Although the whiniest girl in the history of America's Next Top Model stole the title from her, runner-up Nik Pace hasn't switched to a diet of sour grapes. On the contrary, the 21-year-old Atlantan continues to comport herself with the kind of class and charm that is antithetical to reality TV (with the exception of last season's soft-spoken victor, Naima Mora). Before she set off pounding the pavement for opportunities to strut the runway, TVGuide.com gave Nik a shout to congratulate her on bringing manners back to the tube. Oh, and on taking one fierce photo after another, too!
TVGuide.com: Considering that [eventual winner] Nicole Linkletter blew her CoverGirl commercial, were you surprised by the outcome of the competition?
Nik Pace: Definitely! I felt like I put everything into the whole competition, my heart and my soul. So when [my victory] didn't happen, it was really a shock. But I have to realize that this is only the beginning. Yes, I'm not the winner, but that doesn't mean I'm going to fade away.
TVGuide.com: After Jayla picked a fight with you because she shanghaied your secret for a (duh) Secret deodorant commercial, did you intentionally stay out of all the other tiffs in the house?
Nik: Definitely! In the competition, you want to focus on yourself and not get stressed out by all the other things going on. And I don't necessarily think it's a good "look" to be seen arguing all the time. So I wanted to stay out of it and try to find the middle ground. That stuff is just not me. I'm drama-free.
TVGuide.com: How did you put up with Bre's fits over Nicole's imagined theft of her damn granola bar?
Nik: In situations like that, where it was sort of a direct source of drama, I did more listening than offering up opinions, because I didn't want to get dragged into what was going on. Bre was my friend, so I listened as a friend. But I didn't really want to get involved. Bre got through it. She vented. And Nicole is my friend, too, so I listened when she vented, too.
TVGuide.com: Why didn't you turn to Bre and just say, "Honey, it's granola. Get over it!"?
Nik: I guess I never really thought of it that way. I was just letting them do what they had to do.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised at how angrily Jayla reacted after she stole your secret?
Nik: I had no idea that she was so upset! It was wonderful of her to at least apologize and prepare me [for the confessionals I'd eventually see on TV], because if she hadn't let me know, I wouldn't have had any idea and I would have been so hurt. But you get over things. She did tell me, so that's a good thing.
TVGuide.com: What was the hardest challenge for you during the competition?
Nik: I think it's obvious! [Laughs] Definitely the Secret commercial. Actually, the whole Secret photo shoot and press junket. I'd never read lines in front of the camera before, let alone do a commercial, photo shoot and interview all in one day! And I've never had to do it while someone was taking advantage of me. It was difficult, but now that I've done it, the next time it will be 100 percent better. I promise!
TVGuide.com: Once the challenge was over, did you go home and think, "Oh, I could have used this secret or that one!"?
Nik: No. I really am afraid of the dark, and I really do sleep with a night-light! I probably could have come up with a new secret, but I don't have any regrets about the whole situation. I just wish that I had been stronger and hadn't let the whole thing bring me down the way it did.
TVGuide.com: What were you doing before the show?
Nik: I was working for a spinal company. That's what I did for a living, but there was never really a "before" modeling. I was always focused on trying to become a model. Entertainment is my life. I love singing and I'm learning to love acting. I just want to be an entertainer. So I've always been attracted to the limelight.
TVGuide.com: Just checking. You seem to me to be brighter and more articulate than what we've come to expect of the typical model. What are your aspirations now?
Nik: I want to really brand myself and my name. I don't just want to be a model. I don't want it to stop there. I have 15 minutes of fame that I've already achieved, and it makes no sense to let that go away. I want to turn it into 15 years. So I want to ground myself and let everyone know that I'm serious in wanting this. I'm not going to let anyone walk over me. I want to be the next big thing, like Tyra Banks. She's done modeling and she's got a TV show and so many other things. Or Will Smith, who's done everything! He's got his own entertainment company, he's an actor, he has a recording label! You haven't seen the last of me!