The Circle is back after garnering quite the cult following for Channel 4.
The social-media based reality game caused a buzz on Twitter thanks to the antics of its catfishing contestants, water-cooler moments and all-round dystopian feel – seeing some fans hail it as the new Big Brother.
For its second series, The Circle is really upping the ante – with format changes seeing our players stuck in the social network game for longer, and live episodes promising yet more twists and turns for the wannabe influencers.
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The Circle mk.1 was won by catfishing contestant and social media pro Alex Hobern, who used pictures of his girlfriend to pose as “Kate” – who ended up winning friends and influencing people across The Circle with his convincing portrayal.
Here’s his insider tips on how to play the game – and win.
1. Be a woman (or at least, pretend to be one)
Sian, The Circle (C4)
Sorry boys – those of a fairer sex have a far better chance of beating The Circle, according to Alex.
It’s down to the way people use social media – as both sexes are more likely to engage with women online.
“Women always engage with each other,” Alex explained. “And men will find women as that’s just human nature.
“When I was contacted by producers, I said I’d be a woman. I don’t know if they were even thinking about that level of deception at the time, but it all developed from there.”
2. Do your research
Of course, if you’re not a woman and you’re willing to pretend to be one online, a half-arsed attempt just won’t cut it if you genuinely want to win.
Alex meticulously planned to mimic a woman by watching girlfriend Millie’s every move. “I just asked her questions, like every time she was doing something I was like: ‘What’s that?’ Although I don’t claim to know what half of it was, I wrote down exactly what she said.
“One contestant said to me she was ‘snatching her eyebrows.’ I had no idea what that was but I know to snatch is to take away so I used my knowledge to use that as a launching point to talk about something similar.”
Much like revising for an exam, Alex insisted that you have to keep refreshing your new-found knowledge to keep at the top of your game.
“I had a black book that had everything in about Millie,” he said. “So I knew her morning routine, how she applies and removes make-up. What bra size she is. What dress size she is. Then I basically just applied my personality in terms of humour and banter.
“I spent hours on research, I had this book of knowledge which I used and I would like channel it every morning. I’d read through it at night when everything had shut down and be like ‘Remember this. Remember this. Start a conversation about this.’
“I think I was probably the most prepared out of people that were pretending to be others. They just walked in blind.”
Alex used his own knowledge as a social media expert to effectively mimic a young woman’s behaviour online.
“My girlfriend is in like 15 group chats with all girls, I’m in like barely any group chats, so the first thing I did when got in there was start a group chat with the girls and be like, ‘I’m missing my girls from home,’” he said.
“A lot of the guys were like, ‘This girl’s really cool. She’s got a bloke’s personality.’ I didn’t realise that was coming across that much, but the girls saw that I wasn’t a normal girl and they didn’t really like it. The girls were fine at the start and then things got a bit catty halfway through. I had to claw my way back to the top.”
3. Be prepared – it’s far harder than you think
Yes, it seems obvious to actually know about who you’re planning to mimic online – but The Circle can be far more taxing on your mind than just memorising a few facts.
Alex revealed that the contestants are mostly left without face-to-face human contact – with the majority of that time spent in their purpose-built flat. On the whole, contestants aren’t allowed outside; they’re only allowed a certain allotted time on the roof, they can go downstairs to the gym and they can film their diary room segments – but otherwise you’re entirely left to your own devices.
“I was completely unprepared for the amount of isolation that there was,” Alex explained.
“I didn’t bring enough things. I brought two books that I thought would be funny, so I brought George Orwell’s 1984, and I brought The Circle in there, which completely messed me up mentally because that’s all I had. You spend most of your time on your own. There’s no Netflix or anything.
“I guess you’ve got to be a certain type of person to take that confinement and I think that’s what exaggerates someone’s emotions more because you’re not in control of your life at all.”
The show is only set to get harder, with The Circle’s three-week runtime having now been extended for series two
“I want to meet those people afterwards and give them a handshake if they’re there for four weeks. I was on the verge of walking out multiple times towards the end,” Alex said.
“I think as long as you’re prepared for the confinement and the loneliness, then you’ll be okay.”
4. Be different
Alex explained that being able to stand out amongst the crowd in the social network is what sees you get to the top.
“Even if you’re being yourself, have a point of difference because it was the people who would come in and just be yes men that would end up going,” he said.
5. Have a game plan
Yes, it’s a reality show, but first and foremost, The Circle is a game – and needs to be approached as such.
Alex said that whether you’re choosing to completely catfish, play a hyper-exaggerated version of yourself or you’re entirely you all the way through, you need to be clear about what you’re doing.
“I think that every time you’re in an environment like this, you’ve got to be prepared to see things a certain way,” he said. “You’ve got to win certain competitions to be the most popular. If you see other people to be popular, figure out how to be their best friends and be carried to the top or figure out how to take them down.
“Prepare yourself for what makes other people tick. When you’re reading other people’s profiles, really dig into them and remember things from their profile.
“Even if they’re lying to you, that’s what you’ve got to go on and that’s going to make them like you if you talk about stuff they’re either pretending to like or that they like.”
Alex added that players should also be mindful of allegiances when playing in The Circle. “Exclude people who you think won’t be helpful to your group,” he said.
“If you become really friendly with somebody, make them your friend and stick like that. Be loyal. If someone sees you snaking out your friend, then you shoot yourself in the foot and that will get you voted out at some stage.
“Even if you are yourself, you have to ask yourself, how am I going to win the money? I’m only here to win the money. If you’re not here to win the money, you can do things that are much easier than putting yourself in isolation for four weeks.”
6. Remember it’s a game
Dan, The Circle (C4)
The intense environment heightens emotions – which led to Alex feeling “guilty” for having won the show as a catfish.
He felt particularly bad for “fooling” fellow contestant Dan Mosaku. “It’s a game, it’s not your life,” he said.
“I was so hard on myself about fooling Dan. 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.
“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. It’s part of the game.”
And by playing Kate, Alex believes he’s helped people become more aware of catfishing.
“Even though catfishing is generally considered a negative thing, I think I did it in a way that raised awareness,” he said.
“People sort of were on-board with what I was doing and the humour that I was trying to bring to the game as well.”
The Circle returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday 24th September at 9.15pm