Warning! The interview below contains spoilers for all 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.
Sam Carmona played The Circle with two rules: Come in with an open heart and leave with a clear conscience. She was able to do both, bouncing back from finishing last in the first ratings to becoming the tightest ally of Chaz Lawery, who became the most powerful player of the season and kept her safe through multiple blockings. Sam’s frank emotions and reactions kept us laughing throughout the season, even when she was doing anything but when she found out “Jennifer” (AKA Brett Robinson and Xanthi Perdikomatis) had impersonated Chaz to her. After making the finale, Sam was more than happy to come in second place to Chaz. But it was the wife who crossed the threshold before the “gusband,” as a shocked Sam finished in first. Not even able to stand, she talked about using the money to make her mother and grandmother‘s lives better, moving the room to tears.
Read on to hear Sam’s thoughts on her 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
To start, what made you decide to sign up to play The Circle?
I never saw the show before auditioning. I heard about the casting. And I reached out to a cousin of mine. And I said, “Hey, did you hear the show called The Circle?” And she gave me the most upside-down explanation of it. I had no idea what it meant. She said, “You should do it, you should do it.” So I submitted the video and filled out the form. And it just kept escalating. When it closer to actually being a part of it, that’s when I finally tuned into the first two seasons. And I was like, “Oh, what did I sign up for?” (Laughs.)
Once you found out what you actually did sign up for, did you ever contemplate playing as a catfish? Or were you always going to play as yourself?
Never. I’m a horrible liar, Mike. I am a terrible, terrible liar. So I wouldn’t even set myself up for failure. And I would have gone home seven minutes into the house.
To that point, you came in with the mindset of being yourself. And you were one of the rare contestants this season to not hide any part of themselves, whether it be their identity, job, etc. Was that always something you were going to do?
I’m just open and myself in the real world. I built a following being my true authentic self prior to the show. Clearly this recipe works! I’m not gonna add no paprika. People like the gumbo. I’m gonna give them the gumbo.
(Laughs.) Well let’s talk about that winning dish. It’s clear you were shocked when you won over Chaz. Talk me through your reaction in that moment.
I still don’t believe it! I don’t trust The Circle. I don’t trust it at all. I feel like there gonna be a Circle alert saying, “Psych, Sam!” It’s gonna get me. But it’s so ironic that I’m being asked this question, because I was having a conversation with my mom maybe an hour ago. And she goes, “So at any point, did you realize that you were going to make it?” I said, “No. Never, not once.”
When they were going to announce the winner, I remember having my head down and holding Chaz’s hand, and literally chanting to him, “I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of you.” I’m squeezing the life out of him. Then to hear my name, I feel like a wall of bricks fell on me. What is happening?!
Did you get a better sense after talking with the cast after the fact why you ended up winning?
I just think because I made genuine connections with people who were strong in the game, and there were people who are gunning for them, it just worked in my favor. The people that I love took care of me. And the people that hated them took care of me. The math was on point. Math worked in my favor, and that was never my strong subject.
Speaking of math, do you remember how you did your final ratings?
Chaz was obviously first. I rated Raven two. I rated Tamira three. And Jennifer last because I was mad at her. (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) Yeah, I’d say that’s an understatement. When it got to that endgame, did you ever debate possibly rating someone like Chaz or Raven lower to give yourself better odds of winning? Or were you always going to go with your heart above all?
So I’m a firm believer that, if you say something, you have to stand on it. If I made a choice, I have to be able to defend it. I don’t have a malicious bone in my body. I could never betray Chaz and Raven like that. Because from what I’ve seen, they haven’t betrayed me. It took me so long to do my final ratings because my conscience literally said, “What makes me more deserving than them? I don’t know their stories.” Like it took me forever. I was crying my eyes. I was like, “But these are my friends. And I don’t know what to do!”
Let’s go back to the beginning. It’s a rough start, as you finish last in the very first ratings. What was your reaction to that, and how did that impact your approach moving forward?
I have never been lost in the sauce more in my life than in that first day. I’m like, “I just talked about liking chicken! I mean, I said I cheated on a man. But I didn’t cheat on my taxes. Why do they hate me?” (Laughs.) I couldn’t gather why I placed so low. And now I’m like, “Alright, I gotta kiss ass.” And I’ve never done that in my life. I don’t even know how to do it. I have small lips! I wouldn’t be any good at it. I just didn’t get what I was supposed to do.
Well one of the things that helps is right after that, you begin talking with Chaz, who ends up becoming your number one and most important relationship of the game. How did that end up forming up so quickly?
I’m very easy to impress. You don’t have to do a lot. You could literally flick a lighter and I’m just surprised. So the fact that he brought up chicken, and chicken is my favorite, that’s it. I’m so easily swayed. He just brought up chicken. Yep, trust and love him. Give him the code to my phone. I like this guy.
(Laughs.) Throughout the season, people were saying that you two and Raven were a power trio. Did you ever get a sense that the three of you were actually working together?
Absolutely. In the many interactions that I had with Raven, we saw each other without actually seeing each other. Because I knew that she and Chaz were so close and he and I were so close. I trust his judgment of character completely. So if he was defending her and going to bat for her, that said a lot.
One of the rare times these first impressions didn’t pan out for you is obviously with Jennifer. But for most of the game, you were one of the ones who had a soft spot for her. Talk me through that first phase of the relationship.
So a lot of the conversations are not shown, because there are so many of us and so many conversations take place. I had a lot of one on one conversations with Jennifer throughout the series. So I felt like I was the most connected to her. Something that I didn’t disclose during filming was that I lost my grandmother two weeks prior to even starting the game. I went into the game with a complete sense of depression. I felt like I abandoned my mom during one of the toughest times of her life because she just lost her mom. There was this guilt that I was carrying with me. And speaking to Jennifer felt like I had this more mature woman to speak to. It kind of gave me some comfort, like “Okay, I have an auntie here when I’m far away from my family.”
That makes a lot of sense. Because you are incredibly angry at Jennifer once you suspect that she was the Hacker, to the point that you even call her a bad person. I can imagine that, despite this being a game, you put a lot of personal stock into that relationship that made the betrayal feel worse.
And I feel like it’s my fault. I should have in that moment, “Okay, it’s a game. She’s playing a game. This isn’t my apartment.” But because she was so sweet and convincing, I literally just forgot that I was in the game. I’m like, “Nope, this is my aunt. She’s my safety blanket.”
Were you surprised to have such an emotional reaction to that?
Yeah. And I think my rage and my anger also were not just aimed toward her for the betrayal, but at myself for being so gullible. It wasn’t it wasn’t all anger towards the Jennifer character but more like, “Sam, why would you allow this? You should know better.”
I think what didn’t help was the discovery of the “newbie revolution.” You seemed incredibly hurt by that, saying that the people who entered on Day 1 had always extended open arms to anyone new. But that’s another element that some would say was just part of the game. Talk me through that reaction.
You’ll see in any episode where anyone new comes in, I was always welcoming. I was always nice. I was always genuine. Maybe not so nice to Sasha. (Laughs.) But everyone else, I’m like, “Yes, sure. Come on through.” Because I knew that there were things happening already, I wanted to protect the babies as the older woman of The Circle. I wanted to make sure the kiddies stayed away from the drama. So when I found out that there was this revolution happening and nobody gave me a heads up, I was mad. Not even a, “Hey Sam, this is happening. Yoo-hoo, motherflower.” How dare you not tell me. (Laughs.)
Well speaking of drama, I want to talk about your time as influencer. You had to choose between getting rid of Marvin, who had a lot of drama with Raven, and Jennifer, who you had just suspected was the Hacker. What made you decide to ultimately block Marvin?
Because I’m so selfless. I’m somebody who will always put other people before me. Raven was so adamant about getting rid of him. And I’m just like, “You know what, sis. I’m mad at Jennifer. But I’m gonna let you have this moment. I’ll deal with Jennifer tomorrow. She’s on the to-do list. You want to take care of more of him right now. This is your opportunity. He tried to play you; go ahead.” Because I wanted her to have her redemption.
So when Jennifer does make it through to the final table, was there any remorse for not blocking her then?
Raven’s happiness was my priority. I absolutely wanted her to have that moment. But again, the type of person that I am, if I’m gonna get you today, I’m gonna get you tomorrow. So Jennifer was not off of the radar. I just want that to be very clear. Jennifer was gonna get dealt with. (Laughs.) And once I did see that Jennifer didn’t make the final five, then my mind went into, “Okay, she’s got to see me at the table.”
Talk me through that moment of seeing her (or should I say “them”) at the table. What was it like mixing all of that emotion with the surprise of realizing she was actually Brett and Xanthi?
So I remember in that moment seeing Xanthi. And I’m like, “That looks like the pretty kindergarten teacher. Wait, what is happening?” Because you get so caught up in the shock of it all, anger, rage, resentment, grudges, all of that is pushed to the bottom. Because the shock is too intense. There are too many emotions to try to juggle with in that moment. And then seeing Brett, it was a lot. It was a lot to go from being in seclusion and not speaking to anyone face-to-face, and now having these people around you. It’s very intense.
What has the experience been like for you to watch this back, not only seeing other people’s games and reactions, but also rewatching your own journey?
So initially, I didn’t want to see it. I was anxious to watch it. I’m like, “I don’t want to see myself. Ew, no.” When people tell me, “Sam, you’re a lot,” now I see. (Laughs.) I’m a lot! So I’m just like, “Wow, I really said ‘poop angels’ on the TV.” I said that I like dad bods, and now I’m getting DMs from older guys with their bellies out. I said I like British accents and I got guys from the U.K. saying, “I want to read to you.” I’m just like, “Wait, what is going on?!” (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) Yeah, a lot of unexpected doors have been opened. So what has life been for you since you won The Circle and became $200,000 richer?
Honestly, I just wanted to come back to normal life. I’m somebody who’s big on staying humble, staying low-key, I’m not somebody to be in the bars and the clubs; that was in my 20s. I’m perfectly fine being in the house doing nothing. So it’s just making sure I still maintain my relationship with my family, keeping them in the loop about things. And it’s also a sense of security. I feel safer in my home.
We got to see your mother and grandmother near the end of the season. Would any of them ever want to play The Circle?
I wouldn’t say my grandmother only because I don’t think The Circle is bilingual, and it would butcher her English. Honestly, I think my mother would make a killing. She would probably win The Circle, I kid you not. My mother is quick. If you think I’m witty, she’s witty with an education. I’m just an ignorant witty person! (Laughs.)