“Let me spill the tea, ’cause I feel like nobody’s asked me about this before,” says Deleesa St. Agathe, laughing.
St. Agathe is the mom of two small children and a lifestyle influencer with more than 333,000 followers on Instagram, but she’s perhaps best known as the winner of Season 2 of The Circle, Netflix’s hyper-addictive reality series about a group of contestants in a social media network called The Circle. (The Circle does not exist outside of the confines of the show itself.) Contestants periodically rank each other based on likability and the alliances they forge over the course of the show, rooting out catfishes in the process. The most popular player becomes an “influencer” who has the power to vote others out — and the last one standing wins $100,000.
On its surface, The Circle is a standard guilty pleasure reality show, in the same vein as frothy confections like Love Island and Love Is Blind. But it’s also surprisingly wholesome, with many of the cast members forging real relationships in between various social media-oriented machinations. It also reveals a number of surprising truths about life on social media and, by extension, IRL. No one knows that better than St. Agathe, who won Season 2 of The Circle not by being her incredibly naturally charming self, but by catfishing as Trevor, her real-life husband and a personal trainer who also has a sizable following on Instagram.
On a special bonus episode of Rolling Stone‘s culture podcast Don’t Let This Flop, St. Agathe tells cohosts Brittany Spanos and Ej Dickson that she made a calculated decision to play as her husband, because she suspected playing as a woman would put her at a disadvantage. And she may have been correct in this regard: to date, no one playing as a woman has won the American version of The Circle. “It just ties into what I’ve experienced throughout my life. As a female, you just get dragged into drama,” she says, also pointing out that many of the female players this season — such as outspoken Rachel and savvy Yu Ling — faced a great deal of criticism and backlash from fans simply for playing the game.
Through vigorous alliance-building and a flirtation with Season 2 contestant and Netflix reality show alum Chloe (Too Hot to Handle), Deleesa made it to the top. And in a shocking twist during the show’s last season, her husband Trevor returned the favor by entering the game as catfish Imani (actually a photo of one of Deleesa’s friends).
“One thing that I took [from Deleesa’s experience] was just to be really, really, really prepared. If you’re going to go in as a catfish, you have to have your story locked down,” Trevor says. “Like, if I get booted, it should be because of political reason and maybe I didn’t make enough relationships, but if I do this, I need to really embody Imani as a woman, and I have to know everything there is to know about being a woman.” It worked: by playing the strong, witty Imani (and engaging in his own flirtation with fellow Season 4 contestant Everson), Trevor made it to the top two, despite late-entering players usually being at something of a strategic disadvantage. He came in right behind Circle fan favorite Frank, who took home a $150k prize (bumped up from $100,000 because the Spice Girls got involved…it’s a long story).
Both Trevor and Deleesa also learned from their experiences on The Circle that pretending to be someone they’re not on the internet may not always be as bad as it seems. “People catfish for a reason, and we don’t necessarily have to agree with these reasons, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a serious situation for them,” says Deleesa. “I went in as a guy [because] I felt so much pressure being a woman, being judged as bringing in the drama. Somebody could look at my situation and say, ‘Man, you’re being ridiculous. Just be yourself. Being yourself is so much better.’ It’s true being yourself is better, but you don’t know what I’ve experienced in my life for me to choose go down that route. You can’t judge me for using a different face, because I’m still giving pieces of me. So I guess that’s what my takeaway would be: catfish are not always the bad guys.”
As for the question of whether producers encourage Circle players to make up pun-laden hashtags, as many fans have suspected, Trevor and Deleesa dismiss it, saying that the use of hashtags during the game is simply a way to condense emotions during conversations with other players. Besides, as Deleesa puts it: “If you don’t use hashtags, are you really even in The Circle?”