FARANDULANOTICIAS

‘The Circle’ Season 3 Oral History: «This Is War»


Netflix is about to shut off the power to that giant, apartment building-sized neon circle, as there’s only one more episode of The Circle Season 3 left to go. The grand finale is upon us and, after watching simmering intrigue boil over into all out war, we cannot wait to see how this plays out. We also can’t wait to see how Team #RealRecognizeReal reacts to the last remaining catfish.

We’re down to the final five of Season 3, an eclectic mix of OGs and relative newbies. There’s Nick and Kai, the generals of two opposing factions. Nick is calculated as hell; even his flirting is strategic (well, most of the time). And Kai is as real as they come and never fell for any of Nick’s tricks (Orange Michelle is a whole other story). Then there’s fitness expert Matt who is posing as his best friend Ashley. From shifting alliances to a broadening of his character’s sexuality, Matt has rolled with it all the way to the finale. Then there’s “Isabella,” a hot Pacific Northwesterner played IRL by little sister Sophie. Sophie’s plan to play it straight and stick close to Nick, close enough to pull some heartstrings, has paid off. And last but certainly not least, there’s the instantly likable comedian James. He may have entered the competition at the halfway mark, but he’s left a major impression on this season by becoming an influencer two weeks in a row.

Before we find out who wins The Circle Season 3, we looked back at the 12 episodes that got us to this moment alongside the five players left in the chat. What strategies did these finalists deploy in their quest to go all the way? How do they feel about those shocking betrayals—the ones they took part in and the ones that happened to them? And how did they really feel about those alliances—especially the ones that never made it onscreen? There are answers to all of that and so much more in this, The Circle Season 3 oral [recent] history.

The Circle Season 3 Oral History
Photos: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

At the end of Episode 1, Kai landed in the top spot and gained the powers of the Super Influencer. She could block anyone she wanted, no questions asked—but who would she block?

Kai: Honestly, I knew it was gonna be Ava. She could not have been talking about anybody else[‘s dance moves]. So I had to pick someone and no one else had done anything, and that stuck out. So it’s like, “Well, I already had a little suspicion you were too perfect anyway, so I’m going to add that to the repertoire.”

This could have been a risky move since Ava actually came in sixth out of eight players. Kai didn’t sweat it, but she did clock a potential problem.

Kai: We got in that group chat and [Nick] said, “I actually liked Ava.” What? Everybody was like, “Okay, yeah, we get it.” But he was the only one that had an answer that was in opposition. When I saw that, I said, “Oh snap, is that going to be a problem?”

With the first blocking out of the way, the players began to form alliances—unexpectedly flirtatious alliances.

Matt (“Ashley”): The plan was never to flirt with a guy. I also thought the gay heart gave it away that I was a full on lesbian.

Nick: I saw her bio and I was like, “Oh, this girl is an ally! Super cool, smart of her to put that in there.” Turns out that she was actually a lesbian.

THE CIRCLE Matthew/Ashley in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
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Matt: You’re not gonna see an olive branch and say, “Don’t hit on me. By the way, I’m a lesbian.” So it was either roll with this now and ask if he wants to do an alliance, as opposed to having to explain [that I’m a lesbian] and then him feeling silly for it.

Nick: I was unsure if we were friend vibes or flirt vibes, so I was hoping Ashley was gonna let me know. I was like, “If I say #powercouple, that’s a perfect time to correct me.” But instead her sexuality got changed to bisexual.

Matt: Falling in love with Daddy Nick—it just happened, because you have to have fun with it. I wanted him to feel built up. Let’s build the straight boy’s ego.

Unbeknownst to the players, Ava and Chanel had re-entered the Circle as a clone of Michelle. It was Orange [Clone] Michelle versus Blue [Real] Michelle and everyone had to pick a side. It… wasn’t hard.

Matt: There was a comment from [real] Michelle when Ava went home, and it really bothered me. She said, “Bless her heart (not in a good way).” And I hated that.

The Circle Season 3 - Michelle loses
Photo: Netflix

Kai: There were conversations that Michelle and I had that were not aired. When I got to speak with her, the way that she carried herself was super sweet, super Southern, and I connected with her. So when [Blue Michelle] was giving some of those answers on those pictures, I felt that they weren’t as sweet as I had experienced in some of our previous conversations.

Nick: I was pretty confident that Orange Michelle was the real Michelle, but it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t going home. From a strategic point of view, me and the Wolf Pack had discussed who to block and Calvin was very much like, “Let’s block Blue.” So why would I go against Daniel and Calvin when we said we were blocking Blue? They were my allies.

Matt: I truly believed [Orange] Michelle was the real Michelle. Kai and Ruksana [and I] had just formed Destiny’s Child. My role in that alliance was to let them take the lead and me be their hype girl and say, “Yeah, I agree with that.” So when Kai was so adamant about Blue Michelle and Ruk was on that same level, the best part for my game would be what’s closest to keeping the alliance going.

Kai: Ava and Chanel played the hell out of Michelle.

With Blue Michelle blocked, two new players—rather, two new catfish—entered The Circle: Rachel playing Jackson, and Sophia playing Isabella. Before meeting the rest of the players, the newbies got a chance to bond.

Sophia (“Isabella”): Our chat was pretty long. At one point we were like, “Okay, we’re together till the end.” That was something that was so nice, because going in by yourself, all the attention is on you. I was so thankful I got to go in with him.

Sophia/Isabella’s entrance in Episode 3 opened up a new strategy for Nick, and a real Circle #powercouple formed.

Sophia: I just had to take that and run with it, because you can only make so many alliances.

Nick: I was getting this weird, like, is it friendly or is it flirty [vibe] with Ashley. When a new girl came in, I could go the more friend angle [with Ashley] because I felt it going that way—especially when Ashley called me the sexiest muffin in the Circle. That was so goofy that it felt friendly. So I was like, “Okay, I can safely make Ashley a friend and I’ll flirt with Isabella.”

The Circle season 3 - Matt
Photo: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

One problem for Sophia: Nick’s profile said he was from Seattle—which is just a 90-minute drive away from catfish “Isabella’s” hometown. Uh-oh…

Sophia: I was like, there’s no way I’m getting out of this alive. I went to visit my sister in Anacortes [Washington] once. The only reason I chose for it to be my location was because a lot of her pictures were in the woods. I can’t say I’m from Florida. I tried to do some research, but I was stupid. I was like, “I don’t think it’s necessary. What are the odds?” And of course that happened and it was horrifying at first. Thank God he literally did not care. All I had to do was be like, “Do you want to show me around?” and he was like, “Yeah.”

Nick: It was all strategy. I knew if I’m flirting with someone, they have absolutely no reason to block me. It would be awesome if this Isabella character were real, but I was going for that $100,000. I wasn’t trying to date anybody in The Circle, a game about catfishing.

Sophia: I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for three years, so I knew taking on this straight persona was going to be difficult for me. As soon as I started [flirting with] him, it put me back as a 16-year-old trying to force myself to have feelings for a guy. It felt unnerving. It put me back in the closet. These are feelings that I have not felt in years. I finally was like, “Nope, this is a game. I’m gonna have to be as cringey as he is because that’s the type of guy that’s behind this TV.”

THE CIRCLE Sophia/Isabella in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
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Sophia didn’t just bond with Nick. In Episode 4, she formed a surprise friendship with fellow catfish “Ashley”/Matt when they connected over LGBTQ+ issues.

Sophia: It came out of absolutely nowhere. I didn’t think going into this I was going to ever really talk about me, ever. I rated Ashely last and then immediately got that chat.

Matt: Speaking to Isabella and feeling her energy, I knew I wanted to share my story. I wanted to have that conversation out loud, so that little mes and my little brothers and sisters from across the world can be like, “Oh, I’m represented.”

Sophia: There are so many points in the game where it’s not a game anymore and it’s just talking to a real human and you have stories to tell. And it’s beautiful.

Matt: I think what separates the show from many other shows, and what Netflix does a really good job at, is although we’re put in situations that are sometimes out of our control, we do have the control over opening up different sides of ourselves or not.

Later in Episode 4, Influencers Kai and Ruksana chose to block Orange Michelle. This led to Kai experiencing déjà vu when she blocked “Michelle” face-to-face. 

Kai: I told Ruksana, “Girl, after you just came out and made that bold move to show yourself, you go chill out. I will handle it.” My background is HR, so I’ve had to fire people before. I was comfortable with it. Plus, I had built a rapport with Michelle. I wanted to actually see her! I had my conversation ready for Michelle. As soon as I saw [Ava and Chanel], my brain was like, “Okay, we got to rewire the board, because now we’ve got to have a different conversation.” And then it dawned on me that I’m the one that blocked them [before]. So it’s a lot going on at once.

The Circle, Kai blocking Ava and Chanel
Photo: Netflix

By this point in the game, strong alliances were starting to form. And, in true Circle fashion, you know those alliances had to have catchy names. First up: The Wolf Pack, consisting of Nick, Daniel, Calvin, and late addition Jackson.

Nick: If you read Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, he expresses how important a name is to something. So I was like, we need to name these alliances—but I wanted to have other people name the alliance, which is exactly what Calvin did with the Wolf Pack. Then Calvin is obviously not going to want to ruin the Wolf Pack if he came up with the name.

Matt: Calvin sent a wolf emoji in one of the group chats and I’m like, “All right, guy’s definitely got to go. He’s got the side alliance Wolf Pack thing.” Why he did that, I’ll never know.

Nick: My main concern was with Daniel. I didn’t really know where he sat. Originally, we felt close in the Wolf Pack, but then I was getting more concerned about him, especially after I blocked Ruksana. I didn’t really get a chance to talk that through with him, so I was worried about him a lot.

Feeling iffy in the Wolf Pack, Nick formed his own group — The Band — with three catfish: “Ashley,” “Isabella,” and “Jackson.”

Matt: Me, Nick, and Isabella—while we all had side alliances, I knew that we all put The Band first, and our side alliances we were using to protect the three of us. I think that’s why we were able to all go to the finale.

Nick: For some reason, The Band felt so right. It felt like a strong alliance, and I felt like I could trust them all.

Sizing up the competition, Nick took the idea that Kai could be a catfish from Ava and Chanel’s cryptic goodbye message—and he ran with it.

Nick: Catfishing is just the safest excuse to block someone, so that’s what I was holding on to.

Matt: I was onto Rachel with Jackson. We had a conversation where I was like, “Yeah, I like to drink beer with my buddies.” And she’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do a big old Bud Light” or something. I’m like… all right. When I saw her video that she was Rachel, I’m like, “What are the odds of all [of The Band] being catfish?” I knew I was, so I figured Isabella had to be real.

The Circle season 3 - Nick
Photo: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Sophia: I remember writing down in a journal being like, “I think there might be something up with Ashley, but I don’t give a shit.” Ashley could be any type of human and I didn’t care because I knew that we had a special bond regardless.

Matt: I didn’t think Isabella was a catfish. I was thrown off. I think Sophia did an excellent job.

Sophia: I never once thought anybody thought I was a catfish in the slightest.

Nick: The whole Band except for me was catfish. I had a whole Band of catfish. Loyal catfish.

A diss track rap challenge hosted by Lil Yachty in Episode 5 got heated when Nick put Kai on blast (falsely) for being a catfish.

Nick: Kai was one of the first people that I thought was a catfish because of her black and white photo. I called her out in the rap battle as a catfish. It doesn’t matter to me if she’s a catfish or not, but it’s a good excuse to get her out.

Kai: When he said that—and that was the first time that anyone had said anything out loud about me being a catfish—I was like, “Really?” I was so taken aback. That’s when I got the notion that, 100%, we’re not going to be cool. It’s gonna be a frenemy-ship from here on out. I’m not gonna show my whole butt, but I don’t trust you at all.

Nick: I always saw [Kai] as my biggest threat. If you watch again and pay attention to Kai’s messages, they’re like art. They’re so good. They’re perfect at not shooting too hard at anyone. She does a great job.

THE CIRCLE Calvin in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
NETFLIX

After the rap battle, Calvin and Kai—an alliance from the jump—shared some late night DMs and photos.

Kai: I was tired as hell during that scene. It had been a long day and I thought I was getting ready to go to sleep. And it was like, “Okay, well, we got this chat with Calvin.” So it was refreshing. It’s always good to talk with an alliance. To me it was just fun, you know? Throw a little flirt out there, a little fantasy.

When the smoke from the rap battle cleared in Episode 6, Kai and Nick declared a truce… or did they? 

Nick: I was like, “If I can’t knock her out right now, let me at least try to keep my enemy close, get her on my side.” But I knew that she was such a strong player that I could never fully trust her.

Kai: It was so back and forth with Nick, oh my gosh. I never truly could trust Nick, but I knew I needed Nick because he was a powerhouse himself. So it was just a matter of trying to keep it cute.

Nick even went so far as to take his newfound, incredibly uneasy alliance to The Band.

Sophia: I was horrified because I felt like everything was going perfectly. I’ve got a core group of people that are going to be with me to the end. When I was an Influencer, I was like, “We need to get Kai out because the longer she’s here, she’ll weasel her way into my alliance.” And Matt/Ashley was like, “No, let’s wait a while.” And then the next day, Nick came in and was like, “Hey, so I’ve been talking to Kai—” Everything that I was horrified would happen—it felt like the rug was pulled out from under me, and I had this dumb boy that I had to be like, “What are you doing?!”

THE CIRCLE James in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
Photo: NETFLIX

ALERT: A new player entered the Circle in Episode 6, and he was ready to keep it real.

James: It is crazy how they just throw you in the game. People think they give you bullet points on what’s going on…? They are just like, “Go in the room!” and that’s it. I had to figure everything out on my own.

Kai: When James came in, I was relieved. When he invited me in first to talk to him, I realized, okay, this could definitely be a good alliance. I’m ready for this.

James: My entire life, from birth, middle school, high school, my career—I’ve always trusted black women. As soon as I saw her, I said, “If I have to choose somebody based off their profile picture…” It was an easy decision.

With a new player in The Circle, someone else had to go. Influencers “Isabella” and “Ashley” got to make that call.

Matt: The only part of my personality I wanted to hold back was the dominant part, so it was about planting seeds and letting [Sophia] get there. I said, “Girl, I’m on board with whatever. They both [Kai and Calvin] have to go at some point.”

Sophia: I really wanted it to be Kai, but Ashley had been in the game longer than me so I trusted her. The things that she said were like, “We have more of a relationship with Kai than we do with Calvin.”

Matt: The more conversations that Calvin would start, the more love he was getting from Ruksana and being the main character of all the conversations. At that point, I was already forming an alliance with Nick. In order to get closer with Kai, Calvin’s got to go. In order to get closer with Nick, Calvin’s gotta go. And also who hasn’t talked to me? Calvin.

Sophia: It’s better to keep someone that I don’t think is definitely rating us last, whereas we thought Calvin probably was. And then Ashley had that famous line: “If we want to get out the queen, we got to take out the king first.” And when she said that line, I was like, “Done.”

The Circle season 3 - Kai
Photo: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

On his way out, Calvin chose to visit Kai, his #1 from day one. 

Kai: To see another human being and for him to have been so sweet and authentic—it made me feel good about my intuition. In that moment, it was like, “Give me all the tea.” He expressed to me, “[trust] Nick and Daniel.” But then I was like, “I know that [Nick] was cool with you, but now you’re getting ready to leave, Cal, so I don’t know if he’s gonna feel the same way about me—especially since I let go of Ava.” I was sad to see him go. Also Calvin’s a very attractive man. I knew in the back of my head that maybe [producers] wanted a moment that could mimic the Joey and Miranda situation [from Season 1], but naturally a queen is going to remain a queen. I’m not going to put my actions out there like that yet, until there’s a real reason.

But Calvin’s work on The Circle wasn’t done yet. He was also allowed to bestow the gift of “popularity” on one player, giving them control of a fake burner profile. Calvin chose Nick, and then Nick met Vince the ghost hunter. 

James: When Vince came in, like, literally 25 minutes after me, that helped me be a regular player because I didn’t feel like the new guy anymore.

Nick: The first thing I noticed about Vince was the black and white photo, which was the exact thing I gave Kai crap for. The ghost hunter [occupation] felt super unbelievable, but I was like, “Maybe if I throw enough tech jargon in there he’ll still seem legit.

James: I thought the profile was fake. I laughed immediately when I saw it, just naturally. I never met a ghost hunter so I laughed at it. “You believe in ghosts? That’s cool.” It was funny to me.

Sophia: I loved Vince. I was so #TeamVince and I was crushed to find out that he wasn’t real.

Matt: I thought Vince was real. The Circle throws in such a diverse cast and I’m like, “A ghost hunter? I want him to be real. That’s so dope.” I’ve seen ghosts before and we’re gonna get a private chat and talk about my ghosts.

Nick: It took me a while to develop the Vince character. I’d use a few different accents in my room to get in character and really embody Vince, but it took a while. What I landed on was this laid back guy with a cool hobby that he turned into a career.

The Circle, Daniel and Vince
Photo: Netflix

Sophia: My whole family is very into the paranormal. That’s something I grew up around, knowing that ghosts were real. And so having him come in, I was like, “Yes! This is my guy! We can bond over this.” I was stoked for Vince. I really was praying that he was real.

Nick: I was trying to make him have a different mood. He didn’t use a lot of emojis, he didn’t use a lot of hashtags or anything. My main whole plot with Vince was just don’t get detected as Nick.

James: I’m not gonna lie: I got salty because Vince came in so shortly after me and then we had the camping night. I was pissed off! He got a whole night for his introduction?!

Even though James was new to The Circle, he quickly found himself in an alliance with Kai, Ruksana, and Daniel.

James: I had that conversation where Nick didn’t make it in, and then I talked to Daniel. And then I think the next day I talked to Ruksana and Kai. I was already with it. I was already calling Ruksana “sis.” They was family. Growing up where I come from, when you see somebody that looks like you, you are automatically family. We always look out for each other.

The Circle Season 3 Ruksana
Photo: Netflix

…And then in Episode 8 came the double blocking, with one representative from each alliance—Daniel and Nick—as Influencers.

Kai: I thought I was a goner because I couldn’t trust Nick. And I knew if there’s two people that got to go, I’m gone. I had no clue in my entire life that he was going to choose Ruksana.

Nick: When I had to use the sole power of Influencer and I decided to block Ruksana instead of Kai—I could have taken Kai out right then. I saw that as a way to finally win Kai’s favor.

Kai: I was number one: shocked [that Nick blocked Ruksana]—but number two: grateful. But then number three: hurt, because I really did love Ruksana and she was a part of my alliance. I was all over the place. I was perplexed.

Daniel, as the other Influencer, chose to block “Jackson”/Rachel.

Nick: I was fully expecting Jackson to walk in. I was wearing sweatpants. And then Rachel walks in and I thought it was the production or maintenance or something. I was like, “What did I do wrong?” And then she’s like, “Hey, I’m Jackson. I was a catfish.” I thought she was super cute, but I also knew that I had been flirting a lot with Isabella. So I was like, “I can’t immediately kiss the first girl I see after I’ve been flirting with Isabella for so long. That’s not a good look.”

The Circle season 3 - James
Photo: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

With The Band and Kai’s alliance both down a member, some of the players tried to form another alliance—which did not make it into the final edit of the show.

Matt: There’s a conversation that me, Isabella, and Daniel had about seven days into the game and we formed The Rainbow Road alliance, all three of us gays.

Sophia: I honestly forgot about that. It was definitely a one chat thing. Me and Matt were talking and we were like, “Okay, we need to pull somebody in—” because I think it was when we had just lost Jackson, so our numbers needed to be better. We were like, “Who are we grabbing?” And so we were like, “Daniel. Daniel seems gay. We love the gays.”

Matt: [Daniel and I] hadn’t talked and I knew that if he was an Influencer next, I’d go and vice versa. I knew him and Isabella talked.

Sophia: We added him and it was like, “Hey, rainbows!” And then he was confused because, like… Isabella isn’t gay.

Matt: I wasn’t too secure in it, because in that chat, Daniel was like, “Guys, I’ve been lost his whole game. I have no alliances. I’m so worried.” And I’m [thinking], “Nick is verbalizing that you have The Wolf Pack, plus I know you’re working with James and Kai.” So I wasn’t too secure on the [Rainbow] alliance.

Sophia: It was this whole mess of an attempt at an alliance that didn’t go as we wanted it to.

To keep things interesting, The Circle added Jacki in Episode 9.

James: What made [the alliances] super clear was when Jacki came. It was three versus three, so let’s see if we can get Jacki.

Nick: Once Jacki chose the other group chat instead of my group chat, that was a very clear line. And I was like, “All right, there are two distinct sides. This is war.”

THE CIRCLE Jacki in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
NETFLIX

Amidst the war, two players from opposing sides forged an unspoken alliance. 

James: I wanted to talk to Ashley because I thought Ashley came in late and was an Influencer right away. I told Matt, “You’re the funniest person in The Circle to me.” I thought Ashley was hilarious, so I wanted to let her know that I really appreciated how she’s representing the LGBT+ community.

Matt: When he chose to open up to me and tell me those things—especially about one of the most fervent situations of our community, trans rights and trans lives that we’re losing on the daily—that to me was just… I could have been blocked that night and I would have been like, “Thank you, God. I said my truth and I started a conversation that needs to be a domino effect in our community.”

James: I’m a comedian and when I’m on stage, I share my life. I don’t tell knock-knock jokes. I have stories that involve racism. I have stories that involve my trans brother and stuff like that. So I’m an open book naturally.

Matt: The alliances that I had really came organically, even with James. We never said we had an alliance, but unspoken—? Done.

James: Me and Ashley’s connection is the reason I felt okay leaving the Influencer rooms and keeping Ashley. My number one was Kai. Nick’s number one was Isabella. So it was always Ashley versus Daniel or Ashley versus Jacki. The whole time I’m like, “Damn, I love Ashley. Ashley’s dope. I had a personal connection with her.” So I left the room knowing I still have somebody that I wouldn’t mind winning the grand prize.

Still, a war was raging! Someone had to make sure that Jacki’s loyalty to their alliance was unshakeable. 

James: I’ve been in my relationship for 13 years, so I have to go back 14 years to figure out that game I had and throw it at Jacki. The biggest thing that I wanted when I came [into The Circle] was information. The way the conversations went in real time was, “Oh, you’re so pretty”—and then I would give her a bunch of information about [the game]. “Oh, Jackson’s this, Nick is this. We should play some video games and cuddle sometime—and oh, by the way, you should trust Kai.” If anybody gave me information when I came in, I would have trusted them because I wanted it so bad.

THE CIRCLE James in season 3 of THE CIRCLE. Cr. Netflix ©2021
NETFLIX

As the final blocking approached, Sophia and Matt felt the need to atone for the sins they committed as “Isabella” and “Ashley.”

Kai: I was saying to myself, “God, this is really too much, these girls not liking me for no reason.” There was one part where Ashley and I and Ruksana were building something. And then for Ashley to turn on me and let go of Calvin? I didn’t understand that.

Matt: The second I sent that [message] where I threw [Kai] under the bus because of paranoia, I was sad. I was a Debbie Downer for that entire day after. Production’s like, “What do you want for breakfast?” I’m like, “I’m not hungry.” I was just very, very sad.

Kai: I don’t want people to not like me, especially for no reason. So I felt a little emotional. And then when they came to apologize, it gave me such relief. Between Ashley and I, I felt it was more genuine at that time.

Matt: I said, “Can I please, please, please talk to Kai.” At that point it wasn’t even strategy. I wasn’t worried about going home, although I should have been. I was very, very sad and I didn’t want her thinking that I purposely came for her. Well, I did, but I didn’t want her upset.

Sophia: My dad wrote me a letter for every day that I was in The Circle. So day one, read this letter, day two, day three—every single day. It got to day 12 or so and I opened a letter and my dad was like, “Kiddo, you’re doing it. You’ve always gotten so far in life because of your heart. You connect with other people.”

Kai: [Isabella] invited me to the [’90s] party. We never got a chance to talk after that, so I didn’t understand where all of this random dislike was coming from, and so I was confused.

Sophia: Throughout the game, I didn’t have time to connect with Kai. So from the strategy point of view, I was like, “She’s doing so well. As long as Kai’s around, I don’t stand a chance. I’ve got to get her gone or my game is ruined.” And then reading that letter from my dad, it was like, “Who am I right now?” I felt like I’ve turned into a monster that I’ve never been in my entire life. I became this different person that I did not like and reading that letter, I just sobbed. I was like, “My dad’s right.”

Kai: With Isabella and me, that conversation didn’t necessarily seem to me as genuine [while] in the game. I feel like she forced herself to apologize because it was out of the blue. But that was under the bridge!

Sophia: I did not go into this chat with Kai thinking strategy. It was fully like, I need to talk to her because I haven’t been myself and I just want to have a chat with her being like, “Hey, girl, I love you. We’re in this crazy game together. No matter what happens, no hard feelings. You’re an amazing person, and I’m sorry, if I haven’t expressed that sooner.”

Matt: I think what’s crazy about The Circle is it shows that you can be super confident but also be super sensitive. I think people miss that with Kai. She was super cocky then, but also super loving and super sensitive. One doesn’t outweigh the other.

The Circle season 3 - Sophia
Photo: NETFLIX ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Episode 10 brought yet another clash of the alliances, as Influencers Nick and James each tried to convince the other to block an ally.

Nick: I wanted to get rid of Daniel. We never really got to talk that much and I had blocked Ruksana, so I was like, “This guy hates me. I need to get rid of him.”

James: When Nick gave me the information [that he also had an alliance with Daniel], I was like, “Damn, Daniel could jump sides tomorrow.” I know I can convince Kai to be my ride or die. I didn’t have that same feeling with Daniel. Do I want to keep Daniel and lose an ally and then he’s on their side tomorrow?

Nick: I went into that Influencer chat, like, “I’m gonna pretend like I really want to get rid of Kai, and then James will be like, ‘As long as we save Kai, then we can get rid of Daniel’”—and that’s how it played out.

With Daniel on his way out after an iconic run, Kai had to deal with the fact that one of her allies blocked one of their allies.

Kai: That was the worst. I’ve been on such an emotional rollercoaster! When I found out that James had blocked Daniel, I went on the fritz mentally. I didn’t even know how to process that because I have to keep James as my alliance, but you just got rid of my alliance!

James: I love Daniel, but I felt worse about disappointing Kai than blocking Daniel.

Kai: Once I understood that he kept me and that yes, Daniel was my alliance, but this is a game and you’re still here, so you have to stay strong to your alliance with James. When James mentioned to me something about watching out for Nick, “because Nick, when we were Influencers, he was ready to let you go.” I was like, “Word? That’s how we doing it?”

Sophia and Daniel hugging
Photo: Netflix

Daniel chose to visit someone from the opposing alliance.

Sophia: I actually was [expecting Daniel to visit me] and I have no idea why. I prepared myself a little bit more because I felt like he was going to be pissed off because I knew that he and James were cool and then he just got blocked. I felt like Daniel, when he’s mad, he’s gonna go out guns a-blazing. So that’s why I had the hunch that he was going to come to me to spill all the tea.

History repeated itself in Episode 12 when Nick and James were once again made Influencers—albeit anonymous Influencers.

James: When I became an Influencer for the first time, I didn’t feel pressured. I felt excited. The second time, I felt a lot of pressure.

Nick: I was so tired. I had been an Influencer the previous two times. I knew this was the last one and I was safe, so at this point, do my allies even really matter? Because the final rating is such a crapshoot. I was like, if James is extremely convincing, I could get rid of Ashley.

Ultimately newbie Jacki got the chop, cutting her run on The Circle short. 

James: I was excited for one reason: I was in isolation for a very long time before I made it into my apartment. [Blocking Jacki] is my first time being able to see somebody because Studio Lambert and Netflix had very strict rules to make sure we didn’t get sick. So finally seeing somebody that I was able to hug was amazing. And it was sad at the same time because Jacki was my Circle boo. I eliminated my own Circle boo.

Eliminating your own Circle boo is something you can’t plan for, and it might seem like bad strategy until you’re in the moment. Looking back on their time in the Circle, the finalists all went in with their own strategies that they followed, shifted, or abandoned altogether.

Kai: For me, the biggest question was, “What is your strategy?” And I’m like, “How did I actually obtain my real friends?” When I first met my best friend, we met over something that was super funny. That’s how we clicked. And then I noticed that people that I’m cool with, we met off of commonality. And I’ll add in a little fantasy to it, because you want people to like you. I just based it off of real life, how I am with my real friends.

Sophia: When thinking about going into the game, I was like, “I want a girl group, an all-female Alliance.” Obviously that didn’t really play out as well as I would have liked it to.

Nick: I definitely stuck to my plan. I went in there not wanting the other people to know I was smart. I didn’t want them to see me as a big, strategic threat and instead just see me as this flirty guy who probably has no idea what he’s doing, and I think that’s how it came off.

Matt: [My strategy was] to play Ashley, but also not limit myself to a certain script. What can trip people up as a catfish is that they stick with certain scripts. They expect people to be like, “Oh, blah, blah, blah, must speak this way” or “blah, blah, blah, must be that way.” And my strategy was to use Ashley’s bubbly, approachable face, and pair it with my incredibly obnoxious, sometimes crazy personality because I think people are not one dimensional.

James: I called my girlfriend at the time, she’s my fiancée now, and literally, I told her, “I’m going to act an ass and be myself.” So I literally went in there and was myself.

Whether or not their strategies worked as planned, these strategies at least got them to the finish line. Now these finalists are all about to come face to face with each other—and one of them’s gonna win $100,000. The Circle Season 3 finale premieres Wednesday, September 29 on Netflix.

Stream The Circle on Netflix

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