The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Y’all know that I am a huge reality tv fan and one of my favorite newer shows is “The Circle” on Netflix. Season 2 of the show wrapped in May 2021 and there were lots of twists and turns that required the contestants to think quickly on their feet and stay on top of their strategies. As the season progressed, I was paying close attention to the Black women in the game and the choices they were making and how other players were responding to them, and thinking a lot about what kind of strategy I might employ if I were to be on a show like this. Needless to say I had lots of questions and who better to help us answer some of these questions than Season 2 winner, Deleesa St Agathe. Deleesa and I chatted about why she chose to go into the game as her husband Trevor, how she prepared for the game, her thoughts about the perception of Black women on reality tv, how she kept herself busy in isolation, and the surprise of finding out she was expecting while filming.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Yves Jeffcoat
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Session 213: In The Circle with DeLeesa
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 213 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode after a quick word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Y'all know that I am a huge reality TV fan and one of my favorite newest shows is The Circle on Netflix. The Circle is a gameshow where the contestants all move into the same apartment building but have no interaction with one another outside of a social media-like app called The Circle. You can enter the game as yourself or as someone else (aka a catfish). The other players only know who you are based on the pictures you share in your circle profile and each week, the contestants rank one another to decide who will be at the top (known as the influencers), and whoever's at the bottom must leave The Circle.
So the whole game is a game of strategizing to try to be the last one left in the circle to win the cash prize. Season 1 of the show premiered in 2020 and Season 2 just wrapped up in May, and they added lots of twists and turns this season. And as I watched the season, I was of course paying attention to the sisters in the game and the choices they were making and how other players were responding to them. And thinking a lot about what kind of strategy might I employ if I were to be on a show like this? And of course, I had a ton of questions.
Here today to talk about her strategies for the game is Season 2 winner, DeLeesa St Agathe. DeLeesa is the founder of two successful online businesses, Be Unique Shop and the Goodie Box store. She's also working on a TV show based around her family and is currently writing a series of children's books. DeLeesa is passionate about building platforms that shine light on uplifting black families, and creating platforms for mothers who are also entrepreneurs.
DeLeesa and I chatted about why she chose to go into the game as her husband Trevor, how she prepared for the game, her thoughts about the perception of black women on reality TV, how she kept herself busy in isolation, and the surprise of finding out she was expecting while filming. I should note that DeLeesa was still pregnant when we recorded our interview but their sweet baby, Tori Sky, has since been born. If there's something that resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: We are so excited to have you here today, DeLeesa.
DeLeesa: Oh, I'm so excited to be here. I'm honored, actually.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, so we are all huge fans of The Circle and we were hooked on Season 1. And then it feels like y'all really came in hot in this second season. And I'm guessing some benefit of like having watched the first season, but it really feels like people came in with their strategies and like how they were planning to win this thing. Much like real your social media. Kind of, social media can be curated and there are some things that are like shiny and not real, and other things are very genuine. And it really feels like you were able to cultivate some real connections with people that lasted even after the finale. Can you say more about like how you feel like you managed to do that?
DeLeesa: Absolutely. Throughout the entire game, I was really being myself. It's redundant to constantly say I was so genuine, but I really was. But when you're speaking to other players in The Circle, that's the only communication you have with like the outside world. So everything is amped up times 100, so when you're talking to somebody and you say “I made a connection,” you really made that connection and it extended beyond the game. For all of us, I think, honestly.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And are you still in contact with any of the players?
DeLeesa: I talk to all the players, I've even communicated with Season 1 cast, everybody is great. I have to say that The Circle is just a different type of reality show and the love really does extend outside the show. The support, the encouragement, the friendships, like we all encourage each other, we promote each other, we chat and gossip, and we're actually friends. I know people probably... I don't know if they don't believe it or it's just taboo, but we really are and it’s really cool.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that is cool because you don't always hear that with reality show casts.
DeLeesa: Definitely not. With reality shows, you always hear like the drama that goes on or like... You know, you can kind of tell sometimes like people are fronting for the show. Like, oh, this group of girls or “oh, we're part of this group,” and it's like, well, we don't see you hanging out like outside the show. I don't get to be there because a lot of them are in LA but there's a lot of pictures of us hanging out, we’re constantly on Instagram Live, we're constantly on video chat, texting each other, facetiming each other. It's true connections for real.
Dr. Joy: I would love to hear more just about your strategy for trying to win the game, which of course you ultimately were successful at. Can you tell us more about your decision to play as your husband Trevor? Was that always the plan?
DeLeesa: I'm a social butterfly. Like I'm the most social probably out of like almost all my friends, like maybe one like we're on the same level. But I'm extremely social, I get along with everybody, anywhere, anytime. I turn a boring time into fun time so I wanted to go in as myself. I was like, oh yeah, I'm gonna go in as myself, we're gonna have a great time, people are gonna love me.
But as I was thinking about it, only the first season was out and I'm just like, Season 2 (which would be the one that I was applying for) is definitely going to be much different. They're going to bring out all the works and people are going to come in with strategy and wanting to win. So I just feel like, based off of my own social media, my own dynamic in life with other people... Like I'm not about drama but I somehow get sucked into it. Just being a woman, being a female, it's very difficult so I'm like, that's probably not the best move. And then I was just staring at my husband and I'm like, I think he would be great.
Like, people love him. Like, even when he does wrong, he's still an angel in everybody's eyes. So I'm just like, oh, yeah, I definitely have to try to go in as him and I think I can get further along being him than being myself. Because for some reason, men aren't sucked into drama as much as women are. Also because I just felt like I wanted to portray the single father aspect, especially as like a black man, because I just think that they don't get enough credit.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I was definitely really impressed by the binder that y'all came up with, it seems like, before you went in. Can you tell us more about that binder?
DeLeesa: Oh, yes. We call it the Catfish Bible, we’ve since come up with a name, #CatfishBible. Everything is in there. It's like HowToBeAMan.com. Like it's crazy. I have sports in there, haircuts, brands of colognes and brands of alcohol, different brands of cars. Like I was not trying to get caught up at all, at all. I have so much sports stuff in there, I since forgot it all but I still have the book so maybe I'll go through that one day.
Dr. Joy: Yeah and they did throw a couple of curveballs this season because there were the challenges, which is how whatshisname got caught up with the makeup challenge and it was very obvious. Jack, yeah. Like it was very obvious like, oh, I don't think that this was a woman doing this.
DeLeesa: Yeah. You know what's funny about that challenge is people were really on to me. And I was surprised because I thought it was just like an arts and crafts thing for me. I didn't even really see it as “oh, I did the makeup so well” because I do makeup. I didn't put any eyeshadow, I didn't really do anything that I would do for my normal face. And because Jack (Emily's) makeup was so bad, it kind of overshadowed my work which I think helped me out, obviously. Oh, you’ve just reminded me of him. Poor Jack, poor Emily.
Dr. Joy: Oh gosh, it was such a bad job.
DeLeesa: I know and he was crying. Oh my god, I feel so bad.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. And that wasn't anything that you could have known because I think, like you mentioned, you anticipated that some things would be different but I don't think anybody anticipated like you would have these challenges that had the potential to out you as being a catfish.
DeLeesa: Exactly. Like you don't know what to expect when you go in there, at all. Even if you try to compare it to Season 1, it was completely different.
Dr. Joy: Right. And how long is the filming? How long were you all there?
DeLeesa: I want to say it was like four to six weeks, probably somewhere in between. Yeah, a long time. We had to quarantine two weeks beforehand and the filming takes up time. Yeah, it was quite a long time.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And so this was already while COVID-19 had started so you likely had already been kind of quarantining at home. So what was that like, kind of having isolation but just in a different situation?
DeLeesa: You know, at first, I'm not gonna lie, it felt peaceful. Because I was always with my daughter, 24/7. 24/7. Even my husband, I think at some point he wound up going back to work so he had a little break and it was just me and her. Listen, you know I love my little girl, I love her so much. But at the same time, it was definitely a breath of fresh air to just be able to like take a bath by myself and like workout and sleep whenever I want and not have to worry about like really anything, like taking care of another little human.
And then obviously, of course I always missed her, I still missed her. But then it just kind of started getting like, okay, I really would like to have some people interaction now, but the game started. So then that really helped me to like stay focused in the game. Like too focused almost.
Dr. Joy: Right. So what kinds of tools did you use to kind of cope with being isolated?
DeLeesa: We had a lot of downtime but we also did not have a lot of downtime. I don't know how to make that make sense. But whenever you're filming something, it's just a lot of like “get ready and wait” type of thing and the filming process takes a while itself. So any downtime that I had, I was really like just making sure my makeup was cute, my wigs were cute, and I had them sitting on my head properly. I was doing puzzles. But a lot of times I was literally staring at the TV like, okay, who’s out to get me? Who do I need to be worried about? Who's really my friend? Who can I really trust? Who's loyal to me? Like I was just really focused on the game. I mean, when I say I came in to really win and try my hardest, that's exactly what I came to do.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, that became very clear very quickly. So you already mentioned that in being observant of Season 1 and knowing that they would likely up the ante in Season 2, and thinking about like how women are often perceived. And I like to go a little deeper in thinking about black women particularly, their perception. You know, because we saw last season, Karyn, who was a plus size black woman entered the game as Mercedes who was a bisexual black woman but had more kind of conventionally attractive features. And I'm wondering if any of that kind of played into your mind about like how black women might be perceived in The Circle.
DeLeesa: I'm a black woman so if I would have come in as myself, that's one of the main reasons why I didn't want to because being a black woman, like it's so many stigmas around it. If you say something that's a little bit too honest, you can be considered aggressive. But then if you're sitting there crying or you just let out some emotion, it's oh, they’re too emotional. It's like you kind of can't win just as a black woman in general.
And I just would have seen even bigger challenges, coming in as myself. They would have looked at my pictures, they would have been like, oh, she's stuck up. Like just on my Instagram. Oh, you look like you have your wrestling bitchface all the time. And I'm like, I actually smile all the time but okay. People have certain stigmas on being a black woman and I just didn't want to worry too much about that. I wanted to really just like stay true to the game and stay focused on the game and not have to worry about constantly defending myself as a black woman, for sure.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, speaking to some of what you're sharing, we saw some of that (I think) with Terilisha this season, right? This whole thing with her and Savannah, I think kind of got wildly blown out of proportion.
DeLeesa: Absolutely. That whole situation insanely blown out of proportion and it's like how far are we after the show and people are still constantly “I’m team Terilisha. I’m team Savannah.” You know, Terilisha is such a sweetheart, it’s so funny. Like she's so sweet. I mean, they're both sweet, I love them both. But I think that because Terilisha is a black woman, black people in general, I want to say... Like I just feel like black women are held to a different standard than other races. And for her, she was looked at as being “aggressive” even though I don't necessarily think she was. She was just looked at completely different than Savannah was looked at.
Dr. Joy: I get this because I know that usually when it's us and one other black woman in a space, like there is a kinship that we feel, like this wanting to connect. And it seems like you were trying really hard to do that with Khat without letting her know that you were also another black woman.
DeLeesa: Absolutely. When I got the chance to finally talk to Terilisha and Khat, I spoke to both of them at the same time, that’s when I was like, “You know what, let's bring our beautiful black queens together.” Because I knew Terilisha had been through a lot and I know that that was hard on her. We only saw what we saw on our side, but I can imagine, especially like being on TV, that would have been just very difficult for her to go through and process and then even after the fact, the backlash that she was gonna get. But I want us to give her a fair chance and, yeah, I was trying to connect with them. How can I let them know like “Girl, I got your back because I feel you because I'm one of you” without saying I'm one of you?
Dr. Joy: Right.
DeLeesa: Yeah, so I had to pull out the works and bring my daughter into it. But definitely and you can tell that we definitely connected, all of us. Terilisha is actually one of the people that I speak to the most and Khat, you can tell, even she said it on the show. She's like you're one of the people that I had the most natural connection with. While she was talking to Trevor but she was talking to me as another black woman. You know, like you felt that natural connection because we're the same.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, yeah. And it does feel like you were doing a masterful job, I think, of like thinking on your feet really quickly and kind of translating between yourself and Trevor. Like still making it believable that it was coming from a guy.
DeLeesa: Thank you. It was a little bit difficult but, yeah, we got through it.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with DeLeesa right after the break.
Dr. Joy: I am curious just to hear more about like how the whole interaction is when you there is so much you're interpreting only based on like text and pictures. Do you feel like you were able to kind of feel the energy behind the words that people were sharing?
DeLeesa: Well, that's why it takes so long to have these conversations. Because when you read something, you interpret it and you're reading it out loud and you're trying to understand what the other person's saying. And then you have to now respond and you have to make it in a way that they can understand and interpret what you're saying the way you want them to receive it. So it was so difficult because I was there thinking like, “Okay, if I say it this way, it sounds more feminine. But then if I say it this way, it sounds like I'm trying too hard.” It was very confusing and very difficult and there were so many times I was like, dang, man, if I was myself, I could just be like, “Yeah, girl. Tell me the tee.” Like it's just so easy when you go in as yourself.
And that's why I'm saying like I don't know why people hate catfishes but we don't get enough credit, okay? Like we have to go in from jump and like it's just so difficult from the beginning. And then you have these challenges that are like out to get you. I don't care what anybody says, they're out to get us. Like we have it very difficult. I mean, when you come prepared, you're okay, you can do anything you put your mind to.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, well, you definitely were prepared, that’s for sure.
DeLeesa: Thank you.
Dr. Joy: Between your large social media following and your experience on The Circle, what kinds of things do you think you've learned about perception and popularity?
DeLeesa: I feel like I've kind of always felt this way. I'm not a person that really judges other people so I am hoping to basically change the minds of other people. This is why The Circle’s such a great show because I think it's a place where people can see how and why others are judged based off their social media persona or personality, but then in the background they're this completely different person. And it's just like you can't really judge a book by its cover.
And that's like the oldest saying ever, like you can't judge a book by its cover. And even I'm guilty of it at times. Like there were times in The Circle I was judging other people and I'm like, okay, Jack’s definitely... I mean, I knew Jack was a guy and I was right but still. And I was judging Courtney and I'm like, oh, Courtney he was shady and he was doing this. And I didn't know like the backstory behind it. So I think that's something I'm still learning but I try my best not to judge other people based off their social media. And I'm hoping that that's one thing that a lot of people learn from The Circle, learn from myself, and just like being able to get to know me more as a person as opposed to just what you see on my profile.
Dr. Joy: Are there other ways that being in The Circle has changed your approach to like your own social media platforms?
DeLeesa: I'm definitely going on Instagram Live now. And I do love that feature, like just being able to go live on any platform in general, because they get to see the real raw version of me. And I used to always be terrified of it so I think The Circle really helped me with my own confidence and like building my own self-esteem and encouraging and motivating myself because nobody was there to do that for me. Usually I have Trevor to do that and he wasn't there. But in general, like just on social media, for sure.
Because I would never go on any type of live, it would always have to be recorded, I always have to use a filter, I always have to make sure I'm looking good, I'm posting the best picture, I have to make sure like my stomach is held in, my booty looks good, all of that stuff. And now, it's just like, you know what, you're either gonna love me or hate me, that's up to you to decide and there's nothing that I can do about it. Like, I can't beg somebody to like me so you're either gonna like what you see or not and I'm not gonna worry about that. So Instagram Live, or just a live in general on social media platform, gives people the option to see the real raw version of you. And I think that actually makes a better connection with your audience because they don't feel like they're so out of reach.
Dr. Joy: That's so interesting, because I often hear the opposite of that. Like people feel like they have to kind of be all made up and all of these things to be on IG Live. But I guess when you've been on TV, then IG Live is almost like okay, I definitely can do this because I've been in front of like 20 cameras.
DeLeesa: Waking up! You saw, oh girl, I had my bonnet on, there was days that I didn’t have makeup and I was looking at myself and I was just like, ew, why do I look like that? But at the end of the day, nobody even cared. Like I saw one comment about my appearance not being up to par. It was just saying that I had like a muffin top and it was like, okay, like I don't care. My body is my body and I'm not changing it for anybody else, so that's that. But that was the only comment.
And when I watched the show, I was like, oh my god, I need makeup. Why was I sitting there in my bonnet? Like what was I doing? Not one person said anything about that. And it's so funny because, you know, I was worried about that and I'm watching myself criticizing and judging myself and everybody's still hitting me with the “girl you serve look after look like you're so pretty,” and giving me just like the most nicest feedback ever. So it's just so funny because like we judge ourselves the hardest and people don't care about that. Like they...
Dr. Joy: Yeah, because I think that was very real. Like how many times are we just like sitting around on our sofa in our bonnets, right? Like you were strategizing trying to win a game, you didn't have to be in full glam all the time.
DeLeesa: Exactly. And people just want to connect to you. Like the more real you are, the bigger the connection they're gonna have with you.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. More from my conversation with DeLeesa right after the break.
Dr. Joy: So you actually discovered a second pregnancy while you were on The Circle. Can you say more about that and how that maybe impacted your experience on the show?
DeLeesa: Yeah. I found out while I was filming and I just... I didn't want to think about it because I didn't want to mess up my game. Like when I say I was fully invested in trying to win this game, I'm very competitive so like my heart wanted to stay in the game, no matter what. And it's not like I was going to be able to do anything, it's not like I was going to be able to have like this long drawn out conversation with Trevor or my family or anything. I believe that the producers would have let me call my husband, but I chose not to. I just held that in and tried to keep on going with the game and pushed that to the back of my head, although it's very hard to do.
It just really amplified the fact that, girl, you need to win. Because now it's not only one child that you're trying to win for and build this beautiful life for–it’s two. So it definitely amped up my game and my competition. And you see, like for example, I came up with the whole Trifecta plan and I was just like, no, we have to do something because we cannot fall to the backburner on this.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, in some ways, it sounds like it really motivated you to become even more strategic.
DeLeesa: My whole game plan throughout the entire show was to not be seen as a threat and not be seen as a weak player. Like you want people to like you enough so that you can ride it out and make it to the end, they trust you that they're going to keep you there because they believe that you're going to keep them safe. And as well, they also think that you're not going to be able to beat them. So that was my game plan. But then when it comes towards the end, it's like, hold up–now, you have to step it up and try to figure out who will actually beat you or could beat you and what can you do to take it home? Yeah, and I think especially like finding out that I was pregnant there it was like, okay, you have to do something now. Like you can't just skate through this because you're not going to win.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, there seems like there's just so much strategy involved on multiple levels. Because there is the whole like, okay, how do you manage the relationships, but you're also thinking about how other people are going to rank others when it's time for the ratings at the end of each episode.
DeLeesa: Absolutely. And towards the end, because we don't get to see people and we don't get to have super long drawn out conversations and we actually don't really get to talk about strategy in detail... You know, like we can say: hey, we're having our alliance; protect me, I’ll protect you; we’ll go to the end, you can say things like that. But, obviously, you're not going to say I'm going to rate you number one or I'm going to rate this person last, and like you can't go into detail like that. So you never really know who has your back and who doesn't have your back. You never really know who's playing from the heart, who's playing a strategic game.
Like in the end, you see Courtney, he's like, “Listen, I'm trying to win so my biggest threat is my best friend.” You know what I mean? Like, you would never think that he was going to do that. But then you have River over here like, “Nope, I'm gonna play my heart and my best friend is gonna be number one.” So you just don't know, it's so crazy, so many different aspects to a game like this and the strategy behind it because you don't know if your strategy is working or if it's not working. For sure, I thought the Trifecta was gonna work.
Dr. Joy: Had to come up with a new one!
DeLeesa: Mm hmm.
Dr. Joy: So you know, your baby has been a huge part of like everything. Even when you were pretending to be your husband, your daughter was at the forefront and now your second child, and you've been doing a lot of like documenting your motherhood experience. Can you say more about like why that is so important to you and what impact you think it might have on other parents?
DeLeesa: Absolutely. I think it's very important for me to share my experience because people all have different experiences but there are very similar experiences. And people need somebody that they can relate to and know that they're not alone in certain things. Like for example, right now I'm going through a lot of pelvic pain. This pregnancy, the end part is very difficult for me and the fact that I'm able to talk to the world about it and it helps me as well. I'm learning as well.
People come back to me with comments like, “Oh, girl, maybe you should do this, this helped me this, this didn't work for me, try this.” You know, so not only am I sharing my tips and my tricks and letting people know like this is real, you're not alone in this; I'm also getting the same feedback. I love the fact that social media allows us to do that. But it's just very important, I think. Like you just never know who needs a bit of encouragement, advice or motivation. And especially being a mom, especially being a black mom, especially, you know... There's just so many different aspects of especially being a wife, especially having a toddler already, this is a second pregnancy or whatever the case may be. There's people that can relate to you on different levels and you never know what level that is and how you're helping somebody.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, us sharing our stories is bound to make somebody else feel like they're not too alone.
DeLeesa: Exactly. I love it, I love it.
Dr. Joy: What suggestions would you have for somebody who might be contemplating applying for Season 3 of The Circle?
DeLeesa: My suggestion is to have a game plan and just know that it's going to change. Yeah, and if you get on it, good luck. Just remember that things change and you have to be able to think really quickly. You just have to go with the flow and you can't be dwelling on one thing because, in the blink of an eye, it’s gonna change to something completely different and then you're going to lose out if you are not able to adapt.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. Thank you so much for that. And where can we find you online? It sounds like you love Instagram–that's where you spend a lot of your time?
DeLeesa: Oh, Gram, everywhere. No, actually I feel like I'm everywhere. It's actually a little bit overwhelming, I'm not used to having such a big platform. But I am on Instagram quite often, I do a lot on Instagram.
Dr. Joy: And what's your handle there?
DeLeesa: My handle is @LeesaUnique and I also have the family page on there @ItsTheSaints. And I’m on YouTube, I do find a lot of connections with people and actually friends off of people who watch my YouTube videos. So my YouTube channel is same thing, Leesa Unique and we have a family channel, The Saints Family as well. I'm also on TikTok, I'm also on Twitter. Everything is basically Leesa Unique. If you look that up, you'll find me.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. Thank you so much for spending some time today with us, DeLeesa, I really appreciate it.
DeLeesa: Oh, I appreciate it. It was so much fun.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad DeLeesa was able to join us today. To stay connected to her and learn more about her work, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session213. And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode as well.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.