Ten days ago Hayden sat down in the Diary Room and asked, “When I busted into this joint, did you ever think I would get this far?”
Despite his disbelief, the college student, 24, rode his string of HOH wins and a subtle social game to take the $500,000 prize in the live Big Brother season finale Wednesday night, narrowly defeating fellow Brigade member, Lane, with a hefty assist from the Meow-Meow.
But it wasn’t easy, with just about every aspect of the finale coming down to a nail-biting conclusion. Hayden won the final HOH competition on the very last question, and then opted for the lesser of two evils, taking Lane with him to the final two, and sending Enzo out the door. Then it was almost a hung Jury House, with the votes split right down the middle, but fittingly enough, it was Enzo who broke the deadlock by casting the deciding vote.
In a season that saw a secret alliance make it from week one to the very end, no one was more shocked than Hayden at the final outcome. “I thought people hated me!” he tells PEOPLE. “Coming into this house my biggest fear was being the first one sent home. When that last key was pulled out, my head exploded!”
Lane, who took second place and walked away with a cool $50,000, took the loss in stride, hinting, though, that the game was still on. “I’m going to ask Hayden for at least another fifty grand.” he said after the show. “I want him at least half broke by the end of the night, and that’s going to be a whole other game that he won’t even see coming.”
None of the houseguests seemed to take Hayden seriously, even among the fraternity of his alliance, and by the time they did, it was too late. Brigade member Matt explained: “He charmed us with his flowing locks, golden tan and all-American good looks. We believed him when he said he cared.”
Beyond the little matter of who was walking out with $500,000, there was plenty of drama packed into the two-hour finale. Here are some highlights:
• Rachel faced the girls she targeted from the start, including Monet, who called her a “skank-ho.” “Ewww! And you can quote me on that!” she tells PEOPLE. “She’s still mad that she got evicted in week two and I was the cause of her eviction.”
• Matt addressed the lie he told about his wife being gravely ill, and it seems as if the “Brains of the Brigade” had trouble wrapping his “diabolical super-genius” mind around why it upset people. “I feel like I’m dealing with a sea full of lunatics,” he said after the show. “I lied on Big Brother – sorry, but that’s what people do.”
• Britney had her own set of highs and lows, taking the title of America’s Favorite Player and its $25,000 prize, only to walk out of the house to find out about the fire that ripped through her Arkansas home. “All I know is that everyone is okay, and obviously that’s the most important thing to me,” she said, adding later, “Maybe I can camp out in sequester, or they can let me and [my fiancé] Nick live in the BB house for a while.”
• Meanwhile, it was Enzo, empty-handed in third place, who seemed most in the mood to celebrate. “I saw my wife in the audience, and she’s looking off the hook right now,” he told PEOPLE. “I cannot wait for tonight, because we’re gonna make a baby – maybe adopt a baby, who knows? I don’t care that my mom is in the room, I’m breaking something tonight.”