The season 1 runner-up gets into what prompted the "newbie revolution," and whether he would play for a third time.
Warning! The interview below contains spoilers for episodes 1 through 8 of Netflix's The Circle season 5, which aired in December and January. Please do not continue if you do not wish to be spoiled on who was blocked in those episodes.
Shubham Goel is the only person in the history of The Circle to play twice. But the season 1 runner-up's time was a regular vacation compared to his reprise. Shooby was forced to catfish as blogger "Sasha," which already put him on edge, having to go against his usual straight-shooting play style. He received an immediate wake-up call when he was not the preferable newbie against "Tamira" (AKA Tasia Lesley), finding himself on the back foot for the first time in his Circle career. So Shooby pivoted, and aggressively so. He made immediate alliances with "Bruno" (AKA Billie-Jean Blackett) and Tom Houghton, then tried to rally all the new players against those who started the game. Unfortunately, his hard gameplay immediately caught up with him. Blocking his alliance mate Bruno caused Billie-Jean to badmouth him in her goodbye message. And the "newbie revolution" never got off the ground, as Tom decided to cut Sasha once he was influencer. It was a much less successful but memorable second season for the returnee.
Read on to hear Shubham's thoughts on his time in the game. And check out Parade.com throughout The Circle season 5 with the various players and catfishes alike.
Related: The Circle Season 5: Everything You Need to Know
So I have to start with the obvious. What made you want to come back and play in The Circle?
I just love The Circle so much. I love the game. It's such an incredible game. And I just wanted another chance to try to win this. Honestly, I would go to Mount Everest and back to play this game. So for me, it was a no-brainer.
It's unprecedented to come back across multiple seasons. Did you express to Netflix that you would want to come back after season 1, or did they reach out to you with the opportunity?
I always told them I loved it. I think it was both sides. There are a lot of moving pieces. But when they reached out, I was super stoked.
When you find out you're officially going back, was there anything specific you did to prepare? Or did you feel like it would just be like riding a bike?
That's a good question. I've seen all the seasons. So I kind of had an idea for different scenarios, what I might want to do or not do. Take my learnings from season one, what I thought I could take from it or what I maybe shouldn't take. And then at the end, just relaxing, getting in the zen of mind, getting stoked to be doing it.
To that point, what was one thing you took and didn't want to take from your first season going into this new experience?
One thing I wanted to take is I just wanted to be adaptable. I remember the first season when I was at the bottom of the rankings the first time; I just remembered that things could change super quickly, so never give up. Something I didn't want to take with me was my feelings toward catfishing. I disagree with catfishing in real life. But in the first season, I was a little too tough on catfishes in the game, which is a different way of playing. That's why I said, "Sharky Shubham wants to apologize to all the catfishes I hunted successfully and unsuccessfully." (Laughs.) So this time, I realized it wasn't about getting the catfish.
Well, it didn't help that "Sharky Shubham" had to become a catfish himself! What was your reaction when you found out that you had to play as a catfish the second time around?
I was just so grateful for the opportunity. I love this game so much. And I think after the first season after we finished filming, I learned a lot from the game. And, as I said before, I've evolved my views on catfish. I felt really bad in the game of season one how I went after them strategically and kept hunting them down. So I kind of already had that evolution of the catfish. And I understood why. Because if I had come in as myself, that would have been interesting. It would have been fun also to play as myself. I wonder what would have happened.
So you come onto season 5 and immediately get a check into your popularity when it turns out more of the players decided to support Tamira than you. And I know you mentioned you started season 1 near the bottom, but you then proceeded to be an influencer for basically the rest of the season. So how did it feel to have this rare moment of unpopularity in the game?
It was just so tough. And I think I made a lot of mistakes in that first group chat. I should have been a lot more energetic. I was a little nervous about that one. But I mean good for Tamira. That was tough to lose that contest. And not only do these people like her more than me, but then I have to vote someone out on my side. So that was a little tough.
What's interesting is after that is when you start to become much more aggressive with your gameplay, specifically chatting with Bruno and Tom and separately making immediate alliances with them. Was that a way you always planned to play, or was that a result of what had just happened?
That's a great question. I did want to make genuine connections. And I really did try with Bruno. I felt like I did with my "TomTom," the U.K. connection. But you're right. I think something happened. When I lost to Tamira and found out I had to block someone, I just got into fight or flight mode. And I knew these blockings were coming. So I tried to make genuine connections. I tried to play this game as hard as I could because it didn't work. And I know it obviously didn't help that I played too hard. But I would have rather gone out swinging. The worst thing for me is if I didn't try and I lost. I would rather play too hard too fast and lose than not play hard and lose.
You're immediately faced with this decision of who to block from your team. And you ultimately chose Bruno, one of the people you were in an alliance with. What made you block Bruno over Jennifer?
First of all, I just wanted to say I'm so sorry, to Billie-Jean, aka Bruno. She showed so much loyalty to me, and I felt so bad about it. But I talked with Tom, Jennifer, and Bruno that day. And Tom and I had that U.K. connection, and then Tom. And Jennifer actually liked my heart organ in the game. And then she chose me. We didn't really talk, but I felt like this was a woman who was drawn to me. So I felt a genuine connection with both of them also.
And then Tom said that strategically he and Jennifer are together. And if I save Jennifer, I get Tom and Jennifer. So it was very tough. I felt so bad. And it sucks. I just felt I had genuine connections with all three. And with Tom, I would get two newbies on board, which helped inspire my plan to unite the newbies. But I felt so bad for Bruno, especially after I put her in my alliance.
So what was your reaction when Billie-Jean called Sasha out in her goodbye message the next day, saying that you misled her?
Oh, it was great for Sasha. (Laughs.) I totally get where Bruno's coming from. And I don't blame her in the slightest. She chose me because I reached out to her, and I felt so bad. So, in a way, I deserved it. I get why she did it completely. So all I could do was adapt at that point.
That, of course, leads to the failed "newbie revolution." Was this something you had already planned to do, knowing you'd come in late? Or did this come as that adaptation you were just speaking about?
I've watched The Circle for a long time. And I always thought in the back of my head, "Maybe newbies should stick together." But it's not what I came in doing. Because I just wanted to build genuine connections. And I thought, building friendships, I could slowly start to rise in the ranks, hopefully. But this time, after losing that contest against Tamira, I'm like, "Okay, these people are choosing Tamira over me." And I know Bruno visited Chaz because Chaz told me in the group chat. So I felt like no matter what, Chaz was coming after me. I talked to Raven, and we had a great chat. But I thought she wouldn't like what I did to Bruno.
So I just felt like my currency as an ally was zero. And I don't blame anyone; I totally get where people were coming from. But I thought the newbie revolution was brilliant. Because I felt like I knew where the game was going. So I'm like, "Why are we all fighting for a fifth spot?" Even if you get to the end, we're going to be seen strategically as side pieces to the main people. Or the five people can band together and make a play for this. I thought it was a great play.
Do you have any regrets about the way you did it, inviting all the other newbies into one chat to pitch the idea?
I think that's a great question. No regrets about the move. But yeah, I feel like I should have carefully crafted the emails, maybe break it up before I go to all four. Because if I talked to Tom and Jennifer, maybe they'd say, "Oh, maybe it's not a great idea to put Tamira here. Maybe we should just keep her out of it." But I felt like the clock was ticking. Based on the days, it was risk/reward. But in hindsight, for sure.
There's one moment during the anonymous questions game where Chaz accuses you of being a man. You answer very firmly and passionately, something that some players liked. Chaz was not one of them, and he claims he wouldn't have eliminated you if you hadn't responded that way. What's your reaction to that?
I mean, I love Chaz. I do think when you're in the influencer chat, you have to tell the other person the reasons. So I think even if I didn't do that, Chaz would have come after me, just because of the Bruno thing. But having said that, with that question, I thought what happened was, when it said "man with the plan," I thought it meant someone also in the newbie revolution leaked the plan. I was a little frustrated. I felt so anxious. And I got lost in the passion of things. I also wanted to show that if people thought Sasha was timid, I could also show my strong side. I thought after the revolution, people would want to see a strong Sasha, because that's someone they would want to follow.
How surprised were you to be blocked by Chaz and Tom, considering both Tom being a newbie and everything that had recently been going down with Marvin?
I didn't know about the Marvin thing until that anonymous game where people were asking him questions. I'm like, "Oh, wow, Marvin is on the chopping block, too." And then, when he got eighth in the ratings, I thought it was going to come down to Tamira, Marvin, or myself. I knew my only chance of surviving was if Tom or Jennifer reached the top spot. And it sucks as Jennifer was one away. I feel like if Jennifer had gotten to the top, I would have been completely safe. With Tom, I had a good feeling I was safe. I was still nervous. I knew I was probably one of the people Chaz was targeting. It was just sad. I mean, I have so much love for Tom. I would have had I had Tom's back. I was going to have Tom until the end. But no hard feelings.
So had you survived, were your plans to go to the final table with all the newbies?
Yeah, it was. I was completely with the newbies to the end. At that point, I also felt like I had a connection with Raven. I definitely would have loved to work with her. But based on the events from there, that was my game plan. When I took out Bruno, that was like I had chosen my destiny now. I'm riding with the newbies at that point.
You end up visiting Jennifer after you're blocked. What was your reaction to finding out she was actually two people who had previously been blocked?
Shocked for sure! I didn't know they were actually in the game before me because I didn't see them. But I was stoked. I saw Brett's Big Brother season. I thought he was so funny and entertaining. I thought Jen was real. So shocked. I loved meeting Xanthi and Brett.
So how do you look back ultimately on your second time on The Circle? Anything you're taking away differently this time around?
I think obviously I didn't do as well as season one; by far, I didn't do as well. Oftentimes I would look at things as "this" or "that." But I think in life, it's not so easy to judge people. I think there are so many layers and complexity with everyone. So for me, I really want to take a step back to look at situations with a lot more layers and nuance.
Would you bring that more layered thinking into a possible third season of The Circle?
Listen, I have so much love for The Circle. I would climb Everest to play again. Absolutely. I'll be there. I would love to play the game again.
Are there any other reality shows you'd love to do?
I'm getting my real estate license. So some Selling Sunset would be pretty sick. I would play Survivor. I grew up watching Survivor with my family.
Next, read our interview with The Circle season 4 winner Frank Grimsley.