My Final Thoughts on Channel 4's 'The Circle'

9 Oct 2018

After having so much fun writing my initial thoughts post and managing to keep up with the whole series, I thought it would be a great idea to chat about my final thoughts on The Circle. Much like my initial thoughts post, I'm expecting this to turn into a bit of an essay, but stick around, read through it and see if you agree with anything I say. I will say - spoiler alert - my feelings towards the programme have changed slightly over the three weeks that the show was aired, so if you thought that I was a bit harsh in my first judgement, take a look at how I feel now!

So if you've missed absolutely everything to do with The Circle or simply have no idea what I'm talking about, it's a reality show that follows the residents of a block of flats who are competing to win £50k. They are not able to leave the block or meet any of the other inhabitants (while they are still playing the game) - they must only communicate through The Circle social media platform. This is a voice activated system that allows them to chat to other players privately or in a group, post updates, play games and rate each other before a blocking. If a player is blocked, that means that they have to leave the show immediately and on their way out, they can visit one other player. In order to win the money, someone must come out on top as the most popular after being rated by the fellow players. Sounds exactly like Black Mirror, right? But because none of the people within the show can see each other until they leave, they can post whatever they like to make themselves more likeable. They can lie about every aspect of who they are, share over-exaggerated updates and basically just catfish their way to the top.

At the time of writing this post, there are still two episodes left of the show, but I'll definitely be adding edits here and there about I feel on the winner, whether catfishing worked for the most popular player and any final final thoughts. EDIT: wooow, I did not see that result coming until right towards the end of the final episode. Everything sort of clicked and I figured out how the ratings had gone. Needless to say, I was massively disappointed and angry, so stay tuned because I'll be talking about it all at the end of the post.
You'll be pleased to know that I was hooked on this programme from start to finish. As I mentioned in my original post, the first episode was a little bit meh for me, but that was to be expected. They had to do a bit of house keeping and introduce all of the initial players to us, but nothing exciting happened. I predicted that it would get more exciting as the show went on and I was right. We were introduced to more people, new games were played in order to stir up a bit of drama (which was something that I was a bit worried about at first - how was any drama going to be created when none of the players could meet before they left?) and I was actually able to develop a liking towards certain people. However, I will say that I never really wanted any of them to win because I didn't feel much of a strong connection to any, but my favourite player was Sian.

Along the same 'exciting' lines and my hooked-ness, the cliffhangers just kept getting more gripping. We were left on the edge of massive arguments and finding out which player was going to be blocked, and they had me coming back every time. Even when the cliffhanger was a bit naff, I still felt so invested in the programme that I needed to feel that sense of closure. There were definitely times where I was like 'I honestly don't care,' for example, when Precious opened the private message to Sian, and the programme ended. It was obvious that it was going to be a bit explosive, so I knew what was coming, but I absolutely had to tune in to find exactly what happened because I was hooked. EDIT: I love that Alice Levine made a reference to how much they love cliffhangers in the final episode, completely cementing the idea that they're used to keep the audience coming back.

As mentioned in my first thoughts post, I loved the range of people that were playing, and that still stands. It was so wonderful to see a range of personalities, body types and personal situations that didn't fit the stereotypical reality show mold. I would be interested to see whether this is something that is continued into any future seasons of the show, as this is definitely an interesting platform to highlight minorities that often wouldn't be highlighted on television. I think black single mum Genelle was a great example of this. She was also one of my favourites and I thought that she was incredible for bringing her 6 month old baby with her, spreading a positive message about single mums.

However, I am a little bit worried that the show will end up dominated by fame hungry people that are looking for a way to get a celebrity career - the Love Island effect, if you will. It's not uncommon for Love Island contestants to go on to become famous after appearing on the show. Just look at Alex Bowen and Olivia Buckland... they've just had their wedding aired on TLC. Many contestants have millions of followers on Instagram, deals with clothing lines and new scandals in magazines almost every day it feels like. To me, it feels as though any reality show that is brought into existence now runs the risk of only attracting great big personalities that will only become amplified once the cameras are rolling in order to make a career for themselves. The example I used in my intial post was Freddie, and yes, while he has grown on me a little (especially after his heart-to-heart with Scotty. Anyone else get a little bit emosh?), I still think that he is hoping for a television career after his time on The Circle has ended, whether he wins the money or not. 
So, let's have a chat about how I feel on the catfishing situation. Luckily, there weren't too many people completely catfishing, but instead, a lot of people just tweaking their personal information to appear more 'attractive'. I did have more of a think about it after receiving this comment on my first post:

"Although I do understand your concerns about 'promoting' catfishing, I take an opposite view. I work with vulnerable young people and have done various trainings that encompass exploitation, grooming etc. and I feel that 'The Circle' can actually help people to understand how easy it is to be conned by online 'friends'...look at how popular 'Kate' bad do we feel for those who genuinely like 'her'? This is not to say all people are con merchants on line...but if it makes us analyse ourselves, who we trust, our gut instincts and our safety, surely that is a good thing."

I do agree with this to an extent. There has definitely been an educational element to the show in terms of catfishing, particularly with the Dan and Mairead situation, and the highlighting of 'red flags'. It really showed me how easy it is for someone to be deceptive online. All it takes is a different profile picture and we automatically assume that that is who we are speaking to. However, I think that the Dan and Mairead story was the only situation that outlined how bad catfishing can be. We saw how interested Dan was in this woman who was saying she looked a certain way and was a certain age, but we all knew that it was a complete lie, and after she revealed her true identity, there were digs and sly comments from other players. I found the whole thing to be extremely uncomfortable, especially the reactions from the other players, furthering my comments on cyber-bullying. While it might all be 'the name of the game', it doesn't make it right and I think more needs to be actively done to show that this isn't right.

Leading on from this, there's the Kate/Alex situation, which yes, highlights catfishing, but not in a negative way. Instead, this showed us how easy it was to manipulate people into liking you to get what you want. We weren't shown any sort of downfall or uncovering of the real person behind the account until the end. And there are those of us that felt sorry for the people that genuinely liked Kate/Alex, but from a quick look on social media, there are so many people that laughed at the whole thing. I could've cried when Dan said he'd be really upset if he found out Kate wasn't who she said she was, because we were all aware that she wasn't. And it's the people who find that funny that I worry about as they are the people that could benefit from some sort of 'we don't condone this behaviour' message from Channel 4.

EDIT (don't read if you don't want spoilers): let's talk about those finals results for a minute, shall we? If you haven't seen in all over social media or if you didn't follow along with my live final tweets, Kate/Alex won both The Circle vote and the Viewers Champion vote, which means he got to walk away with £75k. This only promotes the message that nice guys finish last and that being disingenuous to get what you want is ok. I could not believe the amount of people that were saying he deserved to win both lots of money (many without explaining why) and that he had been genuine all the way through. No one could have been less genuine!

For me, the final ratings system was a complete shambles and we all know that he wouldn't have won if Dan hadn't given him those much needed 5 stars, which he only did because he thought Alex was Kate. The other players rated tactically, giving everyone a low amount of stars in the hopes that they were rated highly, therefore coming out on top. This is not what The Circle was promoted as. It was supposed to be a popularity contest at the end, not who has the best tactics for rating. For me, if there was a second season, to avoid this absolute carnage again, the final ratings should be done on a 1st, 2nd and 3rd basis. If there is a tie break, that's where the viewer votes should come into play. We all know that Sian would have won if the final was truly based on popularity, which is what everyone thought. I saw countless tweets encouraging people to vote for Alex for Viewers Champion because he didn't stand a chance in The Circle vote, and he didn't and shouldn't have, but because the ratings weren't based solely on popularity, he won. It infuriates me, can you tell? The fact that he won completely undermined the "message" that Channel 4 was trying to put out there with this show and makes me wonder if there was any point in it at all!
I now think that it is more important than ever that Channel 4 take some responsibility and put some messages out there about online safety, how to spot a catfish and what to do if you think someone is taking advantage of you online. While everyone is happily tweeting that Alex played a good game and he "deserved" to win (bork), it seems that his tactics throughout the whole game have been forgotten. He lied continuously to his best friend (who, by the way, had every right to be angry when they first met), gave zero meaningful contributions to any conversation at all, faked his whole personality and was just a bland person in general.

Speaking of Kate/Alex, I think I love to hate him. I haven't liked him all the way through the show and I agree with Freddie's sentiments about him being boring and having no opinions, but as Alex (my Alex) pointed out, this might be something that keeps me coming back. I enjoy hating on him, so I come back to the show to see what he gets up to so I can rant about it. I like that he kept getting close to being caught out and I almost willed him to get blocked several times (that being said, if he had gone, the show would have turned into digital Love Island towards the end. Was anyone else sick of the flirting?). I know that this means I'm feeding into the number of people that are seeing his manipulating, but that doesn't mean I agree with it and was actively disliking him the whole time. I'm also still creeped out by the fact that he used his girlfriend's photos. And now I know that she's actually real, I can't help but be even more baffled by the fact that she must've agreed to let him use her photos. Each to their own, eh?


I'm keen to see if any sort of backstage "gossip" is published. I'm absolutely dying to know what they all get up to on Saturdays when no episodes are shown, how The Circle social media actually works and whether the players truly are alone all of the time (which I don't think they are. Surely they all would've cracked by now?). Obviously I don't think any of them do meet each other until they leave because we wouldn't have amazing reactions like when Aiden met Kate/Alex or when Dan met Mairead, but there's no way they'd be cooped up in those little apartments on their own for days on end. I would also love to know if they're given any sort of "stage directions" before going in. Like I said about Freddie being over the top, maybe they're psyched up and told to be a bit OTT in order to get good telly. Here's hoping that some of the players do a video about it!

EDIT: so, do I think that there will be a second season? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. This was definitely a slow burner of a show, but from the measly 1 million that tuned in to the opening episode to over 6 million views online (as reported by Channel 4), it's popularity was definitely on the rise. It was only 18 episodes long with each one lasting an hour (with ads), so it was totally binge-able and with those cliffhangers coming at you every episode, it's hard to not keep watching. They hit the nail on the head with the format and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't continue. In fact, it was confirmed shortly after the final that Netflix would be creating a similar unscripted show with the same premise, so that might something to watch out for!

As for my feelings towards a second season... I think I would watch it if some changes were made. I honestly thoroughly enjoyed watching the show, despite me questioning my morals almost every time, but the final ruined it for me. I was livid with the results and thought the whole thing was a bit of a mess. If the way that the players rate each other in the final was altered, I would be 100% tuning in. The whole 5 star rating in the final was not thought through properly at all. It was obvious that Freddie, Sian and even Kate/Alex were going to rate tactically, and Dan was going to go with his heart. He practically handed the money to Alex by giving him 5 stars and I'm pretty certain Dan realised that when they all finally met. Kate/Alex was one of the lowest rated players consistently, so there is no way in hell that anyone can say he was the most popular at the end.

While I can rant and rave til the cows come home, I really did enjoy watching the show and seeing how the whole thing worked. Like I said, at the start, I was worried about how the audience's interest would be kept, but it worked. With just a few tweaks here and there, and a changed final rating system, I honestly think it has the potential to be even more popular in the next season.

Did you watch The Circle? What were your views on the whole thing?

Whould you like to comment?

  1. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! Interesting reading that comment someone made though about parts of the show educating young people about being careful who you talk to online, that has aleviated some of my rage this morning at the final result! To me it basically confirmed the bad side of social media / instagram - if you fake who you are and try to make yourself better you will win. Not a good message! I have no idea how he won the viewers choice as well...
    Melis ||

    1. I'm so pleased you agree with me, Melis! I'm really really hoping that Channel 4 have learned from this first season and make some changes for the next one, if there is one x