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The Circle’s Quori-Tyler Bullock on Whether the Most Threatening Players Can Ever Win

The Circle

One of the joys of watching reality competition shows is seeing how they evolve over time, adding new dimensions to the game and offering avenues for new ways of playing. Sometimes, that means new twists: Survivor introduced Hidden Immunity Idols in Season 11 and the “Shot in the Dark” mechanic in Season 41, and both have totally shifted the way players vote during tribal council. Other times, individual players provide new models for intricate strategy: Big Brother’s Nakomis Dedmon pioneered the “backdoor” strategy that became commonplace after its first use in Season 5.

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While Netflix’s social media competition series The Circle might not feel as strategy-intensive as those longer-running series, it has undergone its own evolution since its first season in 2020, retaining its relaxed hang-out feel while featuring much more deliberate strategizing. In the show’s sixth season, former NBA and NFL dancer Quori-Tyler (QT) Bullock became the latest player to push that envelope: by consciously manipulating her fellow players, even during seemingly trivial icebreaker games, she carefully maneuvered her way to the end. From forming the Tres Fuego alliance to shutting down secret Influencer Jordan Staff by refusing to block who he wanted to block, Bullock is unquestionably one of the series’ most powerful puppet masters—a phrase she has used to describe herself since the first episode. It’s no wonder her threat level prevented her from clinching the win, ending in third place.

TIME spoke with Bullock about the show’s evolving strategy, what it’s like to watch your experience play out on-screen, and hopes for her next foray into reality TV.

Read more: The Circle Season 6 Gave The Traitors a Run for Its Money

TIME: How have you been feeling since the finale dropped on Wednesday?

Bullock: I’m feeling really good, even though I didn’t win. I went in as a super-fan, and I did the show justice. I did exactly what I wanted to go in there and do. I checked everything off my Circle bucket list. I wouldn’t have changed anything that I did.

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What has the response been like over the course of the season?

The response to me has been a little bit mixed. I think a lot of people who like strategy and that cutthroat kind of play really like how I played the game, so I’m getting a lot of love in that respect. But The Circle is so many different things to different people. The show started out as this popularity contest, but also a chance for different personalities and people who would’ve never gotten together to become friends. But I went in with a game plan and didn’t care about all of that. It’s definitely been the most strategic season, from what everyone’s saying. In my eyes, that’s a good thing, but some people like the OG friendship kind of vibe.

It’s always interesting to see how the strategy evolves in any reality competition show like this. Where do you think the show can go next? Are there untapped sources of strategy?

I like when people have a different perspective of the game. That’s kind of what I brought to it. I thought about some things a little differently. During the game where we had to make paintings, I was like, “Well, I need to make a painting and frame someone else”—using the tools that you have in The Circle to navigate the game in a way that’s going to get you to the top. I’m interested to see if the next players use any of this stuff in their strategy. Hopefully people will prep even more going into it, watching these past seasons and getting an idea of how they can use things that other people have done.

During the final ranking, you can clearly see that everyone really respected your consistent control of the game, and most voted you lower as a result. Is there any way to avoid your fate when you’re already perceived as a big threat?

That’s the hardest part about The Circle. I had a really strong hold on the game the entire time until I got that second Influencer position at the very end when I was No. 1. I felt like there was no way I could win the game anymore. I was too much of a threat, too much of a target. I know how the final ratings always go: the people that have been at the top the whole time end up being at the bottom in the final rankings. I was way too far in front the whole game. That’s something interesting that I would like to see a player do in seasons to come: to be on top at the same game and still manage to win. We haven’t really seen that—maybe [Season 2 winner] DeLeesa [St. Agathe]. It rarely happens.

I wanted to be out in front the whole time in the beginning. I wanted to be Influencer, I wanted to be making the decisions of who goes home so that it would create a path for me to get to the end. But then when you’re doing that, how do you fall back down to the middle? I tried to do that by not having as many conversations as I was in the beginning. But when people feel comfortable with you, they feel comfortable with you. It’s a double-edged sword. And at this point, no one is ever going to really rate the person that actually is the most popular to win at the end.

What was it like to watch yourself back on screen?

Obviously I did NBA, I did NFL cheerleading, so I’ve been on TV before in the dance aspect. It used to feel like Hannah Montana moments. When I was in uniform, everybody wants to take my picture and cares about me. As soon as I take that uniform off, no one cares about me. I become invisible. But now it’s actually who I am, Quori-Tyler, on screen. It makes me feel vulnerable. I know so many people are watching it and seeing me, so it’s a little bit weird, but I think I love it, as a fan of it all.

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It must be interesting to see what was happening in the other apartments while you were there. Is there anything new or surprising you learned?

That was my favorite part of watching it back. When you’re in there, you feel like the main character, and you think everything you’re doing will be shown on TV. Something random I was really shocked about: when I said the “abs by AI” thing about Kyle, I was saying it as a joke. “His abs look so good, they must be fake.” Seeing everyone’s reaction to it—everyone was like, “Oh my gosh, QT, how could you say that?” Whenever you’re texting anyone, you don’t know the tone they’re reading it in. That was a great example of how things can be misconstrued depending on how you read it in someone else’s voice.

What did you make of Jordan’s gameplay? It’s kind of wild to see the lengths he went in his obsession with getting Myles out.

It was so wild to watch. In the game, I clocked Jordan’s game the most out of everyone that was there. I saw what he was doing, I saw that we played very similarly. I had a feeling he was also a fan of these shows, and I respected it. “He’s doing exactly what he needs to do.” When he came for me and Myles, I was like, “Makes sense. He should.” But watching it now, he was like a dog with a bone. He would not let go of the Myles thing. There was a chance for him to pivot once he saw that Myles wasn’t becoming Influencer again. Myles wasn’t as on top as Jordan thought he was, which, I don’t even know why he thought he was so on top. It was an interesting take. It would’ve been smarter if Jordan did what he did to Myles to me.

Especially since he had Myles’s trust already.

Exactly. Even within Tres Fuego, it’s interesting he went for Myles when Myles was the one protecting him the most. It’s crazy to watch now, but I think when you’re in that game, especially in Jordan’s position, it’s really hard to figure out what you need to do to get yourself to the end and win. He probably just got set on one thing. I think as soon as he thought that was what he needed to do, he was not letting go of it.

Did you have any inspirations for your gameplay, either on previous seasons of The Circle or other reality shows?

Circle specifically, I think DeLeesa played an amazing game. Chaz from last season is one of my favorite players to ever play. He didn’t play with that much strategy—it was more heart—but he did a good job of getting close to as many people as he could while keeping some people at a distance so that when he had to make decisions, he was able to without people feeling betrayed by him. That’s kind of what I tried to do, in a sense. Outside of The Circle, there’s a plethora of people. Dan Gheesling from Big Brother, of course. I love Tyson on Survivor. I love players that are really in there to play the game and don’t play with emotion at all. Janelle in Big Brother, she’s No. 1.

What’s next for you? What other competition shows would you be interested in doing?

I don’t know what’s next. I’m saying this in every interview because I want them to bring me back: I would love to do The Circle again. There’s so much more that I want to show that I can do. I’d love to maybe play a catfish; I don’t think I could ever go in as myself again. But literally any opportunity that comes my way for a show like this. The Traitors—oh my gosh, I would die.

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