“What book would you bring with you to a deserted island?”
This question — often asked during office team-building exercises, or on first dates when you’ve run out of anything else to talk about — is profoundly troubling. It forces you to consider how you would like to spend your time in the aftermath of a traumatic disaster that rips you away from your home and loved ones, and leaves you stranded and probably injured on an uninhabited patch of land with limited resources. Yes, this scenario posits, you’re probably wrestling with a nasty case of dysentery, and somewhere your family is grieving your mysterious disappearance, but at least you have Tolstoy’s War and Peace to keep you company.
A better, more pleasant, and more realistic, question, I think, would be: “What book would you bring with you to compete in a streaming service’s social media–based reality-competition series where you are kept physically isolated in a one-bedroom Chicago apartment for days at a time, with only a voice-activated platform called ‘The Circle’ for company, while you try to win money by becoming an ‘influencer’ among your competitors?”
This is the question I found myself contemplating as I watched The Circle on Netflix. Based on a British TV series by the same name, Netflix’s Americanized version premiered on January 1. The game goes like this: eight players set up profiles on The Circle that include a photo and a brief bio, and then they chat with the other players, who they have not met in person. At some point in each episode, players must rate their competitors. The two players with the highest ratings become the “influencers,” and must choose another player to be “blocked” from the game. The highest rated player at the finale wins the game, and $100,000. Good for them.
In between all of this chatting and influencing, though, players seem to have a lot of down time. The show is full of shots of them cooking, and drawing, and playing with a mini wooden bowling set. They also have books, but most of the covers have been obscured, taped over with colored paper.
What books did people choose to accompany them on their reality-TV journey, I wondered. Did they get to pick their books, or did Netflix provide them, like a mid-tier AirBnB?
I wondered, specifically, about the books I saw in the first episode. What is Shubham reading as he bemoans the horror of social media while participating in a social media–based show?
What is Karyn, a.k.a. Mercedez, reading while she catfishes Antonio?
What is Seaburn, a.k.a Rebecca, reading while he poses as his own girlfriend?
I embarked on a journey to find out.
The journey was pretty short, it turned out. It just involved one email to Netflix. I learned that contestants were allowed to bring their own books with them, and that they brought the following:
Shubham: A collection of Shakespeare’s plays (the green book); Following the Equator, by Mark Twain (the purple book).
Karyn brought: Becoming, by Michelle Obama (the green book).
And Seaburn brought: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey (the purple book).
Are these the books you would bring with you to compete in a social media–based reality-competition series? Would you choose a novel in which to escape, or a self-help book to guide you in your journey? Would you bring a book at all, or would you spend your time drawing, like sweet meatball Joey?
Maybe bring these questions up during your office’s next team building exercise, or on a first date where you’ve run out of things to talk about. If you get stuck on a deserted island, though, I don’t know what to tell you. My thoughts are with you and your loved ones.