This interview contains spoilers about the final episodes of The Circle. You’ve been warned! Send message.
From the moment I began watching Netflix’s terrible, wonderful, extremely addictive reality series The Circle, I knew I just had to interview my favorite contestant, Italian bro and New York native Joey Sasso. Sure, Shubham is easy to love, Sammie was the show’s resident big sister, Chris should have his own spinoff, and Seaburn was the show’s longest surviving catfish, but only one person on the cast stole my heart, and that was Joey: douchebag at first sight, sweetheart soon after, and The Circle’s unlikely lovable hero.
The show wraps up its first season today, so assuming you’ve watched the finale — and if you haven’t already, stop reading this, because the biggest spoiler is about to drop right after these words — you now know that Joey walked away from The Circle as its first U.S. winner, which made our conversation even more interesting.
Sasso was just as open and warm as he is on the show — right down to his initial “How ya doin?!” when our conversation began. He’s grateful and overwhelmed by the fan response so far; he says he tries to respond to everyone online, but says it gets to the point where “your fingers literally just hurt.” We chatted about what viewers of The Circle don’t get to see on the show, the time he asked Lady Gaga on a date, why he thinks social media is a double-edged sword, his very good friend Shubham ,a.k.a. Shooby, and of course, what it’s like to win $100,000 in “this weird social experiment.”
You’re a fan favorite on The Circle. What’s that been like?
It’s been really amazing. This show kind of mirrored how my life has gone in general, which is: I’m very loud, I have a stupid sense of humor, and a lot of people can be either intimidated by that or put me into a box of a stereotype of someone who’s really unlikable. But anyone I actually talk to one-on-one really sees my heart and my genuine personality. They see, yeah, I’m immature, I’m stupid, but underneath that, I’m never what people associate me to be. It’s gone the same way over the first few episodes, with people being like, “Get this kid out of here!” As the episodes have gone on, people see my heart and my love for other people, so I couldn’t be happier.
Let’s cut to the chase: You won! How did it feel?
Oh man! I’m just so happy to be able to talk about this, because it’s been the biggest secret I’ve had to live with in my life. It’s honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s validation for years of hard work and struggling and having people point a finger at you for chasing a dream.
But my overall goal was never to win, to tell you the truth. There was not one time I thought about being the winner or the money or any of that, ’cause that would have clouded my judgment and it would’ve taken away from the pure experience that it was. I can’t wait to watch it like the rest of you, because when it was revealed that I had won, I had really blacked out and was speechless and was like, “Wait, what? No. This did not …” I couldn’t talk for about three hours. I was just sitting there silent like, I don’t know what just happened. It’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened in my life.
Based on your Instagram and Twitter, it looks like you’ve never been a big social-media guy. Is that accurate?
Absolutely. I’ve always maintained a presence on social media to stay in touch with my family back in Rochester and my friends. But I was never insane with needing to have a million followers and be a real “influencer.” Living out here in L.A. there were so many real influencers, and to tell you the truth, a lot of them were very fake, very mean.
I’m all for social media, but I get wary of it when you validate yourself and your meaning in the world based off of those things that can be very superficial. Everything that’s happening with the show, it’s amazing, but if that stops tomorrow when things cool off, I’m still the same guy I was.
What are things about filming that viewers don’t see? What do you do when you get downtime? Can you use your cell phone? I saw they give you books and things to draw with.
My thing was to doodle and draw because I’m a writer, so when I’m thinking of stuff, my brain is always working a mile a minute. If you’re lucky enough to stay in the game — especially with new people continually being added — you don’t know if people are being genuine. These things, they really start driving you crazy.
No, none of us had any cell phones. No music, no television, no nothing, which could be liberating in a really great way. But also, when you are physically not allowed to go anywhere and all you have is this group of people, you’ve got to really keep yourself in check. We all struggled at certain points with, Am I losing it right now? I know for sure I lost it the day of the painting challenge. I think it was because that was right after Miranda had left; I felt so terrible about what happened with her and I couldn’t sleep. I just felt out of it. When it was time to look at the paintings, it said, “Chris is ready to show his painting.” I’m like, “Who the hell is Chris?!” and legitimately could not remember who Chris was for two or three minutes.
People said, “Dude, why are you wearing your sunglasses inside, you tool?” And I’m like, “Look, I get it, but there’s tons of lights in there and you can’t leave and your eyes start hurting! The sunglasses are staying on!” I’ll take the “tool” comment all day long as long as my eyes aren’t killing me.
Your friendship with Shooby was very sweet. You two seemed to connect pretty much immediately.
That was actually one of the conversations that didn’t make the first episode. Me and Shooby connected on the first day. Shooby ranked eighth on the first day and he was really upset about going home. I private messaged him and said, “Buddy, you’re going to be okay. You seem like a great kid.”
People have been shocked about our friendship, but he’s the type of person I would actually be friends with in real life. A lot of the people that fit into my stereotype, so to speak, are really that stereotype. They can be douchebags, not likable, mean, offensive, and I don’t gravitate towards that. I’ve always been the kid who’s friends with everybody and anybody, but hateful people I stay away from. I could tell from day one that this kid was special. I could tell he came in and felt out of his element, which I respect so much ’cause I think it’s so big of any person to put themselves out there and take a leap into territory that they never would otherwise. He’s someone I would do absolutely anything for. I adore that kid.
You say on the show you’re a bartender, but from looking at your Instagram, I see you’re also an actor.
I just didn’t think going into the game it would be right to be like, “Hey, what’s up? I’m Joey Sasso, I’m here being real and being myself, but I’m also an actor.” But yeah, I moved out to L.A. when I was 18 years old. Film has always been my life. I spent seven and a half years trying to get my passion project off the ground, working full-time jobs, doing internships at the biggest production companies in the industry. About two years ago, I finally got what it took to get the film funded. It’s the biggest accomplishment of my entire career, and all of this happened before the show came to be.
So were you bartending in that photo with Lady Gaga and Adele?
I’ll tell ya, Mark Ronson had a Grammy after-party last year at my bar, and my boss told me and all the employees, “Under no circumstances are you allowed to leave the bar or take selfies or anything.” But you know my type of personality, which is like, come on, I’m gonna be me. [Laughs.] I was serving Adele and then Gaga, so I leave the bar, walk up to Gaga, whisper in her ear — ’cause she’s Italian from New Jersey — and I go, “Stefani, do I really have to call you Gaga or not? Or can I call you Stefani?” She calls me “Sassy Sasso,” and she takes my chin, and she’s like, “All these MFers gotta call me Gaga. You can call me Stefani.”
I started flirting with her. I’m like, “Don’t you flirt with me like this! I’ll quit the job right now, walk out this place. Don’t do this to me!” Then she went to my boss Tommy and went, “I want Joey with me the rest of the night.” When we went to take that selfie, Adele was standing next to me and goes, “What, I can’t be in it too?” And I’m like, “Of course you can, sweetie. Come on!” I actually told [Gaga], “I know you’re engaged, but if anything should ever change, I promise you, I can take you on the best date that you’ve ever been on to a place no one would ever take you.” She goes, “Oh yeah, Sassy? Where’s that?” I said, “The McDonald’s on Riverside is fantastic. Their chicken nuggets are out of this world. We’d have a great time.”
What was the biggest thing you learned from the show, and what do you hope people take away from it after watching?
I went there just to be myself, not to overthink things, never be insecure about who I am as a person no matter what happens. So I would hope that anybody who takes something from the show, it’s to always be truthful to who you are no matter what your sexuality is, what your skin color is, what you’ve been through in your life.
I think that’s something that viewers have really responded to, even when people have been catfishing. Let’s take Karyn, for example: I can’t tell you how many people have said, “I wish she would’ve just been herself.” Myself included! It really broke my heart when she was talking with Antonio and said, “Would you have talked to me if I looked like this?” Because that’s really a moment of vulnerability. That’s where I hope people say, “Yes, you should be yourself.” And hopefully people who are going through something — because we all go through hardships — can then look at this weird social experiment and say, “Yeah, man, you know what? I am beautiful. I am good enough. I am okay.” There’s nothing wrong with owning who you are, because there’s only one version of you, and you are the best version of yourself that there will ever be.
Final question: Any skin care tips? It’s clear you know what you’re doing.
I would say for anyone looking to get into skin care, start small, then go big, because I can really overwhelm people with my schedule. First thing: Definitely get a good face wash. A hot, warm towel in the morning, a face wash in the morning and at night. Get some stuff for under your eyes — that’s the biggest thing that shows age quicker than anything. Also, everyone sees me doing my peel-off mask. I have that for a Saturday routine, my Saturday mask day. It gets all the dead skin off, and I think if anyone really starts doing it, you will see noticeable changes very quickly, and it’ll just make you want to take better care of yourself.
This interview has been edited and condensed.