On Screen: The Circle Is an Entertaining But Flawed Game

Digital illustration by Reid Alexander.

Welcome back to On Screen, The Augur Bit’s television and film review column! This time, I’ll be talking about the newly released second season of the Netflix reality game show The Circle.

Each season, The Circle features a new set of about a dozen contestants who live in isolated apartment rooms and can only communicate through the show’s text-only message platform called The Circle. Contestants can be themselves or become a catfish, digitally impersonating someone else. 

After each day of chatting via The Circle, the contestants rank the others from favorite to least favorite. The ratings from each contestant are averaged to make the official rankings, which help dictate which player will be eliminated from the show that round. 

New contestants are added to The Circle at various times to keep the game dynamic. Eventually, the five contestants who remain all rate each other one last time. The player who lands at the top of the final ratings is crowned the winner of The Circle and wins a grand prize of 100 thousand dollars.

The first season of The Circle, which came out in early 2020, was a good start to the series, but it lacked strategy. Most of the contestants were part of a big group of friends who wouldn’t betray each other, even when it was against their best interests. The newest season has more strategic and cut-throat gameplay. The contestants aren’t afraid to make big moves, such as eliminating a close ally to improve your chances of winning, which was something that the first season was missing. 

The second season of The Circle featured many interesting contestants. Whether it was a Brooklyn mother named Deleesa playing as her husband Trevor, fraternity brother Jack playing as a sorority girl named Emily or singer Lance Bass’ personal assistant playing as Bass, the catfish impersonation aspect brings plenty of excitement.

However, even though The Circle improved in its second season, there are still a few glaring flaws in the game’s structure. The biggest problem is that the rules are unpredictable. Each round, though the contestants know there will be ratings, they don’t know how the rating will directly affect them. In some rounds, being rated first gives a player the power to decide whom to eliminate, but in others the highest-rated player gets no advantage. With the rules changing so often, there’s no way for the game to be fair to every contestant.

Comparing its structure to another popular reality game show like Survivor, The Circle’s flaws become even more evident. In Survivor, the rules are clear: Each round, one person will be voted out. That structure remains constant throughout the game until there are only two or three contestants remaining, when the eliminated contestants vote for a winner from among those remaining. Survivor contestants are able to fully prepare for each round of the game because they know how the game works, whereas contestants on The Circle are in the dark and less able to devise precise, fun-to-watch strategies.  

The Circle hurts the chances of the new contestants by bringing them in mid-game because the other contestants have already formed connections with one another. On the other hand, added contestants enter the game closer to the finale, giving them a better shot at making it to the end. Unlike The Circle, Survivor has every player start the game at the same time, giving them an equal chance to make social connections and map out their road to victory. 

Though the structure of The Circle certainly has many flaws, I’m confident that with a few tweaks, such as making the rules clearer and having every player start at the same time, the show could be greatly improved. The Circle is a work in progress and Netflix has made changes in the past to improve the show. After a lackluster first season, they cast more cut-throat contestants for the next go-around. This season was a step in the right direction, so I wouldn’t leave The Circle just yet.

My Rating: 6.5/10

If you like this show you should watch: Survivor, Big Brother and The Challenge