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The Circle’s finale: a strong but bloated end to a very likable competition

The Circle’s finale: a strong but bloated end to a very likable competition
The Circle host Michelle Buteau during episode 12's reunion (Photo by Netflix)

The Circle has ended its first season on Netflix: Circle, please show me another! The final four episodes went faster than I expected, because while the first two were action-packed, and the final two were packed with filler. But let’s talk about what happened first—and who won.

The second batch of episodes ended on a cliffhanger, with Sean showing who she really was. The small group she shared with respected rather than resented her for that, and their reactions were better than I imagined they would be, even for this group of people who were generally nice and likable, even when they were lying through a mask.

This was a very well-cast season, though I might be saying otherwise had certain people lasted longer.

Shubham, however, did reiterate his central thesis. “I don’t like when people, like, lie or manipulate,” he said. “The biggest risk that anyone can take is to be yourself and let the world know it.”

Being themselves ended up really paying off for the finalists; the only remaining catfish, Seaburn, came in fifth. And, of course, it definitely worked for the winner, Joey, and runner-up, Shubham, who everyone liked from the beginning.

I wonder how this affects future seasons: does it make people less likely to catfish? (I hope so.)

The first person blocked in this last batch was Bill, who I really have no thoughts about at all, and you may have heard me cheering when “Rebecca”/ and Shubham blocked “Adam.” And because “Adam” was falling for “Rebecca”! Ha!

When Alex met Seaburn, and said, “here we are, two fish in one room,” I kind of expected them to start making out. Actually, I was mostly surprised at how little shock and/or anger there was when catfish were revealed.

With Shubham’s insistence upon being real, I thought he’d take the reveal of “Rebecca” much harder, but he seemed pretty okay. And having watched him for three weeks, I feel confident in thinking that reaction was genuine.

Even though Alex was still trying too hard in his exit video (“I haven’t flirted in a very long time”), that clip still had his best, most self-aware moment, when he said, “I’m so sorry for my very bad flirting.”

When it was time for “Adam”/Alex to meet someone, he told us, “I want to walk in lookng my best self.” Cue Alex walking around the corner of the hallway, in slow motion, wearing a tie-dye t-shirt and overalls.

Oh, the editing on The Circle! That’s really what made it so watchable, especially as it evolved over the season, erasing a lot of the procedure so that much of the interaction with screens just came across to us as though two people were talking to each other.

Plus, its editorial juxtapositions were often brilliant, even if their commentary was blunt and/or obvious. I also really appreciated when the editing showed us how multiple people reacted to the same message or piece of information, like when they’d all say the same thing.

The Circle’s five meet each other IRL

The Circle's final five players: "Rebecca"/Seaburn, Chris Sapphire, Joey Sasso, Sammie, and Shubham Goel
The Circle’s final five players: “Rebecca”/Seaburn, Chris Sapphire, Joey Sasso, Sammie, and Shubham Goel (Photo by Netflix)

One of the my favorite parts about The Circle was how direct and accountable it required its players to be: the influencers are not only known, they have to explain their decisions. Some of the games gave the players a chance to say something anonymously, but most did not. In “State Your Case,” the final game, they had to directly identify their biggest competition, who could then respond.

That requirement to own their decisions manifested in the most extreme way when Joey became the super-influencer and had to block someone face-to-face.

What I also liked about The Circle’s “twists” were that they had some consistent logic: it was always based on rankings, and those who were most popular always had power to block someone else, while those who were the least-popular were always at risk. That never really changed, even when the specific way it happened changed.

Joey’s decision to block Sean really shocking. When Joey explained why he couldn’t block some people, like “Rebecca,” that made some sense—he was scared of upsetting the balance between the originals—but why not block Ed? Ed seemed like the easiest choice to me. Also, I didn’t need any more time with Ed. Also, why was he wearing so few clothes? Did he not pack well? Also was Michelle Buteau being serious about her jokes about liking to look at him?

As the final episode started, Ed did get blocked, because he was the least-popular player in the final ratings, which, yes, of course. Bye Ed. And Tammy. You were this season’s worst twist, and using that word to describe their joint casting is a massive stretch.

“It kind of feels right,” Joey said, that five of the original players were at the end. Sammie said, “I feel like we’re the fucking Power Rangers.”

Their final dinner was terrific, and kind of the perfect way to end; I wish they’d just gotten the results then.

Seaburn’s explanation about why he was catfishing—that men are judged for showing emotions—was the best explanation he gave all season, though he still did say “resignate” instead of “resonate” again.

The final five did feel right, and so did the $100,000 winner. Rarely is there a reality competition in which the final two are the two people I most want to see win, but that was the case here. And honestly, had any of the top four won I would have been happy.

(I would have worried about the precedent for future seasons had Seaburn won as “Rebecca”; I think one season with catfishing as a central theme is enough for me.)

Joey grew on me throughout the season, and provided a nice reminder that I should not judge people on reality TV based on that immediate first impression. Joey never really changed, but my impression of him sure did.

My only major complaint about The Circle—besides its release schedule—was its pacing: While there were extraordinarily riveting moments and scenes, it also could have been compressed.

This is not just a Circle problem it’s a Netflix problem. Far too many shows have excessive running times and extraneous episodes, not because they need it, but simply because Netflix values the amount of time people spend watching, and so everything gets dragged out.

Episodes nine and 10 were pretty strong, but 11 and 12 could have been one episode. The reunion, yikes. Did we really need clips of the episodes we’d just watched in a row over the last three weeks? Was there really a need Alex to tell us once again that he’s “happily married,” which is definitely something happily married people tell other people every other sentence? Were any of the blocked players asked anything interesting at all?

Also, it was about 12 minutes into episode 11 that the final ratings started, which meant the game was over. With 26 minutes to go, “we’re done,” Shubham said, and he was far more right about that than he was about “Rebecca.” I was surprised that part of the game arrived when so soon—mostly because there were still more than an episode and a half to go, and I thought there’d be more game play.

I was ready to be done with the season after the final rankings were complete, but I’m definitely not with The Circle. Message. Netflix, let’s get moving on more of The Circle please. #kthanksbye Send.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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