All the behind-the-scenes facts from The Circle 2021 – from the number of cameras to how the social media app works

We spoke to The Circle producers to find out how the Channel 4 show works, and how on earth the contestants don't hear each other screaming all the time!

The Circle host Emma Willis

Ever since The Circle returned for series three, it’s been keeping us entertained with all the crazy twists and the incredible contestants in The Circle 2021 line-up.

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So far we’ve seen multiple catfish, one clone, and contestants playing slightly different versions of themselves, as they all aim to win the £100k cash prize.

The Circle works by contestants communicating solely through a social media app, and they never get to meet one another until a blocking takes place, with each contestant living in a separate apartment in the Salford block of flats.

From time to time, we see contestants move around the apartment block, whether that be to visit the gym or the roof top jacuzzi. And this year, the show’s host Emma Willis was given her own room to deliver messages to the contestants.

So, how does it all work? And how do the contestants never hear each other?!

It’s not unusual for contestants to get quite excited in their apartments when alerts are made, so how comes none of the other contestants hear them? In The Circle this could be a HUGE giveaway!

RadioTimes.com spoke to the show’s executive producer Toni Ireland, and creative director Tim Harcourt who filled us in on what happens behind the scenes, from how they stop the contestants from bumping into one another when they leave their apartments, to how the social media app works. (Spoiler alert: It’s not actually voice activated.)

Read on to discover the secrets of The Circle.

The show only has 10 apartments in the building

The show is located in a block of flats in Salford, however, Channel 4 only has access to 10 apartments, plus some extra rooms.

Toni explained: “So we have a apartment block in Salford and a few months before, we start to rig it with cameras and sound and we have our art director who goes in and designs all of the apartments so that they’re all looking amazing each year and brand new. That takes a few months to set up and then our players enter and we start the show.”

She added: “We have 10 apartments which are decorated for the players to go and live in and we have them on rotation, so if a player gets blocked, we’ll go in and do a refresh and then another player might move. We have the extra spaces like the yoga room, the gym and the roof terrace, and then this year, Emma had her room where she could go in and create some mischief.”

There are approximately 115 cameras used

To capture all the madness, over 100 cameras are used, says Toni.

“We’ve got about 115 cameras throughout the apartment block. I could also probably tell you how much cabling we use – there’s a lot! So, that’s in each apartment and covering our extra spaces as well which is their sort of the chill out area. We call them hotheads, so they’re all sort of remote cameras which are controlled by our gallery,” she explained.

Contestants are allowed out of their rooms… but never go outside the building while filming

On the show, we only ever really see the contestants in their apartments and occasionally in the gym, or on the roof terrace enjoying a soak in the jacuzzi. But that’s as far as they can go. Players can’t leave the building completely until after they’re blocked.

Toni continued: “Once they’re in The Circle, they are part of The Circle. The biggest challenge in this show is not giving anyone’s identity away so we could never risk them leaving the building or overhearing production. That might give away the magic of the show so we have to be super careful on that.”

The Circle
The Circle
Channel 4

Contestants wear ear defenders so they don’t hear each other

One of the things that has had us confused when watching The Circle is how the show manages to keep the contestants from hearing one another when they’re in their apartments.

“Believe it or not, we think these apartments must have pretty thick walls because they just don’t hear each other,” Toni explained.

“In Series one, when Freddie used to scream, we were like, ‘How can you not hear Freddie?’ but they didn’t. When we’re moving the players around the building, we make sure they’re extra careful so they have ear defenders when they’re moving from their apartments.”

She continued: “All our players are offered gym time and outdoor space each day and it’s like mission controlled in the gallery. We can see all our players on the cameras and we have a floor team as well in the apartment building who are there to move the players around. So the gallery will know who’s in the gym, and then we’ll move them back to their apartments and then the coast is clear to send the next person to the gym. So that’s how we ensure that the players don’t bump into each other.”

Filming stops for one day a week

Contestants are, however, given a day off filming to do whatever they like (except leave the building.)

For this day, filming stops completely and they don’t have to interact with any of the other contestants.

“There normally is one day a week that we call a down day,” Tim revealed.

“Sometimes there’s a few late nights where they’re up recording till like one in the morning, playing games so we make sure they get a day where they’re not on camera. The game just stops, like half time in a football match and most of them spend the day eating takeaway, watching Netflix or having a nap. We don’t let them watch the outside world like the news or anything. That’s the closest it sort of gets to normal life in there on that down day.”

Natalya The Circle 2021 contestant
Natalya – The Circle 2021 contestant
Channel 4

Phones are banned

Despite being allowed a day off, contestants must still abide by the rules of the game and aren’t allowed contact with the outside world, which means they can’t use their mobile phones.

“I think this is the hardest thing for players that go in there. They’re like, “What do I do with myself? I’m normally on my phone during my downtime.’ This is why I suppose you see the players doing jigsaws or playing Jenga. They’re not addicted to their phones like they’d usually be. We couldn’t risk anything like that when we were making it,” Toni said.

There are no cooks or cleaners. Contestants must do it themselves (poor, Billy!)

On series three, we watched Billy struggle with how to work the oven. He did eventually get it to work, and you might be surprised to hear that despite his lack of ability, he did have to fend for himself and cook his meals on the show as there are no cooks or cleaners in the building.

“It’s down to them,” Toni said.

“This is the interesting thing for me. I love watching what each player cooks and what they order. We take a food order before they join The Circle and make sure their fridge is stocked. I always remember Dan from series one used to make the most amazing meals. He was like hollowing out pineapples and then other players are sat there with a pot noodle. I love this sort of window into people’s lives. Some do a roast dinner on a Sunday, and then you had Billy this year who couldn’t even turn on the oven.”

So, do the contestants get any help?

“We don’t let them starve,” Toni laughed. “We can give them a nudge like with how to work things.”

The Circle's Yolanda
The Circle’s Yolanda has cloned Tally, and has become ‘Orange Tally’
Channel 4

The social media app isn’t voice activated

On The Circle, we see contestants reading out their messages, which instantly appear in the chat on the social media app, however, it isn’t actually voice activated. In reality, each player actually has a producer who writes their messages down after they’re dictated.

“I think it’s no secret that it’s not actually voice activated,” Tim said. “We did look into that right at the beginning but I think there’s a reason why that doesn’t work that well because it’s really hard. So, the contestants dictate their message and we read it back because we don’t want people saying anything wrong or offensive and then it goes through the system.

“Everyone has their own individual producer who dictates what they’re saying. They’re sat in the gallery, which is almost like air traffic control so there’s a desk and a producer for each of the players and they have a relationship with them. They help them type up the messages they’re going to send and they get to know them quite well.”

Things take a lot longer than it looks

As it’s not actually a super-fast, voice-activated network, things actually take a lot longer than it appears on the one hour episode.

Toni explained: “Things take longer than you would imagine. A player constructs a message, they dictate it, it appears on the screen, we make sure they’re happy with it, they send it, the other player receives it and they’re constantly telling us how they feel about things as well. So it’s not as quick as your WhatsApp.”

“It’s like WhatsApping your nan. It can take a while,” Tim added.

The Circle series three contestants
The Circle series three contestants
Channel 4

There’s a pool of contestants who may not get used

While we only ever see about 10 players on the show, there are actually about 12 more in lockdown ready to go in once a contestant is blocked, but they don’t all get used for the series.

“We have a pool of contestants who are potentially going into the series and they’re sort of on lockdown and are waiting to be pooled and asked to go in,” Toni said.

Speaking of the need to keep The Circle diverse, Tim explained why they don’t always get used.

He said: “There’s a pool because you wouldn’t want it to be all men. We want diversity. We have a good pool of about 10/12 extra people.”

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The Circle continues Sunday-Friday, 10pm on Channel 4 and All4. To apply to take part in a potential future series of The Circle visit https://www.thecirclecasting.com or email: thecircle@studiolambert.com Check out the rest of our Entertainment coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.