic relationships are grating on me more than they have in past seasons.
KaeLyn: The new twists in the gameplay are a lot of fun and force some shake-up moments among the cast that are interesting! Everyone on this season thinks they’re master strategists, but few of them are actually good at it. I definitely think there’s a season three vibe — the newness has worn off and the people on the show are very clearly looking for the fifteen minutes of fame above all else. So far there are many alliances, but not many real connections. That said, I’m still having a lot of fun watching along!
Would you go on this show? And if so, what would be your strategy?
Shelli: Yes. Yes the hell I would. I would def be myself and my only strategy would be to make it up and meet folks as I go along. On the first few days tho I would try to at least have a private chat with everyone where I say something wild crazy because what won’t happen to me is what happened to Orange Michelle — I REFUSE to go out like that!
Natalie: Poor Orange Michelle. I’m still so mad about the cloning thing and Michelle’s premature elimination? I’d seen that as part of the British edition of The Circle but I was completely unprepared to see it happen to this genteel 52-year-old Southern woman. It was brutal. I definitely found myself yelling at my screen: hoping that she’d remember that early chat she’d had with Kai, Matthew/Ashley and Calvin that could help prove her identity.
Drew: I would LOVE to be on the show. And like Shelli my strategy would just be being myself. BUT that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be some tact. I’d definitely be aware of numbers and other alliances as well as not making too many waves. I think my downfall would be that I’m not very good at bullshit and if someone I virtually met two days ago started calling me her big sister I’d be a little like… okay I don’t know about THAT.
Natalie: I absolutely would not go on this show… because while I think I’d excel at the mental aspect of the game — basically, figuring out who the catfish are and assessing all the alliances — I know I’d suck at the social aspects of the game.
KaeLyn: I don’t want the minor league level of celebrity that comes with being on reality shows in my life. Assuming that I could control for that, would I enjoy being on this kind of competition? TOTALLY. I’d go as myself and I’d try to make personal connections with everyone as soon as possible, but avoid forming strong alliances. My strategy would be to try to stay on good terms with everyone and ride it out in the middle for the first half of the competition, then come out as the dark horse once some of the more aggressive players eliminate each other.
Here’s a question: do you think you could pull off a catfish? And, if so, who would you go in as? One of the most interesting facets of the show, for me at least, is seeing how people reconcile their choice of catfish profile. Last season, you had DeLeesa as Trevor… a single father… because she thought that the profile would appeal more to folks and because women are unfairly criticized on social media. This season you’ve got Matthew coming in as Ashley (first as a lesbian, then as a bisexual) and Sophia playing as her older sister… to capture the attention of the male contestants.
Drew: I think it would make for interesting television to play exactly as myself BUT be a cis woman. I hope my conclusion would be similar to Sean’s in season one though and I’d be like “Being yourself is better!” That said I would not reveal it midway like she did because I’m way too competitive to ruin my game like that. lol
Meg: No fucking way.
Riese: I would not because I hate being on camera and have a pretty thin skin for being analyzed by The Entire Internet. But if I HAD to I wouldn’t be myself because I’m not very likable. I would definitely catfish as Heather Hogan and I would win because I would be so nervous about living up to her image that I’d do a great job. Actually no I wouldn’t win, I’d amass enough goodwill to enable somebody else to win who deserves it more than me, just like HH would do!! [Editor’s note:😂]
KaeLyn: It would be more strategic to go as a catfish than as myself, as a fat queer Asian woman. I definitely would be cast as the funny fattie, but I don’t think I couldn’t handle a catfish. I’d rather try to win people over with my “genuine” self, but I also think that’s what would get me voted off sooner rather than later. I love the idea of being a catfish! I think I’d be like a stereotypical cute Korean girl with long hair and a strong selfie game, but I’d still be bisexual so I could flirt with anyone.
Where does this season of The Circle rank among other queer reality TV?
Shelli: Right now it’s basically at the top because there isn’t anything else that’s reality and featuring hella lesbians. I’m also invested because there is a chance that even more queer babes will make an appearance ‘cos of how the show works! It would be great if a Black queer babe comes on and is a horrible person because that is the type of chaos I would like to see.
Drew: Because Sophia isn’t playing herself and Ashley pivoted to strategic bisexuality, this season hasn’t really had any girl on girl flirting. There were straight girls in past seasons who flirted more with each other than anyone this year. Which is a real bummer! Are You the One S8 remains the very best and we deserve so much more like it.
Natalie: I stand firm in my belief that the Circle Brazil is still the best, most gayest, season… and I’m just going to keep saying that until everyone watches and begrudgingly admits that I was right all along.
Riese: Well it’s definitely better than The Real L Word.
KaeLyn: Drew, I was also thinking that I’d love a chaotic all-queer season like Are You the One Season 8! I really want some queer flirting, really. I don’t think this season feels particularly queer, even though there are three out queer people on it so far. I just want girls flirting with girls on my reality shows and there really isn’t enough of it on season three so far.
Anything else you want to talk about?
Shelli: Yeah — Fuck Nick and I Hope Kai and Calvin make a circle baby.
Drew: Shelli, you read my mind.
Natalie: So, yes, definitely… fuck Nick forever and always…but a Circle Baby from Kai and Calvin? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.
I mean, from where I’m sitting Calvin’s decision to give Nick the Secret Advantage just cost Kai a hundred thousand dollars. He was so enamored with her that he had to go see her after he was eliminated but he didn’t like her enough to give her an advantage in the game? He had to give it to his bro? What kind of fuckboy shit is that? Nick having that burner account gave him the opportunity to turn more of the other contestants against Kai and to get himself a spot as an influencer. Now, he’s in the hangout with Daniel — bless his heart, that boy ain’t even playing the game — and gets to eliminate one player on his own. Best case for Kai? She loses her BFF in the Circle, Ruksana. The worst case? She’s out because her Circle bae couldn’t be bothered to give her an assist in the game.
Nah, fuck that dude too. If I was Kai, I wouldn’t want Calvin anywhere around me until he ran me my check.
Meg: Natalie, I totally agree with you! I was shipping Calvin and Kai so damn hard, and was so bummed when he got blocked. Their meeting IRL was adorable, and I loved watching them realize that the bond they’d formed was real. And then he gave NICK the advantage and totally lost me. Why the hell would he do that? Was he seriously concerned that the attractive cis straight white guy needed help, after he KNEW that everyone was trying to come for his girl? I don’t get it, and Kai deserves better. I hope she wins in spite of that shit, starts hanging out with DeLeesa, and lives happily ever after.
Riese: Yeah as a rule if everybody just went into the game understanding that they should never help a white cis straight man, ever, I think we’d all be better for it. That probably goes for a lot of things.
KaeLyn: There are times that I’m rooting for people and I’m still feeling that way about Kai and Ruksana. But I have a hunch that by the end of this season, I’m going to rooting against people, as in, rooting for Anyone But Nick. Much like my vote in most major elections, I feel like this is going to come down to who sucks less.