Goel, a 24-year-old who works in technology, appeared on a show about social media but hates social media… but he turned out to be really good at making friends online anyway, possibly because he was so unique. He came in second place!
“Look, I was completely shocked at how far I got,” Goel tells PEOPLE. “I’m so thankful to get so far, but for me, it was all about proving a point.”
And he means it: Spend any time talking with Goel — who once ran for governor of California on an anti-tax, anti-social media platform — and he doesn’t hesitate to rattle off all the same talking points that he brought up on the show.
Yes, social media is “social Medusa.” Yes, influencers should be overseen by a “justice board.” Yes, he really does feel that strongly about people who “pander” and “catfish” on the internet.
“This wasn’t a reality show or game show for me,” he says. “This was proving a point about the world we live in.”
Even so, Goel wears the weight of all of his strong opinions lightly. He says what he thinks, and he calls his time on The Circle “insanely exciting” and “fulfilling.”
“There’s absolutely nothing I would do differently,” he says.
Even though he came close to being eliminated on the first night and even though he may have gotten a little too attached to a player named “Rebeca” who wasn’t real — who was, in fact, a man named Seaburn — he also walked away with new friends and a whole new fan base.
“I was shocked by how many people agreed with me,” Goel says.
Joey Sasso, Goel’s best Circle friend and the season’s eventual winner, tells PEOPLE: “Shooby, he’s just such an interesting person and his outlook on life and the way he looks at certain things and the modern world… I think that’s what makes him a really, really beautiful person.”
“I remember on the first day when I imploded and had a breakdown of a large magnitude, Joey was completely backing me up and supporting everything I said,” Goel says.
Since The Circle finished filming in the U.K. last year, the players have all stayed in touch and are planning to get together in Miami soon. “It’ll be cool just hanging out with everyone in the outside world,” Goel says. (But, he notes, “When I look at Seaburn, I see Rebecca’s face a lot.”)
Back at home, Goel, a virtual-reality designer and software entrepreneur, says he’s been splitting his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He plans on “kicking it several times a week” with Sasso, who has been spending more time in L.A. to launch a Hollywood career.
“I know my connection with Joey is going to stay the same,” Goel says.
His family has been excited for his time as a reality star. And while he found the whole adjustment to the rhythms of a social media-based experience “surreal,” to say the least, “I felt really grateful after. I just felt like the luckiest kid.”
“I have no idea how I come across. Everything I did there, I’m at peace with what I did,” he tells PEOPLE. “I tried to prove my point that being yourself was always more than enough on social media.”
The Circle is streaming now on Netflix.