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Do reality TV shows really show reality?

By Emma Videan

Channel 4’s The Circle finished last week with *SPOILER ALERT* catfish Alex, 26, winning a total of £75,000. If you’ve missed this brand new reality game show, the concept is that people enter an apartment block and live in solitude but talk to others through a constructed social media platform, ‘The Circle’. The aim of the game is to be voted the most popular by the other players, by any means necessary.

To summarise the type of activity that went on within the show, in the first episode a gay man, Freddie, 20, who was pretending to be straight, was flirting with Kate, who was actually a man called Alex, 26, using his girlfriend’s pictures.

With 44 million social media users in the UK alone, The Circle‘s concept is something that the majority of people would relate to but did it give an accurate representation of how people use social media today?

A good comparison of the behaviour seen on The Circle and in real life can be reflected in the dating app, Tinder. It’s fair to say that users portray themselves in the most attractive way possible. This could mean that they include pictures of dogs, nights out, family and friends and other details such as their age and occupation. This tactic could definitely be seen in The Circle for example, Scotty, 36, claimed that he was 31 and businesswoman, Jennifer, 40, pretended to be a 34 year-old junior oncologist.

Critics claimed that The Circle was in poor taste and encouraged ‘catfishing’. However, the social media savvy generation are generally aware that not everyone is truthful online, and the show helps to shine a light on this issue. Another reality show that addresses dishonesty is MTV’s Catfish where the presenters give people the opportunity to meet who they have been speaking through social media.

Each Catfish episode looks at an individual who has formed a friendship or even relationship and reveals the truth about who the other is. The contestants in The Circle quickly formed cyber-friendships, similar to those on Catfish, indicating just how easy it is to feel safe and trust someone that you’ve never met. Players spoke to each other in much the same way that my peers speak to each other, using emojis, slang and abbreviations.

When they eventually met at the end of the show, the overriding emotion appeared to be excitement and an acceptance that people were going to lie in this situation as money was at stake. However, the reaction of Dan, 28, when he met online best friend, Kate/Alex, was anger at being lied to. I think that this is a very real reaction as he put all his trust into Kate/Alex and it turned out that the woman he thought he had befriended was actually a man.

For the most part, The Circle reflected much of the behaviour that can be seen online but this also reflects how many people make their first impressions in real life. Generally, we feel an urge to be liked and this can sometimes lead to exaggerating the most attractive features of our personalities. This is only amplified online when we have the opportunity to lie and not get caught and The Circle has successfully shown these human traits.

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