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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Courtney, Lee (River), Chloe, and Deleesa (Trevor). Background: Host Michelle Bateau. Photos: Ben Blackall/Netflix

Catfish ruled The Circle in season 2—was that good or bad?

Courtney, Lee (River), Chloe, and Deleesa (Trevor). Background: Host Michelle Bateau. Photos: Ben Blackall/Netflix
Graphic: Allison Corr

The first season of the Netflix reality series The Circle was a delightful surprise, as eight strangers, enclosed in separate apartments, communicated solely via the show’s titular social media platform in a “social media competition.” Every week each player would rank the other players, and the person on the top at the end would receive a $100,000 prize. Despite these limitations, true friendships were formed, most catfishers were exposed, and the winner of the game was kindhearted bro-hunk Joey Sasso, who had surprisingly become best friends with the sweet, studious “Shoob” (Shubham Goel).

Netflix recently unfurled its second season of the game (the streamer also features Circles from other countries, like France and Brazil), but The Circle 2.0 seemed to falter from the start. The drama-filled rivalry between Savannah and Terilisha began the season on a sour note, and Courtney stoked the toxic fire, as he seemed to only want to play everyone against each other, instead of forming actual relationships with people. Purer souls like Bryant and Mitchell were tossed out, and in the just released finale, most of The Circle’s finalists were revealed to be catfish, with Courtney and Too Hot To Handle’s Chloe the only people who were actually who they said they were. The Circle still managed to grapple toward a happy, if chaotic, ending, as Deleesa, catfishing as her own husband, Trevor, wound up walking away with the big prize.

So it’s nice that Deleesa and Trevor will now be able to buy a house for their adorable family, but some of us still came away from The Circle a tad dissatisfied. So we asked our A.V. Club Circle devotees: Did they think the show went awry this year? Or did they like it as much as season one? Circle… alert!

Gif: Netflix

Patrick Gomez: As fans of the first season, I know all three of us were skeptical whether or not season two could recapture the magic of the #friendship noted above. In many ways it didn’t.

The season-one finale was like watching an episode of MTV’s Catfish that actually had a happy ending where everyone was who they said they were and they lived happily ever after. There was something authentic about Joey and Shooby’s friendship with fellow finalists Sammie and Chris. None of them were catfish, and therefore the bond they created online felt authentic. This season we had catfish galore! The tension in the room was different but exciting as we waited to see Chloe’s realization that her crush, Trevor, was actually Deleesa; or to see Courtney find out that his bestie, young soul River, was actually 58-year-old Lee; or for everyone to realize that 64-year-old John was actually eliminated contestants Jack (a.k.a. Emily) and Lisa (a.k.a. Lance Bass). It was an excitement I realized was lacking from the previous finale, and the show was all the better for it.

That excitement was necessary since the more I think about how the finale voting works, the less faith I have that The Circle will always have a deserving winner. It’s common for a reality competition show winner to be determined by a vote, but it’s usually a group of eliminated players doing the voting. On The Circle, the finalists rank their fellow remaining players to help determine a winner. Sure, you’re going to get altruistic people who will say, “Well, if it’s not me, I hope it’s them,” but you’re also going to get people voting strategically to help give themselves the best shot at the top prize. That means if everyone has the same idea, “John” could have won the money after approximately 12 minutes of playing the game.

That said, I’m thrilled Deleesa walked away with the money since it seems exponentially harder to succeed in this game when you have to pretend to be someone else. I’m even more thrilled that the revelation that Trevor wasn’t real was met with exuberance from Chloe and the rest of the finalists. The Circle works because it’s feel-good TV, and ending on tables being flipped over a catfish situation would have been such a downer way to end the experience. I hope the show continues to get more creative about the catfishing moving forward. Gwen and Tatiana, what did you think of the winner and reveals?

Tatiana Tenreyro: I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t know how to feel at first seeing a catfish win. I don’t think Deleesa as “Trevor” was conniving per se, but part of me felt bad for Chloe, who trusted that Trevor would be the single dad of her dreams instead of Trevor’s wife catfishing as him and stringing her along (though the clues were always right there, girl!). But I do feel a certain relief knowing that Deleesa is intending to use the money to make sure her family has a nice home, so her daughter doesn’t have to grow up in a tiny apartment. That warmed my heart!

At the beginning of the season, I was concerned that real friendships wouldn’t be made. But the way all the contestants interacted with each other while meeting in person for the first time reminded me of the first season’s finale. All the finalists seemed very into the idea of being friends—even if some of the closest bonds they made on the show were with people who lied about who they were. It was cute to see Courtney and “River” decide they were going to still be pals despite their big age gap. And I also loved seeing Chloe and Deleesa hype each other up, and Chloe was pretty understanding as to why Deleesa had to keep flirting with her as Trevor instead of breaking her heart. I’m sure that after living together for a bit and being forced to bond 24/7 by the production team, Jack and Lisa will also keep in touch.

I do keep asking myself who would’ve been a good candidate to win besides “Trevor.” If Courtney and Lee (a.k.a. “River”) hadn’t been so caught up in their alliance, I’m sure either of them would’ve won. And though Chloe had some annoying moments, she seemed very genuine throughout the show, so I was a bit surprised to not see her take home the prize. It’s absolutely understandable why Jack and Lisa didn’t win as “John,” though. They didn’t form many deep connections with the others as the psychic grandpa Santa, and he just kind of blended into the background. Gwen, what do you think? Were you expecting Deleesa to win as a catfish?

Gwen Ihnat: I’m with you that Jack and Lisa couldn’t have won as “John,” Tatiana, but their unexpected bond was my favorite part of the show this season. Maybe because he was twice her height and half her age, but I found their compassionate plotting (and card-playing) heartwarming as well. Because I am the worst parent in the world, I was watching The Circle and my kids, who immediately get sucked into anything with a screen, were soon on board to watch with me. It was funny because they soon picked up all my opinions, including rooting for Jack and Lisa (“They’re so pure,” my daughter said) and hating Courtney. Lee seems like a fairly nice guy, but the way Courtney tried to play up everyone’s insecurities—all to defend Savannah, who was on the show for about five minutes—kind of ruined this season for me. He got mad at Khat for being suspicious of Chloe, but he was the one who put those thoughts in her head in the first place as The Joker! Terelisha was absolutely right when she wanted to boot him on the first episode and keep Bryant. It would have made for a much better show.

But the fact that I’m all hopped up about this means that The Circle worked its magic on me again. I am surprised that a catfish won (although there were so many of them), and really thought that Chloe would walk away with it all. There were so many persona reveals at the finale that it was hard to keep track of everyone’s reactions; I would have liked to have seen more of those. I thought Chloe did an admirable pivot when she realized that her beloved Trevor was actually his wife, and she was really supportive when Deleesa won. But my favorite part of the finale was seeing Chloe immediately starting to flirt with Mitchell, as one romantic door had been shut so she immediately opened another. Never change, Chloe.