We Interviewed The Outspoken, Spiritual Dallas Native From Netflix’s Binge-Worthy Social Media Reality Competition On What Being On The Show’s Really Like.
The year may be young, but there’s a better-than-zero chance that the best show of 2020 has already aired.
On January 1, Netflix launched into the feeds of millions of American households a new reality TV competition show called The Circle. Inspired by the U.K. show of the same name and premise, The Circle centers around an objectively obnoxious, eye-roll of premise.
In simplest terms, it’s a social media reality competition. But, really, it plays out more like Big Brother filtered through an episode of Black Mirror, like some sort of Catfish– and Saw-infused take on The Real World, with just the right amount of crazy and self-awareness thrown in to be just perfect for these post-innocence times in which we live.
Throughout the run of the show, The Circle‘s contestants all live inside of one building, but in separate apartments wholly secluded from one another. The players’ sole interactions with their competition come through a mysterious social media app called The Circle, which is where the real gambit of the whole thing comes into play: Because they never meet one another, the stars of the show can choose to be themselves or, in the case of more than just a few of its contestants, as entirely made-up, catfish personalities.
While the audience is in on these ploys from the jump, the players aren’t, and throughout a series of competitions and interactions, they’re tasked with trying to win over the real (or perhaps just perceived) approval of their fellow participants. More or less each episode climaxes with the players ranking their counterparts’ social media profiles from most to least likable, with the top two vote-getters becoming “influencers” who have the power to block one of their competitors from the rest of the show’s run. New players then get swapped into the game in place of the blocked ones, and the whole process repeats and continues along until a final voting round comes and the top-voted contestant at the end is given a $100,000 grand prize.
It’s impossibly dumb and stupid, yes. But it’s also bonkers in a truly enjoyable way, and at the same time surprisingly revelatory about the ways in which we perceive one another in this Very Online society we’ve built.
Presented to U.S. audiences as a three-week “event” in which Netflix released four of the shows’s 12 total episodes at a time, there’s a real innocence to the proceedings of this first season of the show. Whereas future seasons will undoubtedly feature craftier players with more detailed strategies, this debut offering found the cast figuring the show out at the same time as its audience did.
Included in this cast is Dallas native Chris Sapphire. One of the show’s clear breakout stars, Chris’ run on the show was at-times frustrating (he’s too nice!) and hilarious (maybe he’s not that nice!), but always refreshing, considering his proclivity for speaking his mind and his truth.
Following the publishing of The Circle‘s first-season last week, Chris was kind enough to indulge us in a chat about his journey to and through and beyond the show, about how connected he really felt to his fellow players and about why he’d probably bring a vibrator with him if he were to do the whole thing over again.
Chris! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! How are you?
Oh, I’m wonderful! I’m wonderful! I’m on cloud nine!
So, I imagine my introduction to the show was like a lot of other people’s. I didn’t really know anything about it beforehand, and then it just kind of popped up in my Netflix feed one day, and I was like, “What the hell is this?” So I hit play — and then I was just immediately drawn in. And now I’ve been seeing the show everywhere. Just to start off, can you kind of walk me through what that blow-up has been like?
I’ll tell you this much: It’s like how Miley Cyrus she came in like a wrecking ball — but I came in like a disco ball! [Laughs.] For me, I was just so excited when I heard that this was going to launch on January 1, 2020 — because, like, what a fantastic way to start the new year off! But, no, I had no idea it was going to be this big. It’s just been piling on, and piling on since its debut. Like, it’s just kept getting bigger and bigger! One moment, it’s like, “Oh, I’m in People magazine.” And then the next day I’m hearing, “Chris, now you’re in Oprah’s magazine!” And then it’s, “Chris, now you’re in Times Square — and your face is up there on a billboard with the rest of the cast!” It’s just like, “Wow! What is going on?!?!?!”
Did you have any sense of that coming at all? Because Netflix is huge, obviously. You had to have some sense, right?
Well, yes, Netflix is massive. And I knew that! I had a taste of Netflix because I made a little cameo in my good friend Alyssa Edwards’ Netflix show, Dancing Queen. So I had gotten a taste of that. But this level? It’s so humongous. Everything since it started airing has just been a whirlwind. Like, I did know that The Circle was a huge hit in the United Kingdom. But bringing it to America, we didn’t know if it’s going to catch on with the public like it has. And, boy, did they love it!
Can you give me a sense of just like the overall timeline of this whole thing? I know it launched a couple of weeks ago, but when was it filmed? When did the audition process start? Like, how long has this been part of your life?
Oh, my goodness. This has been going on for months now — the last few months, I’d say. I want to say the audition and everything was before August. It started when I got a call from my good Judy, who was like, “Hey, there’s this casting call for this show called The Circle, and I think you’d be perfect for it.” So, I thought, “OK, well, let me look at it. I’ll give it a look when I get a chance.” So, I did, and I applied, and I just thought, “Well, y’know, if it’s God’s will, let’s see what happens.” And, boy, I kept getting a callback and a callback and a callback — until it was “Hey, Chris, you’re on your way to The Circle!” And I just said, “Oh, my gosh, look at God.” And so I fly out to the set, and what a joy! What a joy to be there. We filmed through pretty much all of August, I want to say. And since then, it’s just been a top secret. But once the news came out, I feel like Gayborhood here in Dallas has done collectively lost its mind!
Like, as soon as the show started popping off, I feel like everyone else I’ve spoken with in Dallas that has been watching it has been saying, “There’s this guy Chris from Dallas on it, and I swear I’ve been in the same room as that dude before! Like, I don’t know from where, but I recognize him.” So I researched it some, and it makes sense: You’re definitely like this Man About Town, and you’ve got some TV experience on top of that. Can you tell me a little bit about your background prior to The Circle, and what you were up to these last few years?
My life is a Forrest Gump story, truly! I started my career actually in social media — so this is why The Circle so important to me, really. It’s a full circle! I did that for about 10 years. I actually really started out as a makeup artist before that, and I was doing makeup all around town, and a lot of photographers were like, “Hey, we want to take photos of you, actually!” It was back in those days — like, the scene days. I was really piling it on and walking around like Grace Jones back then! Through that, my MySpace was getting a lot of traction, and because of that traction, I ended up landing an audition for a show out of Dallas called “The MZ Live Show” — it’s this podcast-type, Internet radio show — and I did that for many, many years, and I got to interview celebrities and grow and really develop who I was as a personality. After I left that, I ended up getting a contract with the World of Wonder people, who produce RuPaul’s Drag Race, making content online for them — just drag everything. Then I figured I needed to make some money! [Laughs.] So I went into medical billing reporting with my best friend, and did that for a while, and made the money I needed. But, as I told my friend, I just felt like, “Y’know what? I have a feeling that God is telling me it’s time to leave this job and I’m going to go land a TV gig.”
So I left that job, worked really hard on my YouTube, and next thing you know, a producer at The CW here in Dallas took me out for an audition to see if I was interested in doing some TV pop culture reporting? That was only supposed to be a one time thing, but by the time I got back home, they asked if I was interested in doing this for the rest of the year. So I joined up with their morning show Eye Opener, and I did that for a year — and at one point, some girl was on a one-week vacation and they had me anchoring the main news on the main desk! Like, damn! I never got to college to study journalism or communications, and I’m in the fifth largest media market in the country hosting a morning news program? My crazy ass from YouTube? Talk about God is good! He’s up there, laughing! [Laughs.] So I did that, and that opened a new door with Alyssa Edwards on Dancing Queen. And now, The Circle, which is about social media — and that’s where I began.
Throughout the audition process, you were hip to the fact that it was social media game, right?
And that’s what drew you to the project? Or was it just the next logical step in your journey?
Well, I’m a very spiritual person, and I feel like when things come your way and you feel compelled, it’s God saying, “This is the next step.” So, when I started learning more and more about it and applied and started getting these callbacks, things started clicking in my mind. I was like, “This is social media-based, and I started on social media. Whoa! This is kind of crazy, Chris! I could really go into this!” And once I started praying about that, it was just, “This is it. This is definitely God!”
After the morning news program ended, I was freelancing and doing digital graphics and selling paintings because I’m also an artist. But this was just, y’know, “Lord, lead the way!” And now that I’m back and seeing my social media exploding like I’d never experienced before. It’s wild! People are writing me from Saudi Arabia, from places in Europe, from Africa, from New Zealand and Australia — and a lot of people from Canada! And there are big stars watching, too! It felt really beautiful having a lot of the famous RuPaul’s Drag Race queens reaching out and showing support to me because a lot of them have millions of followers. I just felt like that community was rallying behind me, and it’s such a beautiful thing. I’m glad that my time on The Circle has been so positive — because of my spirituality, because I’m a gay man who believes in God and Christ, and that’s something a lot of people haven’t seen before. And I’m Hispanic from Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove! Like, c’mon: PG and Oak Cliff! What!
One thing about your portrayal on the show is that — you’re right! — it did feel like you were just very unabashedly you. Authentic, but also bold and brash and flashy. And that’s all very Dallas! Like, I noticed at one point on the screen, you shared the hashtag #throwdatassinacircle, which is a reference to a song by Dallas rapper Lil Ronny MothaF. Did you ever consider any other option for how you were going to play the game? Or was it always about being yourself?
Well, let me tell you: I kind of suffer from a bad memory! [Laughs.] So, I said, “I’m not gonna go on this show and try to pretend to be some other hoe or somebody else — because these people are all gonna clock me real soon!” So I said, “Hey, I’ve been me since I was born. I don’t know how to do nobody else. I don’t know how to strut in anybody else’s shoes. I’m just going to work it, do me, and let’s see how this goes. Like, Jesus, take the wheel, take the wing, take it all!” And so to have made it that far? And to represent Dallas? I feel like an unofficial ambassador of Dallas every time I travel — whether to L.A., New York or wherever I’ve gone in the past. I’m always telling people that Dallas is the bomb. I love this city. It, to me, is the all mighty tea. I love it! I love Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, which is where I’m from. I went to Booker T Washington. I went to Sunset. I went to Greiner. Like, I went on The Circle thinking, “I’m gonna show people that the D is thick in Dallas — and I’m going to put the spotlight on Reunion Tower! Like, here we go!” [Laughs.].
Was it difficult at all, just given the constraints of the production, to be yourself? Because I imagine there was a lot of downtime. Can you walk me through what it’s like to actually be on the show? I know you’re interacting with these people through The Circle app — but that can’t be all day, can it? Are you sitting around at that apartment for hours on end with nothing to do?What’s it like?
So, heads up to everybody wanting to be on Season Two of The Circle if, God willing, there is one: Bring some books! Bring some puzzles! Bring your vibrator! [Laughs.] Do something! Not to give too much of the magic away, but there’s downtime in anything, y’know? This might sound very Tina Turner or whatever, but I was really in there meditating most of the time! And that big-ass notebook that I had? Everyone keeps asking if I was taking notes on the players. But I was really in there writing my Bible verses! All the time!
It’s very clear that you’re a very spiritual person. But was that just a way to center yourself through the madness of the game?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely. Because, when you’re in The Circle, it’s a very psychological game. A lot of thoughts can go through your mind. You don’t know if you can trust these people. You don’t know if they’re real. You don’t know if they’re out to get you. You don’t know! The Circle is a psychological game! And I’m so grateful that I had God as a backbone, as a rock, as something in my spirit that is bigger than me — just to lean on so it could quiet and still my mind, keep me confident, keep me Zen, keep me going. So, it warms my heart when people from all over the world are writing me and talking about this, like, “Bitch, you never broke character! You stayed authentic the whole time!” Yes, I did. Because God is the rock in my life, and I’m honestly just a puppet. God is using me for something bigger. I really mean it when I say glory to God — because everything that I did accomplish on the show that people are feeling or vibing or seeing in me? That’s all God, honey. I’m just the vessel! [Laughs.]
Watching the show, there’s an almost God-like way in which The Circle is overlooking everything with you guys. I don’t mean that blasphemously in any way, but guys don’t have your cell phones, you’re not watching TV, you’re not on the Internet and the app is kind of your one connection to the outside world. To that end, are there aspects of the connections with the other players and your interactions and the conversations that you’re having that we’re not seeing? Like, one thing that really stood out to me was just how quickly the bonding between players happens. I don’t know if we saw necessarily the depth of the conversation that took place, and I’m wondering if there was more to the conversations than just the, like, five messages back and forth that we were seeing as an audience.
Oh, yes! Of course! There’s definitely so many more conversations that were had. But, y’know, this is only like a 45-minute show.
How much of the day were you really talking to people, then? Like, the whole day or just a little?
The Circle is active from the moment you get up, honey! Like, get your helmet on because it’s time to play ball. Those alerts from The Circle — all that stuff that pops up out of nowhere, and you better be ready to play. There were times when I’m over there, frying some chicken and trying to make me some bootleg nachos or something, and that alert comes on, and then you’ve got to decorate a cake or now you’ve got to paint. It was off the chain, dude. I really felt like I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And you felt like the connections you were making were real?
Yes, definitely. As you continue to play the game in The Circle, you start feeling that vibe. You’re like, “Wait, wait, wait. This is a real queen right here. This is for real.” For example, on the show, you’ll see that me and Mercedez have a very unique bond — not only because we are both part of the LGBTQIA+ community but because we genuinely had a real connection. That was real. When she walked in [and wasn’t who she looked like in the pictures she used in her profile], all that you see is real — like, my face was cracked! It was hella real. But it’s also like I said on the show. I said, “I don’t care if this is a catfish person. I’m in love with whoever I’m talking to — because they were so much fun.” Karen, aka Mercedez, she really was so much fun. And there were some conversations that didn’t air that were me and her just really bonding. Like, so many things. We were key-keying over Ts Madison, who’s a famous Internet personality, and we were just bonding over so much. So when she walked in, it was just: Oh my God! And then, instantly, I embraced her because I was so happy about seeing her. Like, I don’t wanna cuss too much, but I didn’t give a fudge! We just get sat there and key-keyed and cut up, and I wish I had a big ol’ bottle of Grey Goose or Patron with me then, because we would’ve stayed talking!
Have you been maintaining contact with your fellow players in the wake of all this? Because I imagine they’re the only ones to really know what this experience has truly been like.
Yes! For everybody out there wanting to know, we talk every day. I talk with all of the players every day. We’re all in a group chat, a private group that we all talk in. And it’s a beautiful thing because no one can really prepare you for this much traffic, this much attention. There is no class for it. And to have all of them to lean on, it’s a huge help. It’s almost like we’re the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls — and just, y’know, conquering the world. It’s wonderful to have somebody to talk to you, like, “How you holding up? How you doing?” Or if some of the players are getting any negative comments, just to lift their spirits up and be like, “Don’t worry about all that. Look where God is taking you! Focus on the love — because there’s too much love to focus on instead of that one or two or three people who aren’t happy with their lives.” So it’s a beautiful thing to have Scary Spice and Ginger Spice and all them to lean on! [Laughs.]
So, speaking on all that love you just touched, I imagine that even life in Dallas for you must be a little bit different right now. Like, have you been able to go out at all? Are people recognizing you in the wake of The Circle‘s explosion?
That’s a really good question. I haven’t really stepped out much since, y’know, The Circle‘s been airing, and that’s just because I’ve been here at home, doing house things, and I haven’t really had time to go out too much. But I went to CVS a few days ago, and I was really recognized at the CVS on Lake June and Buckner here in Pleasant Grove right by where I live. It was crazy. And then, just yesterday, I was to Town East Mall — and, like, so many people were stopping me! It was insane. There’s a shoe store I go to there where I buy a lot of my glittery shoes, and I was talking to my friend who works there about how things have changed so fast, and then this girl just runs up and starts screaming at me! And I was just like, “See? Speaking of the wildness! Here it goes!” Then, last Saturday on The Strip, I stepped out for the first time and I walked into my bar, my favorite bar, TMC — I call that my home bar — and people were stopping me for pictures, and all the homies were like, “Girl, I’m so proud of you!”
Like, a lot of people in the Dallas Gayborhood have known me for years from the things I’ve done on YouTube or the radio show or Eye Opener, but the girl is still the girl! It just feels so beautiful to have all your good Judies rally behind you and be so proud of you. Like, for many years, I relied on a lot of people in the gay community to lift me up. They’d be like, “Chris, one day, your big break is coming. We can see. It’s just it’s meant for you, man. It’s meant for you!” So, they’re all so happy, and so proud. And I’m so grateful that I’ve got to go on the show, and represent not only the LGBT community, but the Hispanic community, the Christian community and, never the least, Dallas, honey! The Big D!
So it sounds like you’re enjoying all that attention then?
It is something that, at first, when I started seeing the social media take off, was a lot. Because I started, once I got back from The Circle, with only like 4,700 followers or something. That’s it. And, y’know, I would cut up and key-key on my Instagram, but then I started seeing it go up. Like, first I hit 10,000 followers, and I thought that was crazy. And now that I’m on my way to 150,000? I said, “Jesus!” Now, I’ve digested it. I’ve accepted it. I’m no longer overwhelmed by it. It’s just interesting because the fans all accepted me just the way I am. I didn’t go there and put on a character. I didn’t do anything else. It was just me. And how beautiful? How beautiful is that? You’re being accepted just as you are. Like, they saw me without makeup! They saw me with crazier, fuller makeup. They saw me in all my forms, even when I was just getting out of bed or even when I was crying. And they love what they saw. What a blessing and a miracle.
I imagine this has to open up some opportunities and some additional doors for you. So what’s next? Where do you go from here?
I’m going to take this opportunity to put it out into God’s beautiful universe: I am ready to spice up my life and the world. I’m ready for it all. I’ve always dreamed of having my own makeup line, my own clothing line. And I always — always! — above all would love to have my own salsa line, my own hot sauce brand. I am addicted to spicy food, and I am ready to put all the other salsas to shame. And, not only that, but I want to be able to provide for my family, my mom, my dad — and that’s all on The Circle, y’know? So we’re praying and asking God. Like, y’know how he parted that Red Sea for Moses? It’s time to part it again! [Laughs.] And since we’re on the subject, I would love my own talk show. Oh, I’m just putting it all out there, huh? [Laughs.]
Since our interview, pop star Sia has reached out to Chris on social media and offered to help his family pay for medical treatments for his mother.