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Vanessa Rousso reflects on 'amazing' 'Big Brother' experience

Poker pro @VanessaRousso finishes third on @CBSBigBrother.

Vanessa Rousso needed to answer just one more question correctly. She was tied with Steve Moses in the final CBS "Big Brother" competition Wednesday night. The winner would become head of household, and have the power to evict the other.

The question: Did "Big Brother" competitor Johnny Mac, a dentist, say he liked living in the house because it saved him from looking into people's mouths, or because he could bulk up?

Rousso guessed "B," Moses guessed "A" – correctly -- and Rousso, the 2001 Wellington High valedictorian, was eliminated.

Moses received $500,000. Second-place finisher Liz Nolan got $50,000. Rousso, who spent 98 days in the house, earned nothing.

"That question was a $500,000 coin flip," says Rousso, who as a poker player has seen big money be determined by the fates before -- and has no problem with it.

Rousso, whose two sisters, mother and stepfather live in Boca Raton, says in a phone interview that she has no regrets about her play. Rousso, 32, graduated from Duke University in 2 1/2 years and studied game theory en route to an economics degree before heading to the University of Miami for law school -- only to find poker and amass $4.5 million in tournament winnings.

"I made the best decision I could with the information I had each time," she says. "In hindsight, if I could go back, sure, I'd make other choices."

But she points out she won four Head of Household and four Power of Veto competitions, a key to surviving in the 17-player field.

"Across 17 seasons of this game [airing on TV], I'm thoroughly convinced you are the strongest female ever to play," Moses said as he evicted Rousso. "I so admire your game. I can't justify taking a stronger player to the final vote."

In "Big Brother," the most recent nine players eliminated select the winner from the final two.

"Monetarily, I've had better days at the office," Rousso says. "But I've learned a lot about myself. It was an amazing, amazing, experience."

She notes that the death of her ex-husband, poker player Chad Brown, in 2012, gave her "perspective" because "I've amassed wealth at a young age and experienced death at a young age."

"You realize what's important, and at the end of the day, tomorrow is not promised, and every moment is an opportunity," she says. "It's one of the reasons I dove into 'Big Brother,' the personal evolution that would come out of it."

Rousso broke into tears several times during the show, which she saysis not the norm when at a poker table, where calm is mandatory.

"The tears were 100 percent genuine. I'm an emotional person," she says. "I feel deeply and connect with people despite varied, varied backgrounds. You can't help but care for them. When you're quashing their dreams, you can't help but feel bad about that."

She says especially early in the show, Moses, a self-described nerd, was made fun of.

"I was a nerd in high school, no debating that," Rousso says. "Seeing them being dismissive behind Steve's back really stung. I've been there. That side of humanity makes me tremendously sad. I'm this girl who has been a professionally trained game player for a decade who can execute logically. For me to have that response must mean there's something profoundly difficult for me."

She also used the show to talk about her ongoing two-year relationship with Melissa Ouellet, a Montreal DJ she met in Las Vegas. The women share a love for music, and Rousso notes that Ouellet even cooked meals for Brown in his final days of stomach cancer. Rousso says she tweeted news of the relationship about a month before the competition, and "99 percent of my fans didn't know I had switched teams."

"I hope that at least opened minds up as to what it means to be in a lesbian relationship," Rousso says. "If it can inspire a few people out there, that means something to me."

She also is not sure how much more poker she'll play. She has saved a good portion of her winnings, and notes that, "it's comforting to know if I need money I can go play poker and most of the time leave with more money than I started."

"But with poker, a good day for me meant a bad day for someone else," she admits. "With music, you're inspiring people and connecting with them."

Accidentally punning, Rousso says, "I'd lived a blessed life going into the show, and I'll hopefully continue to live a blessed life coming out."

NSortal@SouthFlorida.com

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