"Survivor" contestant Frannie Marin didn't recognize the Minnesota connection until she had spent over a week on a Fiji island.
After rival tribes merged on the hit TV series, the St. Paul native noticed competitor Carolyn Wiger had a Minnesota necklace and a Lake Superior tattoo on one thigh.
"I described the street that I had lived on and she knew it," Marin said in a phone interview, the day after viewers learned she had been eliminated from the reality show in early May. "It meant so much to bond over that. Coming together like that was so crazy."
Marin and Wiger were two of three Minnesotans to compete in Season 44, the first time the state has been that well represented in the long-running CBS hit series. Sarah Wade, who hails from Rochester, was the fourth of 18 competitors to be booted and Marin finished in eighth place. But Wiger, a drug counselor in Stillwater and a North St. Paul native, made it all the way to the final three.
"Growing up in Minnesota, everyone is kind and humble, so I really approached this competition with a very small ego,' said the 23-year-old Marin, who now works as a research consultant in Cambridge, Mass. "I'm not standing up there gloating. I'm standing up and telling everyone that they are all so great. That felt very Minnesotan."
That cheerleader approach didn't lead to a million-dollar prize. But Marin stood out, both for developing a "show-mance" with Matt Blankinship and winning three gritty immunity challenges that showed off her mental and physical strengths.
"People kept asking me if I had worked in manual labor and if I had been a farmhand because I was good at pushing and picking things up," she said, punctuating her responses with verbal exclamation points. "I talked to my mom about this. I think it had to do with all those years of shoveling snow. I got so ripped from all that shoveling."
Wiger, 36, flailed at anything physical. You could often hear her wail on obstacle courses as competitors sailed by her. But she proved to be one of the craftiest players in the show's history, fooling fans and foes into thinking that she was too kooky to be a threat.
"I consistently underestimated her and I think everyone else has underestimated her, too," competitor Carson Garrett said in one of the final episodes.
Garrett, Wiger and Yamil "Yam Yam" Arocho formed a key alliance early on that was instrumental in assuring that all three made the final four. Arocho, a salon owner from Puerto Rico, was the eventual champ.
Wiger may have inherited some of her political savvy from her father, Chuck Wiger, who served in the Minnesota Senate for more than two decades.
Wiger, who watched most of the season with family that includes her 9-year-old son, said her dad could be annoying during the episodes, which were taped last summer on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji.
"At one point, I told him he couldn't come over anymore because he wouldn't stop talking," said Wiger in a Zoom interview on Thursday. "I was so scared of my family's reactions. I thought my son would wonder why I didn't do better in the challenges. But they were all proud of me regardless."
Wiger watched Wednesday's finale with past and present contestants in a New York venue.
"I was terrified to watch it. You know how many times I wanted to run out?" she said, sitting on the edge of a hotel bed. "But it was OK."
Marin watched her elimination episode at a party in Boston.
"If you're going to watch yourself lose on 'Survivor,' do it with friends chanting your name," she said.
Marin had nothing but praise for Wiger. During the final Tribal Council, in which she served as a jury member, she heaped praise on her fellow Minnesotan.
"Carolyn, you have changed my life. Genuinely," said Marin. "The way you are unabashedly yourself and so open to be you changed my understanding of how I move through the world."
The only other Minnesotan to advance as far as Wiger did since "Survivor" premiered in 2000 was Laurel Johnson, a financial consultant from Minneapolis who was the second runner-up in Season 36.
In comparison, Iowa can boast two winners: Denise Stapley, a sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, and Sarah Lacina, a Marion police officer. Past champ Danni Boatwright is married to former Iowa Hawkeye center Casey Wiegmann.
But Wiger has ended up being one of the most buzzed about contestants "Survivor" has had since it was a top 10 show in the early 2000s.
She could easily take advantage of the attention by becoming a staple on reality TV. What about "The Bachelorette"?
The question caused Wiger to make a vomiting sound.
"I hate that show," she mouthed.
"I certainly don't want to go and do every reality show now," she quickly added at full volume. "I'll do something if I can use my voice to talk about recovery or something I'm passionate about it. I don't want to do anything just to be on TV."
At the very least, perhaps the show will consider recruiting more Minnesotans for future shows.
Before she packed her bags for Fiji, Wiger's dad asked her if she thought she might be competing against other people from the state.
"I thought, 'Dad, no.' Three people from Minnesota? Unheard of," she said. "To have three on one season? Oh, my gawwwsh. Amazing."