The Circle turned out to be quite the sleeper hit for Channel 4. The social media-based reality game garnered plenty of online buzz thanks to its dystopian feel and catfishing contestants; and despite the finale only being watched by around 600,000 viewers, it seems those who liked it loved it.
Catfish-in-chief of The Circle was Alex Hobern, who posed as ‘Kate’ on the show’s social network using pictures of his girlfriend Millie (it was even Millie’s idea for Alex to use her pictures). While his personality raised some eyebrows among those in The Circle, he nevertheless did enough to convince them to crown him the winner and hand him the £50,000 prize, while the audience at home fell in love with Alex/Kate, naming him the show’s top influencer (and netting him another £25k).
But despite pocketing £75,000, the 26-year-old admits to having struggled while appearing on the show – and said he often felt emotional while in his flat.
“I was completely unprepared for the amount of isolation that there was,” he told RadioTimes.com. “You’re not allowed outside the block of flats, you’re only allowed on the roof, in the gym, and to go and film your little diary room bit – but only when no-one else was around.
“I brought two books that I thought would be funny, so I brought George Orwell’s 1984, and I brought a book called The Circle in there, which completely messed me up mentally because that’s all I had.
“You get really weird in there. I could see a car-park from my flat and I felt all I knew was this car park. I had no concept of time or days, but I would watch these people going in and out and watched when they came in and notice if someone was late.
“It really takes it out of you, the confinement. I found myself getting really emotional in there. There were so many times I nearly came clean and left. It was really hard.”
Hobern said that he still speaks to the show’s psychologist, and added he could not fault The Circle’s duty of care throughout the process.
“I’ve had continuous care since I’ve left and they still check back in,” he said. “The psychologist was always on hand and would make herself available and you could talk to them and things. Multiple times I was furious, and I would be shouting, ‘Get her in here! I need her!’. The show’s psychologist is still my psychologist now. She’s still available for help.
“They’ve dealt with it so well, they still give us continuous support now and I think the modern generation see therapy as a really good thing.”
But not all of The Circle’s participants necessarily struggled with the isolation aspect of the show, with runner-up Freddie Bentley, who played himself but changed his sexual orientation to straight, saying he found The Circle “therapeutic.”
“Me and Alex had really different experiences,” he told RadioTimes.com. “I loved it. Alex finds it crazy how much I loved it. But it was nice to have me-time in my space, and be really able to focus on the game. I was so in the game I didn’t really have time to think about friends and family. I didn’t miss anyone a great deal or anything like that.”
Despite playing The Circle and being popular both in the social network and with fans of the show, Hobern admitted he had initially felt guilty for scooping the top prize – particularly after seeing how hurt fellow contestant Dan Mosaku was at his “deception”.
“We’re friends now, and I love Dan to bits, but he was taken for a fool by me and that’s hard for me as I wasn’t trying to make him look silly, but because it was part of the game you kind of have to by pretending to be this woman,” Hobern said.
“I felt I shouldn’t have won the money because I was being fake. It really hit me hard.
“Now it’s like, no, I should have, because I won the game. I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself.”
The Circle returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday 24th September at 9.15pm