After his elimination from The Circle Singles, Tom Houghton went to meet “Jennifer,” the 51 year-old dog trainer with whom he’d been aligned for most of the game. After getting over the shock of the Circle mom being a catfish, helmed by previously eliminated contestants Brett and Xanthi, they all settled in and acknowledged the conventional wisdom.
“It’s, hands down, Chaz winning this game right now,” Xanthi conceded, as Brett nodded in agreement. It didn’t feel far-fetched, it felt inevitable: after all, Chaz had been voted an influencer in four out of five votes. He was as universally beloved as Frank Grimsley, last season’s winner. Even though “Jennifer” was still competing, they seemed resigned to the fates.
“Chaz is gonna win,” Tom admitted. “It’s undeniable.”
But this is The Circle where conventional wisdom is tossed out the window and bisexual chaos reigns… and, in a spectacular upset, Sam Carmona, the bisexual freelance make-up artist, took home the crown. The win seemed improbable: the Brooklyn native started at the bottom of the show’s first ratings and had only been voted an influencer once. Sam wasn’t supposed to win — even she didn’t think she would — but she did!
“I literally remember holding onto [Chaz’s] hand…head down, and I’m just chanting to him…’I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you,’ saying it over and over. Because I genuinely did not know,” she told Entertainment Weekly. With tears streaming down her face in the finale, Sam promised to use her winnings to help her family, including moving her asthmatic grandmother out of public housing.
As the TV Team’s Resident Bisexual, one might assume that I was #TeamSam from the start but, in all honesty, I was not. This season of The Circle featured so many people of color, so many queer folks, so many compelling personalities that it made it hard to pick favorites. Ultimately, Sam climbed to the top of my personal rankings — for reasons I’ll explain momentarily — but let’s revisit all the characters of The Circle Singles…
Circle, take me to my ratings…
11. Shubham Goel, 26 – Playing as “Sasha,” a 23-year-old blogger (Eliminated in Episode 8)
There are a lot of people who watch The Circle who find Shubham’s schtick to be very endearing but I am not one of them. I should’ve taken more joy in watching him flail around as a catfish but he was so bad at it, it was almost painful to watch. He seemed to believe that being a catfish meant forgoing “genuine” connections and, instead, opted for really aggressive gameplay that turned everyone off.
I’d actually hoped we’d get a more mature version of Shooby this time around, after he expressed excitement about a cultural kinship with his catfish personality, but NOPE. Same ol’ Shubham. Was I even a little surprised he turn his back on Bruno? Nope. Was I shocked he gave the hacking power to Jennifer? Not in the least bit. If whiteness abounds, Shubham is going to rush to be near it.
10. Brett Robinson, 28, and Xanthi Perdikomatis, 25 – Played as themselves and then were resurrected as “Jennifer,” a 51 year-old dog trainer (Finished 5th)
I’m lumping Brett and Xanthi together because we got so little time to get to know them individually in the Circle because they were the first contestants that were blocked. That blocking felt merciful when it came to Brett who, even in just a few minutes of screentime, fully revealed himself to be the douchebag he admitted to being (granted, he said “lovable douchebag,” but honestly, there’s no such thing). Thankfully for most of Brett’s stay, the ever cheerful Xanthi was there to make him more palatable.
What’s interesting to me about their partnership, though? When Brett and Xanthi initially scoped each other’s profiles, there seemed to be, at least, a physical attraction between them. But when they were actually partnered up in the same apartment? Absolutely nothing. No flirting, no signs of a hook-up, no romance… nothing. It feels like something must’ve happened and I want all the tea.
9. Billie-Jean Blackett, 25 – Playing as “Bruno”, her ex (Eliminated in Episode 6)
There’s always one… every season there’s a contestant on The Circle who tries so hard to stay under the radar that they miss the opportunity to forge genuine connections within the group. It’s a habit that is particularly common with catfish who are so worried about being exposed that they’re reticient to engage at all. That was Billie-Jean this season. She was there for six episodes and I barely remember a thing about her or Bruno.
That said, coming on the show as your ex? Ballsy. Personally, I feel like if a lesbian did this on a future season, they’d make it to the finals.
8. Brian Clark, 47 – Playing as his daughter, “Brittney” (Eliminated in Episode 4)
Listen, if you’re going to go on The Circle as an older player, don’t try and catfish as a younger person. Just don’t do it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find success like Lee (as River) from season two but more than likely, you’ll end up sounding like Steve Buscemi in that episode of 30 Rock… “how do you do, fellow kids?” Don’t do that to yourself.
Brian seemed like a pretty affable guy but catfishing as his daughter just was not the move. He did make me wonder: could a “Circle Dad” succeed on this show in the way “Circle Moms” have?
7. Marvin Achi, 27 (Eliminated in Episode 11)
Aside from hiding his career, Marvin played as himself on The Circle… but also Marvin played himself on The Circle. The “personal trainer”/chemical engineer came into the game and made a strong romantic connection to Raven. But you know the “distracted boyfriend” meme? That was Marvin once “Tamira” stepped into the Circle.
I am not entirely sure how Marvin thought he was going to get away with flirting aggressively with both women in a game built on social interaction. Of course the girls were gonna talk and of course his treachery was going to be exposed.
Congratulations, Marvin, you played yourself… right out of a chance to win $100k.
6. Tom Houghton, 36 (Eliminated in Episode 12)
Listen, let’s be honest here: am I going to be in a rush to cheer on a cis, straight, white man on The Circle? And a Blue Blood, at that? Definitely not. However, as far as cis, white, straight men go, I liked Tom. Did he form predictable alliances? Of course. Is he probably #TeamWilliam in real life? Yep. But I really appreciated the humor that Tom brought to the Circle.
That said, I also appreciated that Chaz called him out for using that humor to deflect from having to build genuine emotional connections with others. It spurned Tom to open up in the game but, more importantly, he seemed legitimately changed by the interaction. Yay for one more emotionally competent cis, straight, white man in the world!
5. Oliver Twixt, 26 (Eliminated in Episode 13)
There have been a couple occasions where contestants on The Circle come onto the show with reputations that precede them — usually from other reality shows like Brett’s run on Big Brother — but I usually don’t know them (the Spice Girls notwithstanding, of course). But when Oliver Twixt stepped into the Circle, I was like, “OH MY GOD! I know him!” Oliver brought to the Circle exactly what you’d expect if you’ve followed his career: pure joy.
But while I love Oliver, it was never clear what his strategy was to advance in the game, aside from getting close to Chaz. Though, in his defense, I’m not sure the show really knows what to do with players who enter the game late: four of the five winners of The Circle have been part of the cast on day one. Somehow, the show’s going to have to tinker with its format to create a more equitable game.
Also, if you’ve got some time to spare: Oliver’s recap of this season’s first four episodes with Circle alum, Chris Sapphire, is a gay ol’ time.
4. Tasia Lesley, 28 – Playing as “Tamira”, a 22-year-old cosmetologist (Finished 4th)
Upon meeting Tasia, I had flashbacks to season one of The Circle: back when Karyn, a black butch lesbian, catfished as the 27-year-old bisexual “Mercedeze.” That ended in disaster and, after being introduced to “Tamira,” I thought, “oh, God, here we go again.”
But Tasia — a self-described “hardcore lesbian” — proved to be a bit more savvy than Karyn had been. She successfully avoided the pitfalls of a make-up conversation with Sam. She was able to sculpt Tamira’s favorite feature for a contest (“I know what boobs look like,” she’d later proclaim). And, perhaps most importantly, when it came to Marvin, she told the absolute truth at the perfect moment, cementing herself as someone trustworthy in the game.
I wish we’d gotten to see more of Tasia in the game…the more she showed of herself, the more I wanted to spend time with her.
3. Raven Sutton, 26, and her interpreter, Paris (Finished 3rd)
From the opening episode, Raven was my absolute favorite…#1 on my personal rankings each and every week. Y’all know I’m all about representation so when she came in door and introduced herself as #DeafAF and said that she wanted to represent for the deaf community, I was sold. She had an incredible energy about her and I was charmed from the very beginning. I loved her and her interpreter, Paris. Twerking for self-care? Girl, say less.
But here’s where Raven lost me: there’s always a point in the game where things shift, where contestants have to look beyond alliances, and start thinking about what they can do to best position themselves to win. For Raven, her point came in Episode 10 when she, as an influencer, pushed to vote out Marvin over “Jennifer” and she missed the moment.
I understood Raven’s frustration: she’d developed a relationship with Marvin, saved him in the game, and then discovered he was a fuckboy. I understand why she’d want him out. But that was her moment to make the choice that was best for her game, not for her personally, and she didn’t do it. Whatever her misgivings about Marvin, Raven had to know that he was going to rate her highly, especially in an effort to make amends. Don’t get rid of him when he’s finally useful!
A lesson to future Circle players: secure the bag first.
(Side note: There’s a 100% chance Paris comes back to The Circle as a catfish in a future season, right?)
2. Chaz Lawery, 28 (Finished 2nd)
Chaz! AKA Shampoo Papi AKA “gusband”…everyone’s favorite player on The Circle. He was a genuine source of light and positivity for the entire season who, going into the finale felt like a shoo-in to capture the crown. But the crazy thing about the Circle is that final ratings don’t usually favor the most popular player: only once has the person who’s been voted influencer most often gone on to win the game.
But here’s where Chaz messed up: in the penultimate episode, Chaz was voted the Secret Super Influencer, giving him the sole responsibility to boot the last person from the game. This was his moment, just like Raven, to think about what would be the best choice for his game…and, just like Raven, Chaz made the wrong choice! He should’ve kept Oliver in the game, trusting that his Circle boo would’ve rated him highly.
It’s clear that Chaz and Raven both wanted to play this game with their hearts which… I mean… that’s really touching. But what that isn’t is a strategy to win $100,000 which is the whole point of this thing.
1. Sam Carmona, 34 (THE WINNER!)
There was always something about Sam…she had all the swagger of a 90s era b-girl and I absolutely loved it. She was so fun: always ready with the perfect quip and her reactions were priceless.
But here’s where Sam jumped to the top of my personal ratings: following Shubham’s elimination, he passed on the power of the hack to his ally, Jennifer. “She” used this power to pose as Chaz in a conversation with his “wifey,” Sam, in an effort to turn Sam against Tamira. But queer girls are nothing if not great detectives so eventually Sam started to put the pieces together. She realized that her conversations had been hacked and that Jennifer was the likely culprit. Watching her piece together the details of the mystery was a highlight of the season for me…and that’s when she secured her spot as my #CircleFave.
Though Sam was rightly incensed about the violation of privacy, she didn’t allow that to control her game. She accepted Raven’s push to block Marvin over Jennifer, however begrudgingly, and that move probably secured the bag. I’m thrilled for her win and hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Sam Carmona.