Fans fell in love with Joey Sasso as they watched him make friends — and $100,000 — on Netflix’s new reality competition show, The Circle. Though not everyone was feeling him at first, he quickly grew on both his castmates and those watching at home. Despite being announced as the winner of the series on Wednesday, January 15, the star managed to spare a few moments to chat exclusively with Life & Style about love, money and being yourself. Though we could tell that Joey was a winner, the news that he actually snagged the prize came as a surprise to him.

“I never saw it coming,” Joey, 25, dished to Life & Style. “I really blacked out on stage, when I was announced, I never thought that was gonna happen, I was so happy and blessed to have made it to the finale and that’s all I wanted. … I thought it was going to be [Shubham Goel] or [Sammie Cimarelli], possibly, and I was just ready to hang out and meet the cast, so when it came down to the final two with me and Shooby, I was, you know, still there, considering for the first time that, wait, I could win? What? Like, I was just in complete shock, so it’s crazy. … I really did not see it coming.”

Joey Sasso Wins The Circle on Netflix

What we didn’t see coming was the real romance that bloomed in front of our eyes on the Netflix show. What “Rebecca” and “Adam” had may have been fake, but the chemistry between Miranda Bissonnette and Joey was all too authentic. On the status of their relationship now, though, the star is keeping mum. “Me and Miranda have spent time together, and we have hung out a lot, but it’s one of those things that everyone wants us to, you know, be married and have kids,” he explained. “I totally get it because everyone’s seeing us meet for the first time and have so much genuine love for each other, but with that situation, it’s difficult.” He’s wary about confirming or denying something when things can change down the line, but he would like people to know that they “are in each other’s lives.”

“We’re so close. We’re the best of friends,” he told Life & Style. “We have so much genuine love for each other. And none of that was fake and none of that was lost after the show, but for everyone who’s asked if we are, you know, getting married next week … I just think that it’s something that’s between her and I.”

Joey and Miranda Kiss on The Circle

On the subject of everything else, though, the New York native is an open book — and that includes talking about catfish. According to him, he wasn’t bothered by the fact that other people went that route. In fact, he thought fellow contestant Seaburn Williams played it perfectly. “I really wasn’t upset at all,” he said about the “Rebecca” reveal. “I was just so happy that all of us from the original cast from the first day, made it to that point. … [Seaburn] deserved it, I think, when you look at the catfishes in the game. The difference between him and the others to me is Seaburn you can tell went in it and was having a blast. You could tell he’s comfortable in his own skin. He was having a really fun time catfishing and went in there with the right attitude, where I think other catfishes, the reason they didn’t make it was because their motives going in were they weren’t OK with themselves or didn’t think they’d be judged in the right way for being themselves. They thought they had to be somebody else. … I think every person who catfished would have been more liked and more well-received if they had just been themselves from the beginning.”

When “Mercedeze” was revealed as Karyn Blanco and “Adam” turned out to be Alex Lake, he was shocked, but not upset. There was one person who could’ve broken his heart with a catfish reveal, though, and that was Shubham. “I knew, no matter what, there had to have been at least one person [in the final five] who wasn’t who they said they were. And I prepared myself for that before I went in to meet them,” he shared. “If Shooby wasn’t Shooby, that just would have been a little devastating, but I told myself, if it’s not Shooby, I’m going to hug that person and say, ‘Look, I hope we can still be the friends that we created while talking to each other.'”

Joey And Shooby Shubham Are Best Bros For Life on The Circle

As for him, he was happy to be 100 percent himself — or, OK, maybe it was more like “95 percent.” Admitting that he didn’t tune into the original British version of the show, which inspired the Netflix version, he did try to catch up on some YouTube clips so that he would know what he was getting into on the series. When he ended up in the house, he felt staying genuine was the only way to go. And that’s pretty much what he did up until episode 10 when the contestants had to declare their rivals. “I was freaking out before that happened, because I was like … now, this is where it becomes a game, you know what I mean? This is where it’s meant to stir the pot and get people a little upset,” he said. As for that last 5 percent? “That was really the only thing or time where I was like, ‘OK, this is where the tide can change. I need to be mindful that every decision I make here can really change the way I’ve acted the entire way since coming into the game.'” Well, it looks like that move paid off.