Living through the first weeks of this decade has felt a bit like contracting the flu–it was way too hot, full of uncertainty, and the possibility of
Living through the first weeks of this decade has felt a bit like contracting the flu–it was way too hot, full of uncertainty, and the possibility of imminent death seemed ever-looming. If there was ever a time for a binge-watching experience to distract from all the queasy-making news, this is it. Netflix delivered such an experience with The Circle, an American remake of the UK reality television program of same name—and an unexpectedly delightful diversion in the nascent days of 2020.
The show, which premiered on January 1 and released its final batch of episodes today, pitted contestants against one another in a digital popularity contest, pushing its young players to rank one another based on looks and on how well they jockeyed for influence. Despite its hideous premise, The Circle and its participants quickly gained a following, with fans wondering whether favorites like witty Miami-based Sammie Cimarelli or sincere virtual-reality whiz Shubham Goel would take home the $100,000 prize. Now, The Circle faithful have their answer.
(Spoilers for the season finale of The Circle follow.)
Sammie and Shubham came close, but the show’s ultimate victor was Joey Sasso, a 26-year-old Italian-American actor who started the series looking like an obnoxious long-shot. (I accused him of having “based his entire personality off Jersey Shore reruns” in my initial review.) But Sasso won over his teammates with his honest and sweet-natured approach to the game, and ended up the most popular player of the bunch.
Filming for the show ended several months ago, and now Sasso can finally talk about his unanticipated victory. “Making it to the end was always my goal from the beginning. I never even thought about winning,” he says. “I was going for the after party, you know what I mean?”
WIRED asked Sasso about life on the show—and what happens now that it’s over.
What It Was Really Like Inside The Circle Apartments
The Circle seems to take place in a vacuum. It’s not clear where the contestants are, how long they’ve been playing, or how isolated they really are. Sasso says he can’t reveal the exact shooting location (other media outlets have reported that the American series was shot in the UK), but he was happy to speak about the enforced surreality of his day-to-day life.
“A lot of people have asked how long we were in the apartments. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know,” Sasso says. “Part of the agreement when we signed up for the show, to go along with the mental game that The Circle plays with you, is that you don’t know which day it is. You don’t know what time it is! So I can’t even answer how long we were in the apartments for, from start to finish. I know the entire experience, overall, was about a month.”
The contestants were required to stay in the apartment complex by themselves. No phone, no computer, no socializing with non-players. “We were all allowed a few minutes of roof time a day, just to get out and breathe for a little bit, and those moments were so amazing,” Sasso says. “You want to stay in the game as long as possible, but the longer you stay in the game, the crazier you end up going.”
The apartments were rigged up with intense lights to make sure the crew could accurately capture what the players were doing inside their rooms, which only amplified how uncomfortable the setting felt. Sasso says he’s been getting feedback from fans about his decision to wear sunglasses inside–and says it was a result of the lighting situation rather than a fashion choice. “Your retinas actually start hurting!” he says. “I was like, I don’t care if I look like the biggest toolbox in television history, I’m wearing sunglasses because my eyes are killing me.”
Dealing With the Fan Response
“Every single person judged me in the beginning, thinking I’m this douchebag Jersey Shore wannabe type of person, and then they got to see who I really am,” Sasso says. He’s been delighted by the memes fans have made of him, especially screengrabs showing him yelling about brussels sprouts and quoting Old School. “At the end of the day, let’s be honest, I’m a loud, stupid, proud idiot, and I hold it 100 percent near and dear to my heart. I get that I’m a character, and I love that people are having fun with it.”