By Yvette Pecha

Big Brother” is one of the longest-running reality game shows of all time, having begun airing on CBS in2000. Throughout the show’s tenure, there have been more than300 “houseguests.” And while houseguests commonly compete in multiple seasons, only one of them has ever won the show twice: Nicole Franzel of Ubly, Michigan. She earned that distinction late last year with her victory on “Big Brother Reindeer Games”; her first win came in 2016. Having played for a total of four seasons of “Big Brother” and one season of “The Amazing Race,” Nicole spent “most of her 20s” appearing on television screens.

Becoming a reality show legend was not something Nicole (a Thumb Electric Cooperative member) could have envisioned when she applied to be on the show the first time in 2014.She and her mom Jeni had been superfans of “Big Brother,” which features contestants living together under 24/7 surveillance in isolation and voting someone out each week, since she was 8. But the first year Nicole was eligible to audition (the show’s age requirement is 21), she didn’t put much thought into doing so — “I thought there was no way I’d get in,” she said. She was also in the process of completing nursing school at Saginaw Valley State University. But Jeni, who’d been encouraging her to try out, made one more push and called Nicole at school the day before the application deadline, urging her to come home and make an audition video. Nicole did, and the day after submitting it, she got a call from the show’s casting department. She went through a series of telephone and live interviews and was ultimately chosen as one of 16 houseguests for season 16.

That first year, she came in seventh place. Nicole said that at the time, she was really glad to have had the experience, but she didn’t expect anything to come from it. She took and passed her nursing board exam and began working in a hospital rehab unit. But then, “California area codes started popping up” on her caller ID—the show’s producers liked Nicole and wanted her to come back. She returned to “Big Brother” in 2016, and this time, as the last houseguest standing, she went home with $500,000. She got much more than clout and cash though—one of the other contestants on the show that year was Victor Arroyo. They didn’t have a “showmance,” but Victor pursued her after the season ended and they started dating a year later. Victor, who lived in Louisiana, moved to Ubly with Nicole, and they are now married and have a 2-year-oldson named Arrow.

These days, Nicole is a social media influencer and small-business owner. Nicole and Jeni operate Franny and the Fox, a clothing boutique featuring handmade, eco-friendly apparel. Initially, it was an online store that exclusively featured clothes for children. But upon hosting pop-up shops in Port Austin and getting great feedback, Nicole and Jeni opened a store front in Cass City and expanded their product line to include women and babies. “My mom and I love to shop, and we’ve always had a unique style,” Nicole said. She’s happy to have the opportunity to work from home and be with her son, but she keeps up her nursing license in case she decides to return to the profession one day.

As far as keeping her options open to television, Nicole announced she had retired from “Big Brother” upon starting her family. But when producers offered her the prospect of playing “Reindeer Games,” which was filmed in just six days, she couldn’t pass it up. “Saving Christmas” through a series of holiday-themed competitions, Nicole walked away with the $100,000 prize, which she plans to use to build a barn for a hobby farm. She is back into retirement—for now. “If the opportunity for the right show at the right time appears, I’ll consider it,” she said. “But I’m also super content with never going back.”

If “Reindeer Games” is truly the end of Nicole’s reality TV career, she can retire with her head held high. “I never expected to be in this position—but I can proudly say I’ve stayed true to myself through everything,” she said. She’s made great friendships through the show and says being watched for eight years of her life undoubtedly benefited her personal growth. “It was a great learning experience,” she said. “But the thing I learned the most is that no matter where I go, I always want to come back home.”


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