The UK's latest reality TV import is like if Big Brother was set in a post-Black Mirror world, where eight contestants are vying for $100,000 and the title of most popular, having only ever "met" online.
In The Circle, eight participants are thrown into a building (which we thought was in Chicago, but is actually in England) and asked to use a social media app called The Circle for all of their communications, as a group and one-on-one.
But just like on the internet, not all of the contestants are who they say they are. Some players take on alternate personalities strategically, so as to be likable and rank high in the competition in the hopes of winning the cash prize, and most importantly, to avoid being blocked (i.e., eliminated).
Is The Circle on Netflix real? How does it work?
The Circle, which is being released in three installments on Netflix, begins with eight players having to rank each other in terms of popularity and likability. The top two players are named influencers of the round and are tasked with the unenviable role of having to choose one player to block.
The blocked player is immediately eliminated from the game, but before leaving the show, gets the opportunity to meet one other player in real life. Then, they record a video message for the other seven — dropping hints, revealing their own identity, and essentially stirring the pot for the other players (and us viewers, of course).
The Circle app may not exist (yet) but the show and its contestants are very real.
While The Circle app was created for the show and can't be downloaded on the App Store, the show is real. We watch its players live in one-bedroom apartments in the same building, and we watch them do everything — from preparing meals to playing online games with each other.
We do want to say here, as a side note, that any fan of The Circle on Netflix will absolutely adore the British original, as the game has some interesting additional twists that provoke players into aligning themselves or separating based on political views and social opinions.
While the American version borrowed many elements from the UK original — including the building complex they used to film — they did away with more than just the British version's news feed.
For example, while UK's The Circle was filmed in real-time and aired live, which gave viewers the chance to vote for their favorite players (thus becoming even more Black Mirror-y), Netflix's The Circle was all filmed at the same time and has no such user component.
Emily Baker, a contestant who appeared in Season 2 of the British version dished about her time on the show. For one, she revealed that the apartment complex was "in the backstreets of Salford" and that, while the contestants were indeed isolated in their own apartments, they were not completely alone.
"This is what you don't see on the televised version of The Circle," Emily said to The i. "The players aren't technically alone all the time. Each one is assigned two producers (one for the day shift and one for night) who speak to them more or less all the time through the one speaker in the corridor."
This is likely how we get all of the players' minute-by-minute updates, as they appear to be narrating their thoughts out loud to themselves at all times.
As a takeaway from appearing on the show, Emily says, "You never know who you're really speaking to, is the lesson, apparently," which is sure to resonate with any viewer who's caught the beginning of Netflix's first season.
New episodes of The Circle will arrive to Netflix on April 14 and 21.