She did it! Big Brother vet Nicole Franzel won season 18 of the CBS series following one of the most shocking, nail-biting finales ever.
The Michigan native, 24, beat out runner-up Paul Abrahamian in a surprise 5-4 tally after he brought her over James Huling to the final two. Jury member Da'Vonne Rogers' vote was what put her over the top.
"I just cannot believe it. The fact that I won against somebody who played such a good game is just — holy cow! Not only did I win, but I beat Paul. He just did so well. I think that's what surprised me the most," Franzel tells Us Weekly exclusively. "[Day] said that she voted for who she thought played the best game. It just made me feel really good that people definitely knew that I came to play."
Nicole and Paul, 23, both would have had a better chance winning against James, 32. But Paul didn't take the easy way out — and Nicole would have done the same. In fact, the nurse tells Us that they had a secret meeting ahead of the finale.
"I would have taken [Paul], because we had a heart-to-heart about an hour before the live show. And I said, 'I'm taking you because I respect your game so much, and I think you deserve to be there. I don't think I am going to beat you, but I'm just letting you know that I'm taking you because my heart wants me to take you. My head wanted James, but I don't mind losing to who I consider the best,'" she recalls. "So, had I lost to Paul I would have been OK with it. Had I lost to James, I don't think he played even close of a game like Paul and I. As a superfan, you want to take someone and be sitting next to someone that's great."
Still, some BB fans were puzzled as to why Paul chose her. "Paul did not think that he could beat James!" Nicole explains. "I even said to him, which is kind of crazy to me, that 'You know you could beat James. Right?' And he said, 'No, I can't. He's playing Derrick's game. I honestly can't.' And I said, 'No, he's not! He's not playing Derrick's game.' I tried getting that through his head and he didn't understand it." (Derrick Levasseur won season 16.)
Nevertheless, there are no hard feelings. Paul was bummed by the loss but put on a brave face. "We hugged each other. He said, 'I love you, you deserve it.' And I would have said the exact same thing to him," Nicole says. "Our feelings for each other are so genuine and real. He acts like he's this tough cookie. He's tough, but he has one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen. … Neither one of us wanted to cut down each other's game. It was just a breath of fresh air."
For more with Nicole, read the rest of her Q&A below:
US WEEKLY: What are you going to do with the $500,000 prize money?
NICOLE FRANZEL: I'm definitely going to get a financial adviser and then take my family on a great vacation. Then I'm going to save it because I'm going to go back to my normal life and I don't want to blow it. … I don't have any other crazy plans for it.
US: When did you first start to like Corey Brooks?
NF: I was attracted to him early on, but I definitely tried to run from him. I didn't want a showmance. I didn't think it was good for my game. I had a showmance last year and I was like, "That's just embarrassing. I'm not doing it again. I'm not in that state of mind. I want to win this season." But I think I realized when I got called out by Frank [Eudy] outside. He was so defensive and had my back so much. I was like, "Dang, this guy really cares about me." And I realized how much I cared about him at that point too.
US: Do you plan on having a relationship outside the house?
NF: We haven't even talked about it. We live so far away. I have no idea, to be completely honest.
US: Do you still keep in touch with ex [season 16 boyfriend] Hayden Voss?
NF: We ended on great terms. And we just both decided that we were ready to see other people. I think he was more ready at that point than I think I was. I don't know how he feels now that [Corey and I] happened. Neither one of us saw this coming. He didn't even know I was going to be on the show.
US: What would you have done similar and different if you could play again?
NF: Maybe avoided some people a little bit more. I have no idea what I did to Michelle [Meyer] for her to treat me the way she does. She did not make eye contact with me after winning, didn't say congratulations and said rude comments [near] my mom. … Da'Vonne [Rogers] even came up to my mom and apologized for Michelle's behavior. [Michelle] went up to Day and said something like, "You ruined everything! You ruined the whole plan!"
US: Would you do a third season?
NF: I don't think I would have a great chance at survival in the house. But, I wouldn't turn it down, that's for sure. It is an opportunity of a lifetime, each experience is very different. [Next time I'd] probably be more chill going through because I would be like, "OK, I won. Let's have fun now."
Relive Nicole's epic win in the video above!
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