The holiday season has taught us that success can come from the most unlikely of places, as long as you have enough heart, moxy, and spirit. Admittedly, when the cast of Big Brother Reindeer Games was announced, there was not a lot of stock in Nicole Franzel. Though the season 18 winner had spent the most days inside the house of any player in the show’s history, she was not necessarily known for her competitive abilities, which were at the forefront of this holiday spinoff.
But, as she has shown repeatedly, Nicole had the skills and social strategy to make her way to the end. She squashed previous beef with former friends Cody Calafiore and Britney Haynes and used those connections to shield herself. When she did get put in the line of fire, she was able to pull off an upset endurance victory over Josh Martinez. Going into the final four showdown, Nicole seemed least likely to win the $100K prize, especially up against strong competitor Xavier Prather. But once again, the underdog beat him despite a disadvantage. Even in her final face-off with Taylor Hale, the deck was (quite literally) stacked against her. But she overcame Taylor’s lead to finish in first, saving Christmas and becoming the first Reindeer Games winner.
The day after the Reindeer Games finale, Nicole talks with Parade.com about what caused her to return to the Big Brother house after how things ended for her previously, mending fences with both Cody and Britney, and some more behind-the-scenes drama from that Episode 3 challenge.
Related: Meet the Full Cast of Big Brother Reindeer Games
Hey Nicole, how are you doing today?
I’m doing well, how are you?
I’m great. I mean, I pale in comparison to someone who’s $100,000 richer, but all things considered.
Yeah, it’s fun to have it all out there.
I actually want to start with that. Every good holiday season comes with a surprise. And I saw on your husband Victor’s social media that you actually didn’t tell your family that you had won the season. And we saw their live reactions to your win as the finale was airing. Why did you decide to keep that a secret?
They had already known I made final four from someone in the cast who went out and talked to my family. And so I was like, “Okay, so I have to at least make it kind of believable.” Because at first I was going to tell them I got out early. And then I was like, “Okay, I’ll say that I got second.” I didn’t want to tell them over the phone, because they’re all blowing up my phone, like, “How’d you do? How’d you do?” And I just was like, “Second” to all of them. “Taylor won.” Because I wanted to tell them in person.
And then I was like, “You know what? I actually want to save it.” Because what are they gonna do? Walk around and be like, “Yeah, Nicole won. I’m not even gonna watch.” I don’t know what they’re gonna do, tell people. I just wanted it to be a genuine surprise. Because I was still in shock. Honestly, I was so behind in that final competition. It doesn’t even [show] how behind I was. At one point, I didn’t even think I was gonna finish the antlers. So I was just so proud. And I wanted to surprise them.
Let’s go from the ending to the beginning. I spoke with you days after the Big Brother 22 finale, where you were devastated to be evicted in third place. At that time, you seemed very set on not doing reality TV again. So what made you decide to do Reindeer Games? Were you getting that Big Brother itch again?
It was the six-day filming. I was like, “I can do six days.” And to be honest with you, it was perfect timing. It’s always great to get a call. I didn’t know what it was going to be when I saw them call. And then, when they started explaining it, they explained it as a fun lighthearted holiday show [with] six days filming. And I’m like, “You know what, let’s do it.” Victor’s like, “You definitely got to do it.”
I also was breastfeeding my toddler at the time, and I need to almost be away from him. I had never been away from him before. And TMI, it’s so hard when you’re in the room. So I thought this is a great opportunity for his and I’s relationship to kind of separate a little bit. Because my son and I, we do everything together. So I thought it would be good for us, too. I really saw no negatives in it. Because I was just confident in who I am more. As a mom, I’m confident now. People can think what they want, but I know inside who I am, and God knows who I am. So I’m like, “I’m okay. So I’ll do it.”
Now some of that cheer you were promised when pitched the show diminished when you walked through the doors and saw Cody and Britney, both of whom you had a falling out with. What was it like to mend those fences over the course of the season?
So I haven’t talked to Cody in three years. That’s a really long time. But I totally understand. The thing that I was mad at Cody for most wasn’t that he didn’t take me. It was that after the fact–and I told him this–in the Big Brother interviews in the room right after the season finale. [It] really made me annoyed because I felt like, “Okay. I think you didn’t take me more because I’m a threat, and I want you to at least admit that.” So I was more annoyed at what he was saying on his interviews and him not taking me. Because if he would have just been like, “Look, I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice,” fine. But that wasn’t it.
But seeing him it’s like an old friend, like a brother that you haven’t seen in forever. I wanted to go after him, as you saw, right away. And then once he picked me to be on his team, I was like, “Okay, I think I can trust him, and I will use his guilty conscience to protect me as far along as I can in this game.” And then Britney, I was just like, “Oh, no.” Because she and I were so close. And I just really love her. And so when she pulled me aside and apologized to my face, I was like, “Alright, we’re in this together.” I guess we gravitate towards each other; we really can’t help it like. I feel like I have a lifelong friendship with her now that nothing can come between it. So that’s really nice.
You said in last night’s finale that you didn’t necessarily prepare before coming onto the show. But you were able to pull off a few upset victories, including against Josh, Xavier, and Taylor. Which one do you look back on with the most favor?
I’d say the one against Xavier. I knew going in I had a disadvantage. It was a puzzle, and I feel like he’s really good at puzzles. And I always doubt myself on puzzles, even though I feel like I’m supposed to be good at them. And it puts an added pressure on me. Obviously, winning the final competition is the most amazing thing ever. But beating Xavier to get there, I thought, was really amazing. Because I would have bet a million dollars I’d be out. So I think it just felt that gave me the confidence I needed to go into the finale.
When it comes to the social strategy side of things, we saw you work multiple groups. On the one side there was Cody, Frankie, and Britney. There was also a women’s alliance. Once you figured out what the game would be, how easy was it to settle back into that strategizing mode that you’ve played so much on Big Brother?
It was just kind of natural for me to go in there. I’ve done this for 265 days, I feel like it’s part of me a little bit. So I walked in there, and I just kind of did what I [did]. I had no idea of anyone who was going to be in there, and I was really happy with everyone that I saw. And I just said, “Okay, what do I have similar with these people? I’m from Michigan, I’m a winner. I’m a female, BB 16. And then how can I make that like feel like I’m super loyal to them?” I actually went in day one and we made a female alliance. They just didn’t show it because I didn’t know Taylor and Danielle had the other side alliance. So that was obviously stronger. Because I wasn’t asked about in the DR for the first two days. And then it’s kind of like, “Ding ding ding. Why are they not asking you about the female alliance?”
To that point about editing, what’s the biggest thing that we didn’t get to see on Reindeer Games that you wish we did?
Oh, that is such a loaded question. I don’t know. There’s so much that I feel like I could say. More strategy, I guess, in the beginning, in my social game. I feel like, this game, we came and and they said it’s kind of like 70% challenges 30% strategic. And I feel like I easily made that 50/50 in the first two days, just trying to lay as low as possible. This is kind of weird. So when I went up to Britney during the hamster wheel thing, and I was like, “Hey, someone threw you under the bus.” The reason I said that is because you just didn’t see the conversation.
So Xavier said [earlier], “If you don’t throw me in the hamster wheel, I got you. I promise I’ll protect you. I’ll do you a huge favor, whatever you want.” I’m like, “Okay, I won’t throw you in first. Perfect. Frankie, let’s do it.” And then I went in for that favor, and I said, “Don’t throw Britney in,” he didn’t do me the favor. And so then he came to me in the bathroom when I was crying. And he was like, “Look, I’m sorry I couldn’t do that favor for you. Because someone told me Britney was coming after me.” And I was thinking it was Frankie.
So I was like, “Britney, someone threw you under the bus.” I was like, “Why did Frankie pick Xavier? Is he doing Xavier a favor by having him go early?” And so my mind is just going. It’s like double eviction mode. What’s going on? And so that’s why, in the room, I was like, “Frankie, was it you?” I called him out. And then he’s like, “No, it’s gotta be Danielle”. And I think it might have been Josh. [Laughs.] I still don’t know that. But I didn’t just say, “Someone threw you under the bus to say it.” Xavier literally told me And so I wish they would have shown that clip because it would have made a lot more sense.
The more I hear about that day, the more hectic it sounds. To be candid, the fandom feels that Reindeer Games defied a lot of expectations of what it was first announced as. And your win is a nice representation of that. And I’m glad, after how devastated you were in Big Brother 22, if this is really the end of your reality TV journey, it finishes on a much happier note.
Yeah. It’s hard for me to want to ever go back. Because it was awesome. Everything was great about it.