By Laura Denby
Series three of Channel 4 reality show The Circle began in dramatic style this week, as the nine The Circle 2021 contestants barely had time to settle in before things got seriously tense. After the initial set of popularity ratings, the first blocking and with a cluster of catfish in the mix, a new twist arrived that was rather reminiscent of classic Big Brother at its best.
Even before we consider that bombshell, there are noticeable parallels between both shows. The players are informed of developments via a virtual alert, just as the Big Brother housemates were given updates with voiceover announcements or in printed form. With modern technology now taking over, The Circle really feels like a new and improved version of the old format.
There’s an obvious match in style, including how influencers move to another area to make their decisions in the same way Big Brother housemates gave their eviction nominations in the diary room. Host Emma Willis also appears on the players’ screens occasionally, delivering messages from a location with a striking resemblance to the very same room.
The Circle had a great hook from the start with its trademark catfishing element; a fun, essential feature that keeps the players guessing. Without it, the popularity contest would be limited to an endless string of ordinary conversations until someone steps out of line and is blocked.
Those who are catfishing are forcing the players, as well as the viewers, to take extra notice of every interaction to spot the mistakes; and the angle is certainly keeping us invested. For example, it’s already clear that father and daughter duo Jamie and Millie are struggling as they masquerade as Penny.
This kind of hoax could easily be seen as a throwback to Celebrity Big Brother’s Chantelle Houghton, the civilian contestant tasked with persuading housemates she was a famous pop singer back in 2006. Much like Chantelle, the catfish must put on a convincing act themselves, as their future on the show (and the chance of winning the £100k prize money) is at stake.
The twist takes this even further, reinforcing the idea that The Circle is building on Big Brother’s inventive troublemaking tendencies. Contestant Yolanda originally entered the show as her husband Chris, only to be blocked by fellow catfish Gemma (aka James), the first top-rated player.
Yolanda was then given the chance to stay while posing as another contestant. In the explosive second episode, she chose to clone Tally, and the moment the identical profile appeared on everyone’s newsfeed we knew battle lines were about to be drawn – and the drama was only just beginning.
The cloned profile is testing boundaries and stress levels, leaving us all the more gripped. Tally’s outrage and everyone else’s confusion is perfect viewing, with Orange Tally (Yolanda) committing to the role and even managing to get a few players on side. While conflict can arise naturally in reality shows, the cloning aspect was all down to Channel 4 and is just the kind of devious move that Big Brother thrived on.
The show had a habit of evicting someone early and sending them to a hidden room with a secret mission, while their fellow participants assumed they were long gone. A similar choice was made in early Love Island seasons, in which a second villa named Casa Amor was introduced to separate the couples and give them the opportunity to choose new partners.
Of course, the aim of these turning points is always to stir up trouble, and this is exactly what we’re seeing with The Circle’s Orange Tally as she continues to build new alliances. She even kept up the pretence in a private chat with the real Tally, playing the game without an ounce of hesitation.
As entertaining as the clone war is to watch, it also highlights how easy it is to be hacked online. While those who are being impersonated have consented to having their identities broadcast on national television, that obviously can’t be the case with Blue versus Orange Tally. From the safe confines of the game, we’re presented with a frighteningly real scenario to ponder while simultaneously watching on the edge of our seats.
One thing is certain; The Circle has taken its reality show status to the next level with its calculated cliffhangers. With plenty of Big Brother-style vibes, it’s the best series yet – and we’re not going to miss a moment.