The Circle series 3 spoilers follow.
If you go to search "Manrika The Circle" on Google, some suggested terms include the words "snake" and "death threats" – a sorry window into the audience reception that the contestant has faced since competing on the Channel 4 reality game show.
We've seen it before and, sadly, we’ll no doubt see it again: society has a problem with strong-minded, opinionated, and ambitious women. Like her fellow players, Manrika Khaira entered the third series of The Circle to compete to win £100,000. Her witty one-liners and budding relationship with Uncle Syed AKA Hashu made her an instant favourite, but recently her game plan seems to have rubbed some viewers up the wrong way.
Despite being open and honest about her intentions to come out on top, in order to take home the cash prize for her family, some have taken their criticisms so far that Manrika has been inundated with social media criticism. The abuse even reached a level that her management has issued a statement to condemn the "torrent of vile, racist, sexist abuse" that their clients are subject to.
This is never okay. But this awful treatment of Manrika also highlights a worrying trend.
You may or may not recall that The Circle series two also had a contestant that was pretty big on strategy, and that was Sammie AKA James. One of the last remaining catfish of that run, he made it to the final by playing the role of a single mother and he eventually came third in the final.
Watch: The Circle: Season 2
As we've come to expect, Sammie/James created alliances – naming his particular group "The Circle of Trust" – and tried to push other players into blocking those that were outside of his inner circle.
This is basically the same as what Manrika has been doing, first with the #CircleSiblings and then with #TripleThreat. While it's fair to say that viewers were divided by Sammie/James, there didn't seem to be the same strand of vitriol as is being currently levelled at Manrika's door.
We've seen a similar trend running through other reality shows, most recently with Maisie Smith on Strictly Come Dancing. Easily one of the most promising contestants to shimmy onto the ballroom floor in 2020 when it came to dancing talent, she kept finding herself in the bottom based on viewer votes.
Why? There seemed to be an insidious sexist narrative surrounding Maisie that translated her perceived confidence as arrogance. As former Strictly professional Kevin Clifton put it while defending her: “A lot of people don't like confident females apparently."
This misogynistic trope can probably be applied to the current conversation around Manrika; fundamentally, women are often seen to be ‘acting above their station’ if they are anything but apologetic and accommodating to others. Other factors, such as race, can also compound this issue.
The concept of "playing a game" in reality television is nothing new. Back in the day, and before the genre was more established, we were collectively shocked by Big Brother's Nasty Nick and his (by today's standards, somewhat timid) tactics. But since then it's become almost expected to have some big personalities that will stir the pot and – let's face it – make dramatic, water-cooler-moment television.
Manrika is getting a lot of air time at the moment, which just goes to show that without her involvement there can't be much else happening in The Circle that would be worth us watching. While we can't dictate how players are going to be received or whether they'll be liked by those watching at home, we can draw a line in the sand and say that social media pile-ons, hateful comments, and at its most extreme, death threats are NEVER justified.
The Circle is, by the nature of its format, a tactical game of popularity. And Manrika continues to be one of the top-rated players when it comes to her fellow contestants. By that measure, she's doing exactly what the show asks. And only one person can win, so loyalty is going to have to go out of the window at some point in the game...
Also, the audience is mainly talking about her, which is the key to making a memorable reality show personality, after all.
The Circle airs on Channel 4.
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