Of all of the contestants on Season Two of Netflix’s The Circle, no one is perhaps as devious as Courtney Revolution. A 28-year-old podcaster who hosts the entertainment podcast Overheard in the Pantry, Courtney entered the game by winning people over with his infectious personality, his Taylor Swift T-shirts, and ceaselessly delightful turns of phrase (yes, “What in the intergalactic flawlessness is this, honey?” merch is forthcoming). But the blocking of his ally Savannah, as well as his role as the anonymous Joker, served as his villain origin story, prompting Courtney to vow to wreak vengeance on anyone who had wronged her — even if he’d have to lie and backstab in the process. His alliance with River and Chloe, a.k.a. the Cardashians, and his cutthroat approach toward other contestants (RIP, Khat and Mitchell, we hardly knew ye) cemented him as a Circle antagonist for the ages, infuriating fans of the show on social media.
Ultimately, not even Courtney’s many machinations could win him the top prize on The Circle; that honor went to Deleesa, the influencer Bronx mom who catfished as her foxy husband Trevor. But fans of the show who had watched Courtney sweet-talk a slew of contestants, only to stab them in the back later on in the game — with the last plunge of the knife reserved for River, his best friend, whom Courtney ranked third in the final ratings — were alternately fascinated and appalled by his savvy gameplay.
Having watched Courtney play the game with cold-blooded precision for 13 episodes, and suffering from Circle withdrawal after having finished the final episode (plus, the completely useless David Spade-hosted watch-party episode), I was eager to get the tea from him about what living in The Circle was like behind the scenes, as well as learn whether there’s another side of Courtney that was left on the cutting room floor.
Rolling Stone: What was your strategy like upon coming into The Circle? Like, what did you learn from watching the previous season?
Courtney: Watching Season One, it appeared to be a game about bonds. You create these bonds with people, and from what I saw, whoever had the strongest and most genuine bond became the winner, and that’s why Joey [Sasso, the congenial Italian American winner of Season One) won. By the time I had eventually gotten into The Circle, I had actually watched the U.K. Season One and, while I was in isolation, I had watched the second season. So I thought to myself, “I don’t think that this is going to be as friendly as the previous season was.” So I kind of went into it saying, “OK, well, let me test the waters and not do too much in the beginning.” But I knew once Ikar [contestant Bryant Wood] went home that it was not going to be like that first season, and I needed to step it up.
What gave you that impression that it was going to be tonally so different from the first season?
For me, I think it was the fact that Ikar had told us so many good things about himself [such as taking in a homeless friend]. Looking back, I bought into it. I was fully on the Ikar train. They don’t show it, but I was like, “Oh, my God, he sounds great. He would be a great friend.” I rated him first and then, like, he was last. And I was like, “OK, something’s going wrong here.” It didn’t seem like I was on the same wavelength as everyone else. Right. Because they were thinking probably, you know, he’s so good that we would never want him to get further, because he really is a great guy. I knew from the time that Ikar was on his way out that something had to change, that I needed to make more connections. And once Ikar was gone, I was able to build that with Savannah.
The game was so much more cutthroat this season — did you think that was a function of casting, or the personalities that they brought in? Why do you think it changed so much?
It’s evolution, right? You kind of see how it’s done one way, but then you just have people that go into it the second time thinking, “OK, well, I can just say this and create a ‘bond’” — and I’m using air quotes. And then it becomes more tactical than genuine. We all went in there wanting to win and we all had really strong reasons for wanting to win.
So how did you figure out who to align with? Were you strategic from the get-go or was it basically just who you vibed with first?
For me, it was who I vibed with. I saw Savanah’s profile and I was like, “Ooh, 2000s R&B,” and even with Ikar, he just sounded like a rather peaceful and gentle and genuinely good guy. I was just going off of who I felt like I could have a lot in common with. And although they didn’t show it in the beginning or really at all, I really was kind of about Terilisha in the beginning because I was like, “Oh, she’s smart. I need to be aligned with her because she’s smart.”
I want to talk more about Terilisha, but I have questions. I’m sure you get this all the time: Do they encourage you to use hashtags or do you guys just use them organically?
OK, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’m admittedly cringe, like how I talk on the show in terms of texts is kind of, like, how I talk to my friends. I love a good hashtag, I’m not gonna front. I use a lot, a lot, a lot of emojis. I didn’t realize that it was so “cringe,” quote-unquote, until I saw, like, the public’s reaction being like, “Why are they using so many hashtags?” I was like “oop” [laughs]. But they didn’t encourage me. I was doing it anyway. This is how I talk.
Do they edit out any of the conversations or is there a time cap to how long the conversations are allowed to be?
They definitely edit out conversations. I wouldn’t say that there was a time limit, but definitely once the conversation is organically starting to end, then they’re like, “All right, this will be like the last couple of messages. Go off.”
Was there any conversation that the editors cut that you wish they hadn’t?
Yes, very much. There were two conversations. One, specifically, I wish that they would have kept was a conversation I had with Deleesa near the beginning of the game, right after Savannah had left. And I was praising Trevor because throughout the game we had seen Trevor be so proud of being a dad, and as someone that was abandoned by his biological father, it really meant a lot to see at the time who I perceived to be this man, the father, being so proud. And we kind of leaned on each other in that moment, and we built that camaraderie. [I] think they cut it out because it just was a conversation, it wasn’t like a major alliance-building moment. I thought it was important, but maybe in the context of the story they were trying to tell it was not important because you all didn’t hear anything about my dad until almost the end of the game, even though I talked about my dad the entire time I was there. I wish that they had shown that because I feel like a lot of the emotional and humanizing things that I did in the game hit the editing-room floor — but for the sake of story.
The other thing that I wish we would have seen was our Southern Queens chat, where I was trying to get Khat and Terilisha on my side before I became the influencer. What happened is: Y’all saw Khat come to me and River in the Southern Queens chat, but it was a continuation of the Southern Queens chat that I created with the four of us before she got blocked. It was to get Khat and Terilisha on my side and to have them as numbers. And looking back, that’s how I became the influencer during that round.
People were really struck by how quickly you bonded with Savannah and how much animosity that you subsequently felt for Terilisha. Was that a product of editing or did you actually feel that way?
I love reality TV, right? I love it all. Flavor of Love, the Tiffany Pollard, that’s my jam when it comes to reality TV! I didn’t feel anything in terms of anger or animosity towards Terilisha at all, period. What happened was, in Savannah’s initial conversation, I found out that she was my neighbor, so she literally lived like less than five minutes away. And we had built this close bond because we were like, you know, the #valleygirls. And I felt like, well, damn, she doesn’t have any reason to lie to me. And I haven’t even had any major interaction with Terilisha. Why would she want me gone? So it was bad timing that right after I had heard these things from Savannah about Terilisha wanting me out, that Terilisha had wanted to speak with me. Now, this is where things get a little bit tricky, because what I was looking for from Terilisha was the same kind of connecting conversation I had with Savannah, where we just kiki to the ki-ki-ki, as I would say. But instead, she took the opportunity to just speak negatively about Savannah, like the entire conversation. There was nothing really too much in the conversation that was trying to get to know me, and that’s why I was so dismissive of her at the time. But we spoke and we became friends after that and y’all didn’t see that [laughs].
In actually watching the show, do you still feel that Terilisha was still in the wrong in her fight with Savannah?
I think that both of them just were victims of miscommunication. When you are in that apartment and it is just you and it is silent, your mind goes in so many different directions, you can perceive any thing any way. I think that they both just misunderstood each other. And it sucks that it blew up for both of them.
There was a lot of tension between the two of them at the finale. Are they cool now?
I’m not too sure, to be honest. When I see Savannah, it is Courtney and Savannah time. We’ve been trying to get these TikToks out there, cranking them out. But we are all in a group chat and we do all speak in the group chat.
Even Mitchell? My heart broke for Mitchell after the way you and River bullied him during the Circle awards [in which he was voted “Best Performance” and “Biggest Kiss-Ass”].
[Laughs] I swear on my life, I’m seeing him in 60 minutes. Oh, my God, we are literally fine. Me, him, and Savannah, and Jack are all going out right after this. He was like, “I was saying so much about you. When you see the show, please don’t be mad.” I was like, “They probably not even gonna show half of it because I was over there screaming, ‘We’re gonna put Mitch in a ditch. Operation Mitch in a Ditch!” [Laughs] ‘Cause we weren’t talking to each other! And if it’s near the end of the game and there’s someone that you haven’t really built any kind of personal connection with, and then he comes to you on the last day, it’s like, “Girl, we’re going to the finals, I have no time.”
But then he approaches you guys, and you’re so friendly to him to his face, even while you’re planning to take him out. Did you feel bad about that at all, being so performatively friendly to people you had no intention of protecting?
It’s the nature of the game. I didn’t sit up there being like, “Miss Emily, girl, you are so fake.” No! I’m gonna say, “Yes, girl, we’re gonna hang out girl,” and kiki. Maybe the way I acted on this show at certain points was a little jarring and insensitive. But I think that by the time we get to Circle season six, I’m going to look like Meow Mix to the boys and girls of the world, because I think it’s going to be like “Off with her head” by the time we get to that point. I just think that it’s that kind of game. It’s a cutthroat strategy game that’s masqueraded as this friendship thing, and it’s not to me. That’s not how I perceive it any longer. It’s “Get your money time.”
You’ve been called the villain of The Circle. Do you think that’s warranted or did you go in thinking that you’d play that role?
Listen … I did not go into The Circle being like, “I’m going to try to be the villain.” What I did try to do was be entertaining and try to show all dimensions of me. I was happy. I was sad. I was funny. I was bubbly. Did y’all see every dimension of Courtney? Of course not, because it is not “The Courtney Show.” So it’s unfortunate that some people see me as the villain, but I think to have a powerful story, there has to be some “evil” with every good. And I think because I became the “villain,” it made Deleesa’s win even sweeter for the viewers. And I can’t be mad at that because I know that I would have been rooting for me. But when that number one turned around and Deleesa’s name came up, I would have jumped off my couch. I get it.
Is there anything people have said on social media about you that has been particularly hurtful or that you think has misrepresented you in some way?
The only thing that has hurt my feelings is the fact that there have been misstatements around me being anti-black, which I most definitely am not. I love black people. I love women. And I’m not a misogynist. I love black women. That is my life. I come from a black woman. I had my black mom on the screen. I love all black women. It’s unfortunate that the perception of me has been that because of the way I reacted to the circumstances of the game, with the information I received. As far as I knew, Terelisha wanted me out of the game. So why would I keep her in the game? The same thing with Khat: It was a circumstance where she was coming for an alliance that I was trying to help be part of a movement to take to the end of the game. It wasn’t about me not trying to connect with the beautiful, strong black women on the show. It’s just that in that moment, in that circumstance, I viewed them as obstacles in the way of me trying to get $100,000 for my sick father. But I’ve moved on from it because I know what my truth is.
How did you come up with your strategy when you became the Joker?
I didn’t have much time. I would say I probably had 10 minutes. You’re sitting there and it comes up on the screen and it’s like, “Courtney, what are you gonna do? What is your plan?” It was a now-or-never moment. I could either be nice, and what I as a viewer would perceive to be as boring, or are we gonna turn up? And I chose to turn up. What would I do if I were at home watching? And I was like, “All right, that’s what I’m gonna do. Get the snakes out my garden” [laughs]. Look at it from my perspective: I haven’t seen nobody but Savannah, I’ve only been able to really to talk to Savannah and Ikar [a.k.a. contestant Bryant] at the point that I am now the Joker. I’m finding out that not only has Savannah spoken to three other people, but she’s also been part of a whole-ass alliance that I’m not part of. And it’s only been like a few days in the game. So why would I want to leave that huge alliance that I’m not part of, that I just found out about, that they don’t know I know about? Why would I just want to leave that dormant and for them to stick around and eventually maybe get me out? No, we gonna stir it up, because then if I cause chaos and confusion among them, then maybe they’ll come and want to be on my side. River, Chloe, and I had been a strong alliance, but I knew that should anything happen to River, I wanted to have some sort of alternate alliance.
Why did you not rank River as number one in the finals, and how did he feel when he saw you ranked him so low while he’d ranked you number one?
There’s no way that I could have rated him higher than what I did. [Laughs] There’s no way! From my perspective in the game, I felt like Chloe may have rated River higher than myself, so to cancel that out, I wanted to rate him lower. It wasn’t a personal thing at all. I told Lee before we even found out who the winner was. We were backstage about to walk out, and he was like, “What did you rate me?” I was like, “Mm-hmm, I rated you number three. I ain’t even gonna lie.” And he was like, “Oh, I knew it [laughs]. At the end of the day, people online are upset that I did that, but they don’t know that Lee calls me every single day just to say that he loves me. That’s my sis.
It was so devastating to watch, because it made it seem like River had been so much more invested in this relationship.
And didn’t it make it all the sweeter that I lost? [Laughs] That’s the whole point! They didn’t show the part where they’re asking me, “Oh, what will you do if River is a catfish?” And I’m like, “I don’t care. I need to know who’s behind all that hair.” I knew there was a beautiful person behind whoever it was, and I didn’t care who. But of course, all you see is, “I’m putting my bestie third, no money for you.” He’s really a sweetheart. They did a great job casting, because I have a friend for life after this experience.
Were you surprised when you didn’t win, given how strategically you’d played the game? Because I was absolutely convinced you were going to win. My husband and I stayed up till two in the morning plotting it out, like “River has to rank Courtney this” and “Trevor has to rank Chloe this,” and we just couldn’t foresee a scenario where either you or possibly River didn’t win.
Really? Thank you. See, you got to know about those reality-TV edits, girl, because once I started watching it, I was like, “OK, I see they set this up so people could be all right with me losing this right now” [laughs].
At what point while you were playing the game did you realize you weren’t going to win this?
I would say probably not too long after the Circle awards [in which the players anonymously gave awards to each other for categories like “Biggest Kiss-Ass”]. And it was a good day. I just remember feeling like, “I don’t know. I’ve already made it this far, but I don’t know.” I was feeling like Chloe was going to win. I was like, “I think Chloe’s about to snatch that coin,” and I would have been all right with that. I would have honestly been all right with any of us winning just because I do love all of us. And that’s the truth.
Is there anything that you would have done differently in playing the game?
I think even if I did anything differently, I would have been blocked. I wouldn’t even made it to the finale. I think it happened exactly how it needed to happen. Granted, I wanted the money and I needed the money, but as a reality-TV fan, I love the thought of Deleesa entering the Circle bike as her husband. She has this family and has this, quote-unquote, romance with the young lady, the British rose from another show. And all throughout the game, she’s got these messy queens hanging about and she’s able to kind of be cool with everyone. And at the end, she gives it her best effort to get her messy queens out and we take out that ally [Mitchell], and just when you think Trevor doesn’t have it in the bag, Courtney is just a little bit too strategic, River thinks just a little bit too much with his heart, Chloe is just the beautiful British rose that she is, and Trevor is able to snatch the crown for her and her family and her upcoming child. That is a beautiful story. Are you kidding me? I’ll take the villain role, if it means a story like that gets told. I’ll take it.
This season, I found myself sort of going back and forth about what the key to winning The Circle is and what that says about social media in general. So I’m wondering: What do you think is the key to winning The Circle, and what do you think that says about social media?
I think that it shows that those who are pure of heart, regardless of what they look like, should and will eventually always win. Even though Deleesa was a catfish, she was still very pure, she was still funny, loving, sensitive, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. She just possessed all of the qualities of what a true influencer should be, in my opinion.
But she lied left and right!
Yeah, but I feel like if you have a good reason, is it really that bad?
From Rolling Stone US