How the perfect Covid-19 show still rules the Netflix algorithm

There are few shows that have the staying power on Netflix like gimmicky reality shows. None, however, captured their moment so well The circle.

It popularized with people during the height of Covid-19 and has remained a top show for the streaming service ever since. But what makes it so compelling?

A sign of the times

The circle alarm

Although US audiences may have fallen in love with the US version, it was originally a UK-based show. In fact, the entire show (yes, the US version) is filmed in the UK independently of any city shots.

When the US version came out on Netflix in 2020, we were in the midst of the pandemic. People were at the peak of binge streaming and still fixated on baking shows, King of the Tigersand her own life in quarantine. The circle was the perfect show to put on at that time. The premise is deceptively simple. Take 14 candidates, put them in remote apartments and film them 24/7. They have access to The Circle, a closed-loop social media platform where they can chat, post photos, and receive notifications prompting them to complete specific tasks. Supplies are dropped off at the door by invisible staff. You can also catch other players by pretending to be someone else. The goal is to be the last one standing by making it through a voting process.


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Similar to the world of quarantine, everyone was judged and ranked based on their social media profiles and behavior in chats. The fact that the show was released at that point was possibly the biggest factor.

You are just like us

The circle

The contestants weren’t of the vindictive nature that’s often found on these types of shows, either. As the crowd got smaller, it was obvious that the people chosen to stay were the ones who were genuinely kind, rooted for one another, and actually made connections. Even those who ran Catfish seemed to do it not just out of a misguided sense of self, but to try something new as a different person, to see how far they could go.

These were likeable individuals from a variety of backgrounds, in some cases reminiscent of me The Breakfast Club Mentality. The jocks were friends with the nerds, the cute girls hung out with the normally unpopular folks, and everyone seemed pretty happy in their little bubble.

The circle showed us that real connections can be made even when we can’t be in the same room. It proved that human connections come in many different forms, but that true popularity ultimately comes down to being yourself, even when it comes to money. For its first season, the show was a clean and well-run version of what people needed from their streaming services. Netflix obviously saw a hit and they rode with it.

Hosting is key

Michelle Buteau

One of the mainstays of the series was host Michelle Buteau. She is an accomplished stand-up comedian and actress who has appeared in the Netflix romantic comedy Always be my maybe. Michelle appears on camera a few times throughout the series and in the finale. However, Buteau’s contribution to the show is her opinion as the voice of the audience. In each episode, she narrates the plot, tells us what’s going on, and then throws in comments about the contestants and their behavior. She is the epitome of cheekiness and often says things that the rest of us are definitely thinking.

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If you get a chance to see Buteau’s standup special ButeaupiaYou will no doubt recognize her sense of humor The circle. This doesn’t feel like a show gave her a script, more like genuine commentary based on what she sees. It’s a nice change from the stilted hosting of other shows. Also, the fact that she has no interaction with contestants adds another layer to the game’s covid-ness.

life after covid

The circle

One of the most interesting parts about The circle is his stamina. For a show that was initially successful due to its impeccable timing, it has topped the Netflix algorithm for five seasons.

Similar to his survivor Ancestors, it has changed a little. Although players are still quarantined in their homes, there are new rules and a new style of play. Some will say the series has lost its original simplicity, but the entire series hinges on one thing: liking for the cast. Each season has its share of wannabe influencers looking to gain followers, but they’re often spotted early in the competition and kicked out. Those who remain are often a knife-edge away from detection. But isn’t that the fun part?

The only problem the show might have is its insistence on over-promoting catfishing. It’s fun to watch, but we might end up falling prey to producers who want a season full of catfish bluffing each other ’til the biggest liar wins. In season five, however, season one’s favorite and all-round good guy Shubham Goel returns. In a world of shows bringing back the wrong people, this might be the producers’ best move. Shubham almost won his season and bringing him back to a more strategic world could be a (ahem) game changer.

Regardless of changes, the show will remain. Views have remained consistently high and the main reality competition on the streamer has consisted primarily of dating shows. The newest is love is blind. But the show endures because it reminds us not only of where we’ve been, but how we’ve dealt with it. It’s an odd version of nostalgia mixed with what Americans love: money for popularity.


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