If you haven’t already watched “The Circle” on Netflix, you are behind on one of the greatest reality shows of our modern time. The show follows a handful of contestants as they attempt to navigate a digital reality competition while isolated in a hotel room. Sound intense? That’s because it is.
Contestants interact with each other on a virtual social platform called The Circle while never actually seeing each other in real life. The seclusion allows players to be whoever they want, whether that be themselves or a catfish. The object of the game is to be the last player standing, which involves trying to be the most popular player every week, leaving the least-liked contestants up for elimination. But when your popularity status is decided by the rest of the players, there’s bound to be some strategy, alliances, and major twists.
To top it all off, not everything is what it seems. The real drama comes when someone is voted off: The eliminated player gains the ability to go to another contestant’s room and see them in real life for the first time, then record a video message for all users to view the next day. So, if you vote someone off because you think they’re a catfish, and it turns out they’re not? Well, that’s just part of the fun.
Among the cast are three openly queer contestants: Chris, a gay man; Sammie, a bisexual woman; and Mercedeze, who identifies as “10000% lesbian.” Both Sammie and Chris decided to play the game honesty-forward, using their own pictures and acting as themselves. Mercedeze, however, is not an actual person. Instead, she’s played on The Circle by Karyn (who looks completely different), who decided to make a statement about identity by using catfish photos.
Karyn plays Mercedeze with the apparent ease of a real straight girl, even tricking one of the guys into falling for her (here’s his reaction when he finds out she is a catfish). Sammie, on the other hand, was able to make it all the way to the finale of the show, and she ended up winning fan favorite.
Regardless of whether or not they used their own photos, both Sammie and Karyn kept it real.
What’s especially refreshing about “The Circle” is that there are openly queer characters who are afforded the space to be themselves without being boiled down only to their sexuality; the show does not center around it. At its core, “The Circle” is not a dating show, so sexuality had nothing to do with how well Sammie or Karyn were able to advance in the game; it was just who they are.
GO got to catch up with Sammie and Karyn to get an inside scoop on what it was like being on the show and how they feel being out queer women in pop culture.
GO Mag: How do you feel about the LGBTQ representation in pop culture, especially in reality shows?
Sammie: To be honest, I rarely watch reality television, and if I did watch, the only show I would watch would be “Jersey Shore” or “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” years ago! Neither show had representation at all of the LGBTQ community — or, at least, from what I remember. I think there have been a lot of shows that now incorporate the LGBTQ community, like MTV’s “AYTO” [“Are You The One?”] season 8 and the countless shows on Netflix — “Queer Eye,” “Skin Wars,” and some others. I love it. I think that the LGBTQ community should have just as much representation with movies, reality television, and commercial TV.
Karyn: LGBTQ community has always maintained a louder presence in the background of most media, from music to fashion to television. It’s a blessing to see more of us taking the front end in endeavors and platforms that are open to people of all walks of life, not just heterosexuals. Sure, I could be on “The L Word” as most would assume; however, to be on a show like “The Circle” on Netflix? It’s an honor.
GO: Was it important for you to be out on the show?
Sammie: It wasn’t really something I thought about. I am bisexual, and my family and friends never made me feel different for it, so for me, it’s natural. So it wasn’t that it was important or NOT important, it just wasn’t even something that came across my mind.
GO: While Miranda probably didn’t intend to be malicious, I appreciated that you called her out for being insensitive when she said she’s “usually into men but enjoys a pretty girl.” Is that situation something you have dealt with in the past?
Sammie: Absolutely. My first girlfriend was strictly into females, and I felt like every girl that I have talked to, since her, is into guys still but “only likes me,” and that’s frustrating. I’ve been in situations where I have liked girls, and have talked to girls, but then — boom! They get back with their ex-boyfriends.
GO: On “The Circle,” you used another person’s pictures. Did you consider using your own? Why did you decide against it?
Karyn: On “The Circle,” I chose to use another person’s face to assist in getting my story and others out to the world on a grander scale. Although I am comfortable in my OWN skin, there are still many in the world that aren’t. I experience discrimination daily for a few reasons, the main two being my skin color and my appearance. By using Chynna’s (the female in the photos) pictures I was able to catch the eyes of many and use my personality to seal the deal. I live by the motto “EYES wide SHUT; EARS wide OPEN.” My goal with “The Circle” was to bring light to that, and I did [it] the best way I knew how.
GO: Do you think Karyn would have made it further on the show if she came on as herself?
Sammie: I most definitely think Karyn would have made it further if she used her own pictures. I won’t say “as herself,” because she, in fact, DID come on the show as herself; she just used different pictures. I think people need to understand that aspect. Where she may have had to be “Mercedeze” during the catfights between her and I (which we still laugh about to this day), she was still herself otherwise. I truly believe that if she used her own pictures, her, Chris, and I would have formed our own little alliance.
GO: Was there a reason you chose to make Mercedeze bisexual rather than gay?
Karyn: I didn’t actually put any label on Mercedeze. I am a lesbian; however, I left Mercedeze’s character as a no-label to give her better leverage if needed.
GO: You had an instant connection with Chris, another gay contestant. What do you think it is that draws queer people to each other?
Karyn: In my opinion, what brings us together is the acceptance of ourselves as individuals and knowing that, no matter what stage in life, we ALL share the battle as a community to be unapologetically loved, accepted, and SAFE no matter where, what, or who we represent.
GO: Now that you’ve met the cast, would you have been more likely to use your own pictures?
Karyn: Now that I’ve met the cast, I am still content on how I played. Judging by their reactions to my reveal, I’m sure they also learned the lesson to never judge a book by its cover. The mask was just that. The personality though? ALL ME, baby. Alllll me!