Former "Big Brother" contestant Nicole Anthony, seen at Wyandanch Park on...

Former "Big Brother" contestant Nicole Anthony, seen at Wyandanch Park on Feb. 18. Credit: Morgan Campbell

The latest in an occasional series catching up with Long Islanders who have appeared on reality-TV shows.

When last we saw Long Islander Nicole Anthony, she had been voted America's Favorite Houseguest on "Big Brother" season 21 in 2019 and was invited back for the following year's all-star season 22. She was single, living with her parents in Bohemia and dreaming of buying her own car.

What a difference a couple of years make. Today Anthony, 28, is engaged to be married, living with her fiance in their own apartment and driving the specific make and model of SUV that, she tells Newsday, "I've always wanted ever since I was a teenager. … So, yeah, just big life updates in the sense of independence and becoming my own person."

She's also gotten an upgrade at the Sayville school where she works, which out of privacy concerns she requested not be named. "I got promoted to teacher's assistant," she says. "So instead of being individually with one student [as a school aide], I'm the assistant for the whole classroom. So now I have all nine kids that I oversee at a special-education preschool, all my 4- and 5-year-olds that I love."

Her fiance, Brian "Lefty" Fontanez — so nicknamed because of the congenital cerebral palsy they both discuss publicly, and which makes his left side stronger than his right — works the front desk there, after moving here from Pennsylvania to be with her. Not a reality-TV watcher, he had never seen her on "Big Brother."

They had met online, but not in the usual sense. "I always said, 'Oh, I'll have to meet somebody in person.' I would never be on a dating app. But I would game a lot," particularly with the online multiplayer video game "Among Us," in which characters on a spaceship must deduce who among them is a murderer. "So we would hear each other's voice when we were playing, and then we started talking" in the game's "ghost chat" room, where killed characters can gather. Eventually they began direct-messaging each other "just to keep in contact, like, how was your day? And it grew from there."

Nicole Anthony, then of Bohemia, in her publicity photo for...

Nicole Anthony, then of Bohemia, in her publicity photo for season 21 of CBS' "Big Brother."  Credit: CBS / Sonja Flemming

Fontanez eventually asked for her phone number, which she gave him "one digit at a time because I'm obnoxious," she says, laughing. "But he's, like, 'I'm gonna call you on Valentine's Day.' And we both kind of knew if you're calling somebody on Valentine's Day, it's because you like them."

He did call that day in 2021, "and we knew right from that moment that we were meant to be," says 2013 Connetquot High School salutatorian Anthony, who went on to get an education degree from St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, now known as St. Joseph's University. "About a month after that we started officially dating in person," each variously driving three hours to see each other. They moved in together that September, and the following May he proposed.

As for that car, "It's my [Toyota] RAV4. … Its name is Birdie," she says, "because a psychic medium said to me and my sisters" — elder siblings Megan and Kayla, all daughters of retired state worker Jerry and housewife Kathy — "that relatives who have passed on come to us as red cardinals. And I so gravitated to this red car, and I call it Birdie and it makes me think about the people that have passed and are watching over me."

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