The pair became fan favorites this summer as Hale, 27, navigated house relationships and rivalries to win the $750,000 grand prize, plus an additional $50,000 prize for being voted America’s Favorite Houseguest.
“My connection with Joseph has been undeniable, and I knew from the moment he kissed me on finale night that we’d find a way to be together,” Hale tells PEOPLE. “His heart is bigger than the galaxy, and now we have the privilege of sharing our hearts with each other. I love him so much – I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Adds Abdin: “From the moment I saw Taylor, I knew she was something special. Our spark started within the show and we decided to wait until after the game. Since then, we have only gotten closer and confirmed what we already knew. It has been a rollercoaster of an experience, but I wouldn’t want to share it with anyone else. She is a remarkable woman that I am so grateful to call mine. She may have won Big Brother, but I won so much more.”
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Hale, a personal stylist and former Miss Michigan USA, and Abdin, a 25-year-old lawyer, first met in the Big Brother house shortly before the season’s first episode aired on July 6.
The season was initially met with backlash from viewers over other houseguests’ treatment of Hale, who was mocked and called expletives by her fellow castmates. Abdin would often commend her on her patience and strength during the beginning weeks of the summer, which sparked a friendship between the two.
Their friendship slowly got flirtier as the summer progressed, including a moment when they were chained together during a competition punishment. In the weeks before Abdin finished in ninth place — an eviction many considered premature — the pair formed a close bond. (So close that some houseguests dishonestly told Hale that Abdin had turned on her to secure his own safety.)
Hale spoke to PEOPLE after her historic victory in September — when she became the first Black woman to win the main Big Brother series — and shared that she likely wouldn’t have had a “temporary showmance” with runner-up Monte Taylor had she understood the full picture.
“Joseph really was my rock, my sanity. He didn’t need to be in the beginning,” Hale told PEOPLE at the time. “So knowing that my initial assumption about Joseph not turning on me was true, had I known circumstances were different, I probably would not have ended up in a second temporary showmance.”
After leaving the Big Brother house $800,000 richer, Hale was welcomed by a massive fanbase of “Hale Raisers,” many of whom supported her potential relationship with Abdin. She responded by Liking a few “Jaylor” tweets, but admitted that she planned to take things slow.
“I truly have such a soft spot for the guy and I’m hopeful that whether we’re friends or something more, we’re going to be deeply, deeply connected forever now,” Hale said in September.
Despite spending nearly three months together inside the Big Brother house, fan favorites Taylor Hale and Joseph Abdin—whose showmance became the talk of season 24—knew they needed to test the validity of their relationship in the real world.
So, after Taylor took home the Big Brother crown in September, which included a grand total of $800,000 and tickets for a cruise, she couldn’t think of a better person to join her onboard.
“It only felt right to me that I could have someone who felt like my right hand man throughout the game,” Taylor exclusively told E! News just days after returning from the trip. “Anybody who watched the season knew Joseph and I were on the same wavelength, and I was pulled apart from him for a really long time. It felt like a really good opportunity to have some quality time.”
For Joseph, who described the opportunity as “a time to really connect and get to know one another outside of the game and outside of the stress that is the post-Big Brother life,” he admitted it came with a few growing pains
However, as most successful couples do, they found a way to make it work.
“We both just need that time to re-charge,” Joseph said. “So, she would take the mornings to get up and get stuff done and get in her zone. My way of doing that was just sleeping through the whole thing.”
On the flip side, the former Miss USA contestant had to deal with Joseph always cutting it close when they were trying to stick to a schedule.
“We are the most dangerous pair when it comes to trying to be somewhere on time,” Taylor said. “I have an hour-and-a-half, two hour process if I want to do the full glam. I’m still a pageant girl, people. Joseph will have to be somewhere in five minutes and he’ll just be coming back from the gym. He’ll get in the shower, be fully dressed with cologne and a new outfit on, at the door and ready to go.”
Despite the friendly squabbles, Taylor and Joseph both said every step they take as a couple, cruise included, is being made with specific intention.
“It’s about making sure we are setting ourselves up to be good and solid in the long haul, because I see a long-term future with this person,” Taylor explained. “Joseph is never leaving my life. To make sure that happens, we want to make sure that we are really taking the time to be solid with one another.”
Taylor understands that Big Brother fans were clamoring for the pair to make their relationship official months ago—but they refused to give into that temptation.
“We could have walked out of that house and said, ‘Okay, we’re in a relationship! Is everybody happy?’” she said. “But that would have been a relationship for everybody except for ourselves. Going into this cruise, we wanted to make sure that, with cameras away, we were having conversations about what’s working for us and what we want to see long-term.”
As Joseph explains, the potentially rough waters were nothing but smooth sailing.
“We really had some amazing conversations just on our background, how we came to be the people that we are,” he said, “why we do certain things, how we act certain ways. Time and time again, that chemistry is there. That growth is there. It’s headed, at least for me Taylor, in the right direction.”