'The Circle': Social experiment reality series returns to Netflix, and 'competition is next-level'

David Oliver

Longing for a second season of Netflix's "The Circle"? Get ready to start saying "send message" aloud again. 

"The Circle" is back on Wednesday with a new cast – including Chloe from the Netflix reality series "Too Hot to Handle" – not to mention new twists and turns that will keep viewers entertained, surprised and on the edge of their seats. Among them: Is  'N Sync's Lance Bass really joining the game, as teased in the season's trailer

The series, filmed last fall in Manchester, England,  follows eight contestants living in separate apartments in the same building, all vying for a $100,000 prize. They can only communicate via "The Circle," where they upload photos and list details about themselves, just like an online dating profile. Instead of typing, they dictate the chat, followed by "send message."

Contestants rate each other periodically as they get to know one another, and those with the highest ratings become temporary "influencers" with the power to send people packing. 

The catch? The Circle has no video function – so the players have no idea if the person they're chatting with is real, or impersonating someone else .

What else is new on Netflix this month? Netflix in April: 'Shadow and Bone,' Dolly Parton, Jamie Foxx and another 'Circle'

"The Circle" is back on April 14 with a new cast – including Chloe from Netflix series "Too Hot to Handle" (pictured).

Host Michelle Buteau interjects with snarky narration, approaching her role as if she's watching it on her own couch. "If I'm thinking it, then definitely someone else is thinking it," she tells USA TODAY.

As people get "blocked" from the Circle when influencers send them home, new players enter the game to shake things up.

This season, episodes will be released in four-episode weekly batches on Wednesdays, instead of dropping all at once in typical Netflix fashion – evidently to better benefit from social media buzz that reality shows like "Love Island" build. Buteau is excited for a return to appointment television. "It's nice to anticipate something, to sit and wait for it," she says. "I don't feel like we do that anymore."

For an American reality show, "The Circle" is generally wholesome. Seemingly genuine friendships blossomed during the first season, and the same happens in Season 2.

Longing for a second season of Netflix's "The Circle"? Get ready to start saying "send message" aloud again.

 This time around, everyone's seen the show so they've come in with a strategy – but that doesn't mean that strategy is going to work. "The competition is next-level," Buteau says.

Interesting:How Netflix is aiming at kids and families to fend off Disney, other streaming rivals

Season 1 premiered in January 2020, before the pandemic upended life in the U.S. – but once the coronavirus pandemic hit, people wondered what "The Circle" knew. Staying alone in an apartment, of course, became a quarantine norm.

Does that mean this season will hit a little too close to home? Buteau doesn't see it that way.

"I don't think it's going to be overkill," Buteau says. "People are going to actually feel less alone because it's so many hours of entertainment. And also, it's what everyone else has been doing, which is getting to know each other via social media, or some sort of app."

The same questions apply. "What's so fascinating about this social experiment is how can you connect with somebody over text? And how can you figure out tone?" she says.

Buteau also touched on the toxicity of social media platforms and how easy it is for people to have an idea of who you are and what they can say to you without really knowing you. Unlike many social media "friends," contestants on this show get a chance to meet each other face to face – which means they have to watch how they treat each other or risk suffering real-life consequences. 

Courtney is another star in Season 2 of "The Circle."

Important:6 signs you need to unplug and ditch social media

"Social media is sort of like hot sauce," Buteau says. "I feel like a little goes a long way."

In her own life, Buteau follows inspirational quote accounts and suggests people use social media for good:  If you're not getting joy from it, maybe it's not for you, she says.

"It's just as important as telling everybody to drink eight glasses of water and eat vegetables," she says. "Mental health is so important."