Part social experiment, part reality competition, and one hundred percent guilty pleasure, The Circle is peak pandemic programming. The Netflix series, which debuted in the U.S. in 2020, is a popularity contest in which contestants are confined to their own apartments. The most likeable takes home $100,000, but you can only win over your fellow castmates via texting and exchanging photos. Some try to win by being their authentic selves; others try catfishing their way to the cash.
Before you dive into Season 3, which premieres September 8, we’re revealing some little-known facts about the show. Here’s everything you need to know, from where The Circle is filmed to how the production’s social media app actually works.
‘The Circle’ Isn’t Filmed In The U.S.
The Circle has four editions: the U.K., US, Brazil, and France. However, every episode is filmed in the same building in Salford, a city in Greater Manchester, England. This means that establishing shots of Chicago and Milwaukee that air in the U.S. edition are just for show.
“We wanted the building to be in a nonspecific location for the U.S. version—the feeling that it could be anywhere,” said The Circle’s creator Tim Harcourt (via Vulture). “However, it didn’t make sense to add shots of the U.K. and its cities—in fact, it was confusing—so we added U.S. cityscapes to give it an American feel for the majority of the audience who assume it is somewhere in the U.S.”
In other words, even producers are guilty of deception.
The Apartments Are Tailored To Each Edition Of The Show
Harcourt says all four versions of The Circle are filmed in the same 12 apartments, but the decor is switched out to fit each edition.
“As somebody leaves an apartment we usually redesign elements of it,” he explained. “We had to sort of design personal touches that made it feel like home for everyone who was living in there.”
“So the Brazilians like it to be very light. They like to have lots of plants. The Americans, they wanted all their creature comforts… We made it feel like home to everyone that’s living in there.”
‘The Circle’ App Isn’t Actually An App
Contestants on The Circle communicate with each other via an app on their TV screens. Although viewers are led to believe that controls are voice-activated, there are real people behind the scenes. Harcourt described the interface as being similar to WhatsApp, but “with bells and whistles and lots of extra bits.”
“When you talk to the Circle, there’s a producer who’s transcribing what you say,” he explained. “Instantly, that gets pushed to the next room. So there is some humanity in the app, and that’s a couple of producers whose job it is to take dictation from the players.”
He added, “If we had done voice recognition to the level that the Circle does it, I’d probably have a job working for Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates by now.”
‘The Circle’ Is As Close To Unscripted As Can Be
We all know that reality TV often involves manufactured storylines. However, the drama that ensues on The Circle is real, and the conversations that are dictated into the app are authentic.
“Each person has a producer and a camera operator reminding them at certain stages, helping guide them through the gameplay, sometimes helping them to articulate their thoughts,” Harcourt told Variety. “But once they’re up and running into the game—two or three days in—they’re flying; they really get into the rhythm of how it works and how it plays out.”
The Casting Process Is Not The Same For Everyone
Season 2’s Lisa Delcampo (who presented herself as her real-life boss, NSYNC’s Lance Bass) told Buzzfeed in 2021 that auditioning for The Circle was “probably different for everyone.” She got her own foot in the door via a Season 1 cast member who attended her birthday party.
Delcampo added that she submitted a tape, participated in an interview, answered questionnaires, and underwent psychological testing before she finally made the cut.
“[The questions were like] tell us about yourself? Where did you grow up? What do you do for a living?” she explained. “Kind of like a job interview.”
There Are A Lot Of Potential Players On Standby
The Circle starts with eight contestants, but production keeps a stable of back-ups during filming. Harcourt told Variety that between 20 and 25 players “are cleared to play the game,” but replacements are only decided after a contestant leaves. A female would replace another female, and a male would replace a male, but producers ultimately make their decision based on whether or not the substitute’s personality is a right fit for the current group’s dynamics.
Contestants On ‘The Circle’ Really Do Live In Solitude
Season 1 winner Joey Sasso told Vulture that castmates were denied all forms of electronic media outside of the app.
“No, none of us had any cell phones,” he said. “No music, no television, no nothing, which could be liberating in a really great way… We all struggled at certain points with, ‘Am I losing it right now?'”
However, Delcampo said producers provided cell phones so that contestants could contact family members. They were also given one day off from shooting to get their Netflix fix.
“There’s a day where we didn’t play—it was a rest day, probably for the production team more than us,” she explained. “We had that day off, and then we could watch Netflix, and we would tell the producer, ‘I want to watch this show.’”
Each Season Takes Over Three Weeks To Film
In a 2020 interview with Decider, Harcourt said filming for U.S. versions takes a little over three weeks. However, the length of time that contestants are confined to their apartments is shorter.
“The players who entered at the beginning and made it all the way through to the final meal were in the Circle for 14 days,” he told Us Weekly. Producers worked in two shifts, but cameras usually stopped rolling just after midnight.
Not that cast members would know the difference between two weeks and two months.
“When you sign up, they tell you, we don’t tell you the day, we don’t tell you the time,” Sasso told the Hollywood Reporter. “That’s part of the mental game of kind of losing your shit and trying to keep it together.”
Producers Make Mental Health A Priority
With such little human interaction during filming, contestants run the risk of feeling out of sorts. Producers do try their best to provide support for participants so that they’re feeling their best while competing.
For starters, each castmate is assigned a producer who walks them through the game, providing some much-needed face-to-face conversations. And according to Season 1’s Shubham Goel, a therapist was available at any time. Harcourt confirmed this to Decider.
“It’s a game where you can’t see your opponents, not a test of solitary confinement!” he said. “[They were called upon] whenever anyone felt stressed or just wanted someone to talk to who was outside the game.”
Contestants’ Access To Fresh Air Is Limited
According to Delcampo, cast members could not access the balconies in their apartments. If they wanted to step outdoors for fresh air (or a cigarette), they were limited to an outdoor hot tub area.
“I never went in the hot tub, but I would go get fresh air out there once or twice a day,” she said.
…But Visiting The Hot Tub Required Planning
Contestants couldn’t just exit their apartments at will. To request access to the hot tub, they contacted producers through an intercom system. The team would then coordinate to ensure that no one would bump into each other.
“We have an ‘air traffic controller’ making sure only one player is ever traveling at a time, and they are always accompanied outside their flat,” said Harcourt.
Contestants Use Their Downtime Differently
How do millennials and Gen Zers kill time for over two weeks when they’re denied WiFi?
“They brought me a puzzle—which was so hard, I didn’t even finish it,” said Delcampo. “I read a lot, and it was sucky because you couldn’t bring your Kindle in because it’s an electronic. I’ve got so many books on there! They just would bring me books and I’m like, I need more books!”
Sasso told Vulture he spent his days doodling to calm his racing mind.
“I’m a writer, so when I’m thinking of stuff, my brain is always working a mile a minute,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to stay in the game — especially with new people continually being added — you don’t know if people are being genuine. These things, they really start driving you crazy.”
At Least They Were Lavished With Good Food
Dining out and food delivery apps are not an option for anyone on The Circle. Instead, cast members are treated like rock stars.
“Before I went to the U.K., I got an email and they’re like, write down all the groceries that you want, said Delcampo. “I was like, this is so fun!…I just thought that they wanted to know a list of my favorite things — but when I got to my hotel, they brought in everything on the list…
“When you are actually in the Circle, they still went off your list. I’m a big Diet Coke person, and I’d run out — so they would ask if I’d want more, and it would be there within an hour.”
Different Versions Of ‘The Circle’ Rely On Different Strategies For Winning
We’re not the kind of people to stereotype based on nationality, but Harcourt had some interesting observations about why the U.S. version of The Circle was more feel-good than others.
“I loved the American cast,” he told Vulture. “They felt very morally centered. They don’t turn on each other strategically, and they are all true to themselves and true to their friendships… The Brits, on the other hand, would probably sell their grandmother for a prize.”
He continued, “Brazilians were all very suspicious of each other all the time, and the French were incredibly strategic, intelligent, calculating… It was incredibly interesting to have an insight into all these different cultures.”
Are ‘The Circle’ Castmates Still Friends?
Some of the friendships forged on The Circle are still going strong. Take Sasso and Goel—the most unlikely bosom buddies to emerge from Season 1.
“People have been shocked about our friendship, but he’s the type of person I would actually be friends with in real life,” Sasso told Vulture.
“I could tell he came in and felt out of his element, which I respect so much ’cause I think it’s so big of any person to put themselves out there and take a leap into territory that they never would otherwise. He’s someone I would do absolutely anything for. I adore that kid.”