'The Circle' Winner Opens Up About 'Shocking' Catfishes, Real-Life Romances and More (Exclusive)
By Desiree Murphy
ALERT! The winner of The Circle has been chosen. Do not proceed unless you have binge-watched all 12 episodes of the popular Netflix series.
Circle, open circle chat. The winner of the reality competition show (and most-liked player of the game) is the lovable, funny Joey Sasso! ⭕️??? *Send message*
ET exclusively spoke with the Rochester, New York, native this week, where he shared his thoughts on the big win, how he'll spend the $100,000 prize, who he still keeps in touch with and so much more.
"It still doesn't feel real to tell you the truth. I still can't believe I'm able to sit here and openly say this because it's been so many months of keeping secrets and not saying anything," exclaimed Sasso, who's now living in Los Angeles. "It's been about four or five months. The only people that have known in my life are my mother and father. After everything happened, I asked [producers] for permission to tell them."
"I told them the night of the finale. I called them crying my eyes out, they were crying too," he continued. "They're in Aruba right now, and ever since the show came out, they've had to be like, 'We don't know nothing. We don't know anything that happens.' So, it's now going to be a great time for my family and I to celebrate."
During his time on the show, Sasso and his competitors lived separately in small, secluded apartments in Manchester for three weeks, where they were filmed interacting with one another solely through an in-house social media network called "The Circle."
"Part of the whole mental game of The Circle when you sign up is, they let you know that you're not allowed to know what day it is, what time it is, anything," he revealed. "It's part of the game of really just letting you be there and not be a player of the outside world."
So, you can imagine how stoked he was to finally get face-to-face time with the other four finalists: Sammie Cimarelli, Shubham Goel, Chris Sapphire and Seaburn Williams, who catfished as "Rebecca."
"Once we knew we were going to meet each other, seconds felt like hours. It was insane!" Sasso explained. "I knew going in, there had to be somebody who wasn't who they said they were. But I knew I wouldn't be upset about anybody because that's the game -- it's part of what it was."
"But to sit there with them after not having any interaction, other than their words and texts onscreen, I just remember hugging each and every one of them so hard," he added. "It just felt like such a beautiful experience. I had so much joy running through my body. I just remember not being able to stop smiling."
One strategy that helped Sasso get so far in the game was his Day One bromance and alliance with Goel, whom he nicknamed "Shooby." Sasso told ET the two still keep in touch, and they'll likely be in each other's lives for the rest of time.
"That's my boy for life! I think 100% if it wasn't for Shooby, I would have never made it to the end of the show, let alone win the show," he admitted. "He had my back along the way with everything. My cousin called me after the first four episodes dropped and he goes, 'That kid's a warrior! He laid his life on the line for you.' Loyalty is so huge for us in my family ... and Shooby, from the start, was just such a gem who really was honest and true."
Sasso shared that one fun behind-the-scenes story fans didn't get to see was his and Shooby's first interaction.
"We actually talked the first day after he was ranked eighth. I private messaged him and that's really how the bromance started," he recalled. "I want to go on record and say this. Antonio DePína, on the show, it looks like he coined the term 'Shooby.' I started calling Shubham 'Shooby' on Day One because I cannot pronounce certain words and names. I said, 'I gotta give this kid a nickname, because I'm a nickname guy, so he's Shooby."
"So that's one thing fans should know... I coined Shooby!" he revealed. "I love you, Antonio, but it was me!"
Oh, and who could forget that steamy kiss Sasso shared with Miranda Bissonnette in episode eight? Sasso gave us an update on whether their romance has survived post-Circle.
"I totally understand why people are asking, but I don't want to confirm or deny anything," he teased. "I'm not trying to be coy, it's just once you say a yes or no to something, it gives people an expectation. And then if something changes, there's a reaction to that."
"She is someone I love dearly. I have the most amazing relationship with her. She's unlike anybody I've ever met in the best way," he continued. "We are most definitely in each other's lives, and I'm thankful for this experience for bringing us together and being friends."
Sasso said he's actually still close with all his Circle competitors -- so close, in fact, that they talk to each other daily in a private Instagram group chat.
"It was made clear that we were under no circumstance allowed to follow each other on social media, like each other's stuff, comment or even act like we knew each other," Sasso explained of rules they had to follow until the show aired. "That chain basically started after production wrapped and we were allowed to get our phones back."
"I don't remember who started it, but it's every single person from the cast," he continued. "It's an everyday thing. We talk all day, every day. We're all there for each other, we laugh about stuff, and we all have each other's backs."
While there's no bad blood between the "real" players and anyone who posed as someone else, we had to ask Sasso whom he was most surprised to learn was a catfish.
"Probably Karyn Blanco, who catfished as Mercedeze, just because she had been there in the beginning," he confessed. "I was dying laughing at the edit of all of our reactions to her reveal video. I think it fit the profile of what you think a catfish is, of someone who is so not who they're trying to portray."
"But watching her in this show, Karyn is such an amazing human with such a good heart," he gushed. "I just wish she had been herself, man. It really hurt me, in a way of compassion and love, when she met with Antonio and said, 'Would you have talked to me if I looked like this?' That's a real vulnerable moment for someone to make a statement like that. I hope she sees through this experience how beautiful she is, and how many people love her for the way she is."
Sasso's strategy from Day One of the game was to be 100% genuine. He said it was "never even a thought" in his mind to portray someone else.
"I knew that it could have been fun, to pose as some hot girl screwing with guys, but I just knew that this was a game. And the only way I know how to compete in anything I do in life is by always being myself," he explained. "I knew coming in I had to be true to myself and speak from the heart."
Clearly, it worked. In addition to accumulating a whole new set of friends, Sasso also walked away from the experience with $100,000. He told ET he has yet to spend the money -- "I haven't spent a dime of it!" -- but plans to invest in himself and his future.
"I've always lived day-to-day, week-to-week being broke, bartending, waiting, so I've never had [this] before," he shared. "I'm an actor, I'm pursuing my career, so I just said, 'I'm not going to be a broke bartender the rest of my life.' I want to have something there just to make sure I'm OK, so I'm going to put maybe half, or at least a big chunk, away."
"The other half is probably going to go straight back into my career," he added. "Hiring a new publicist, getting some new photos done, things that you gotta do in this business. I've spent close to a decade investing in myself when I've had nothing, and I've never been afraid of taking a shot. Now I just gotta keep moving forward."
Sasso said, however, that the bond he made with everyone on The Circle outshines the monetary prize. "The friendships are what I hold most close to my heart about this experience," he explained. "The money and winning, that's cool, but I know that money comes and goes; it doesn't last. What lasts is the relationships you build with people."
The same can be said for how Sasso now uses social media. He said the show has made him pay closer attention to the type of pictures and content he posts on sites like Instagram and Twitter. He's also realized he can use his platform to enlighten others, "#TheSassoWay."
"I've never cared about having a lot of followers; the thing that's cool for me is how many amazing people have reached out to me and shared real-life stories and vulnerable things," he said. "Before I went to bed last night, there was this young fan who sent me a text paragraph, sharing with me her insecurities, how she's struggling with body issues and things we all go through. I sent her such a long message back, reminding her that she's beautiful and brave to say these things about herself."
"It's those things that I'm so appreciative of," he added. "I've been spending, like, 12-15 hours a day going through my social media to try to get back to every single person that I can. I'm blessed, man."
If you can't get enough of Netflix's The Circle, follow the cast's real-life Instagram accounts below: