The Circle winner reveals secrets and surprises from Netflix reality series
We talk ELL: eggplants, laundry, and Lady Gaga.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season 1 finale of Netflix’s The Circle.
At first, a TV show where contestants vie to become the most popular person on a social media app sounded like we’d finally arrived at the grim reality Black Mirror warned us about. But the inaugural season of The Circle on Netflix proved to be anything but dystopian, and on Wednesday the show crowned its first winner. Whether you were behind Shubham, Seaburn, Sammie, Chris, or Joey, each contestant showed why they’d be worthy of victory. They loved each other, and we loved them, but in the end only one could be victorious — and the winner told EW all about the experience.
So much happened in the three weeks the contestants spent in an apartment in Manchester, England, from August to September, and despite the added wrinkle that a catfish could potentially come home with the $100,000, it was — AGAIN, MAJOR SPOILERS COMING — Joey Sasso who came out as the top influencer.
The 26-year-old aspiring actor got the audition for the show in January 2019, having only seen the trailer for the original U.K. version. And though he wasn’t everyone’s taste when he first arrived at the Circle, he tried to stay true to himself.
“I was hesitant just because I am an actor,” he tells EW. “I’ve been in the business so many years and am used to this stigma that doing reality TV means the death of your career. I turned down other reality opportunities before, but there’s never one that I heard of that’s quite like this, where I can truly just go in and represent myself. I’m not in a house with other people starting drama, getting drunk, and hooking up with people, like we’re so used to seeing.”
The bet paid off big, and throughout 12 episodes of The Circle, viewers got to see Joey’s genuine intentions behind even his most flirty DMs and stern interrogations, and his unlikely friendship with Shubham, otherwise known as Shooby.
Below, we hit Joey with all our burning questions about season 1, including the story behind the Lady Gaga/Adele photo and why he had no idea what an eggplant emoji was when he was flirting with Miranda. We even slip in question from Shooby!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your win, Joey. How are you feeling today?
JOEY SASSO: Sup, brother! I’m drinking coffee, talking to these beautiful people. Loving life, brother.
Where are you right now?
I’m currently at my apartment putting off dirty laundry, because it takes too much time!
Speaking of which, how did you all do laundry on The Circle?
Same way as groceries: Anything that you need food-or-drink-wise, you get on a list and you give it to someone on the crew. Then it’s like a magical thing where it just gets delivered to your apartment.
Viewers’ opinions of you seemed to change a lot throughout the series. At first you were seen as this wannabe Jersey Shore guy, but people quickly came to understand that you had a level of personality, a level of empathy for the other players. Did you know going in that you had to avoid being pegged as that douche who’s on a reality TV show?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the story of my life, man. I understand it’s very easy for people to lump me into a category of being a stereotype Jersey Shore douchebag. People will say, “Look at this kid trying to be Pauly D, saying, ‘Yeah, buddy.’” You’re on camera 24 hours a day, but I was never trying to be anyone but myself. Yes, I’m all those things, but I have an incredible heart and care for people, and I’m so much more than that. The way the audience has gotten to see that worldwide has just been such a cool experience because I know a lot of people have not expected it. My favorite tweets or Instagram posts are like, “Episode 1: Get this douchebag out of here. Episode 8: I will die for Joey.”
What’s the story behind the photo of you, Lady Gaga, and Adele that you showed during a challenge early on?
I work at Oil Can Harry’s in L.A., which is the oldest gay bar in L.A. Mark Ronson, who was Lady Gaga’s producer for the song “Shallow” for A Star Is Born, is a huge fan of the club. He booked us for his after-Grammy party last year. My boss had come to us saying, “No one’s allowed to leave the bar. No one’s allowed no selfies.” It was presidential levels of security going into this, rightfully so. So I’m serving Adele and Gaga. Me being me, I needed to break all the rules. I leave the bar and I go up to Gaga. I know she’s Italian from Jersey. I whisper in her ear and say, “Stephanie, Stephanie, do I really have to call you Gaga all night long, or can I call you Stephanie?” She calls me Sassy Sasso and takes me by my chin and points me around to everyone and says, “Everyone has to call me Gaga, but you can call me Stephanie.” Immediately I start flirting with her. I’m like, “Don’t make me leave this job right now. I’ll put everything on the line.” She’s laughing. She goes up to my boss and tells him, “I want Joey with me the rest of the night.” I was sitting there and I go, “When is this ever gonna happen again?”
At this point we’ve been hanging out for over an hour. I said, “Steph, can I please get a selfie? My uncle’s gay and is in love with you, and he’d die for this.” She said, “Absolutely.” Adele’s standing next to me and she goes, “What, I can’t be in the picture?” And after that night it was like, wow, best selfie ever. There’s no way, especially going on this show, I wasn’t using that photo for something. I don’t care if they said, “Upload a photo of you and your family,” I would have uploaded that picture just to make sure it got seen.
Let’s talk about your flirtation with Miranda. Did you really not know there was an eggplant emoji on the iPhone until you were on The Circle?
I will tell you the truth: That was 100 percent genuine, and I will own it for the rest of my life. I am 26 years old. I know all these things exist in the world, but I’m someone who just talks with words and stuff. If I use an emoji for anything, it’s the same three or four emojis that I just gravitate toward. For years I had seen people flirting online and using that, but I just never understood the context of it. So now we’re, you know, flirting, and it’s not going to be obviously X-rated adult, thank God, because I would be mortified for my family. Then you’re trying to just keep this going. I can tell you when this was happening I was like, “Oh, yeah, that chili pepper means I’m spicy. That little thing’s nice.” I was completely wrong on everything, and it’s hilarious to watch.
But you were able to handle yourself pretty well for Miranda. You even got a little bit of a reward for being classy when Miranda gave you that kiss before she left the show. In the finale, you guys brought up the possibility of going on the date. Has that happened yet?
A million people want to know what’s going on with me and Miranda. She is someone who’s so close in my life. She actually was with me at my apartment here last week. She’s someone that I love to death.
Would it be safe to say you guys are seeing each other now?
It’s safe to say that there is a definite real connection that will live beyond The Circle, for sure. As far as when it comes to that side of your personal life, I just think it’s always a lot more fun to let people speculate. Let them think whatever they’d like, because I know a million people want us to be together.
I DM’ed Shooby before this interview to see if he had any questions he wanted to ask you. He said, “What’s life been like after The Circle?”
It’s been really cool, man. I don’t put too much stock into basing who I am as a person off of how many followers I have or anything like that. To tell you the truth, life has been completely the same. I have friends in the industry who are name people who have had fantastic careers and dealt with negative press, positive press, and they’ve all been amazing with checking in and saying, “Just want to make sure your head still the same size?” It hasn’t changed at all. I still go to work and sling drinks for a living.
Did you get your $100,000 check yet? I know you said you want build out your apartment a little bit.
Yeah, that’s been underway. It’s something I’m really blessed about because I’ve honestly been broke my entire adult life. I moved to L.A. when I was 18 years old to pursue my career in film. This wasn’t a last-minute thing; this has been since I’ve been 3 years old, I always knew it was my passion. I don’t really put that out there into the world because I like to be positive and carry myself in a good light every day. But I mean, I’ve lived day to day, week to week my entire adult life, and that’s why this was crazy. I’ve definitely been in contact with my family about just putting a lot of money away just so I have something as a cushion. For the rest of time, I’m chasing my career and doing what I have to do. Being a bartender, working nights is hard work. It’s something I hopefully don’t have to do forever. The rest of it is going into my career and finishing up my film that’s in post-production.
What’s the film you’re doing?
I had a seven-year passion project that I started when I was 18 years old. My writing partner, who also directed and edited the film, I basically told him my first week in Los Angeles, “Nobody’s ever going to give me an opportunity, nobody’s ever gives you an opportunity. We need to make this ourselves.” It was budgeted at the time at $5 million to $10 million. We made it for $13,000 cash. We had real squad cars, shootouts shot in the biggest jail in upstate New York, that’s never had a production in it. All this happened while my seven-and-a-half-year relationship literally came to an end. It’s something that I’m so proud of. I want to get out there to open doors to hopefully be a player in this industry.
The Circle hasn’t been renewed… yet. But do you have any tips for future players?
If you’re going to be a catfish, I don’t think anyone represented that better than Seaburn as Rebecca, because he’s confident with who he is as a person and he’s having fun every step of the way. The ones to me that are upsetting are when people think they need to catfish in the game because they’re not pretty enough or handsome enough or that they’ll be judged. So for season 2, 3, 4, I say just go in there and have some fun. And don’t let The Circle screw with your head because I’m telling you, The Circle has no chill.
One last question: You probably had to say “message, send” about a million times on the show. Are you a voice texter? Or will you never do voice texting after doing this?
It’s weird, I’ve never voice-texted in my life until now. It was so frustrating to have to do it over and over again multiple times a day. Now I spent the last two weeks spending legitimately 15-16 hours a day trying to get back to every single person DM’ing me to where my fingers are in pain. I know that’s a lucky opportunity to have. But to save me some time, I kind of had to go back to The Circle mindset.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Circle (2020 reality series)