MADAWASKA, Maine — For 11 weeks, viewers of ABC’s “The Bachelorette” watched as 26-year-old dental student Ashley Hebert hopped the globe with a dozen suitors, often proclaiming an exotic locale “the perfect place to fall in love.”
Earlier this week, with the field narrowed to two, Hebert accepted a bended-knee proposal from J.P. Rosenbaum, a 34-year-old construction manager from New York, and the two now will discover if the real world is the perfect place to stay in love.
“For me, going into it, the truth is I was looking for a companion and to fall in love,” Hebert said Thursday night from her Philadelphia home. “I told the producers, ‘I don’t need to travel, we can film the whole thing here in L.A.’”
But travel they did, to places such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and Fiji.
“Yes, it adds excitement [and] you get to do things for the first time with someone,” Hebert said. “You make memories to talk about but by no means does it define my relationships.”
In fact, Hebert said she and Rosenbaum both appreciate a less fast-paced lifestyle.
“All of our first dates [after production] were really low-key,” she said. “We ordered in or went for a picnic in the park.”
Hebert is quick to say while their relationship started on national television, it is flourishing in the real world.
“There is something between us, an electricity between us,” she said. “It was hard not to see.”
Having grown up in Madawaska, Hebert said she never envisioned her road to happily-ever-after playing out over two reality television series.
Last fall the University of Maine graduate was among 25 single women appearing on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” where she made it to the final three before being eliminated by 38-year-old Austin bar owner Brad Womack.
Back in her hometown, the hot topic of conversation Tuesday mornings was the previous evening’s “Bachelorette” episode.
“That’s pretty much all we talked about on Tuesdays,” Sara Lagasse of Modern Touch Hair Salon said. “We are all really proud of her and how she represented Madawaska.”
Hebert, who recalled Lagasse cutting her hair as a young girl, laughed at being fodder for hometown debate and speculation.
“Of course, if they really wanted to know what was going on with the show, they should have gone to Fraser’s [paper mill],” she said.
Lagasse said she has known Hebert all her life, describing her as “the cute little one,” and said the bubbly, happy Ashley of “The Bachelorette” is the same in real life.
And those at Modern Touch have put their seal of approval on Hebert’s choice of Rosenbaum.
“They seem really happy,” Lagasse said.
Hebert said she is looking forward to bringing Rosenbaum home for a September visit to the St. John Valley where she hinted he very well may get his first taste of local delicacies including poutine (french fries, cheese and gravy), creton (a pate of ground, spiced pork and pork fat) and ployes (buckwheat pancakes).
“I grew up in such a small town and that has kept me really grounded,” Hebert said. “I always love going back because the people are so supportive and nice.”
The road to Hebert’s happy ending was not always smooth and viewers around the country were united in hostility toward Bentley Williams, who professed his affections to Hebert while at the same time telling the audience on camera he was not at all interested in her.
“I learned as America learned what he was doing,” Hebert said. “I was not given a head’s up [and] I understand the producers were not allowed to tell me what [Williams] was saying to the cameras.”
While a tad angry the show’s producers allowed Williams to play the villain, Hebert said she was more hurt by some public reaction.
“People were outraged and taking it out on me,” she said. “It would reach a point and I would break down whenever I talked to J.P. or my family [but] then I built up this armor around myself, because some people love to hate and these people are hiding behind their computers making their comments.”
Perhaps the only thing to get viewers more stirred up than Williams — who left the show after three weeks — was the tearful exchange between Hebert and her sister Chrystie Hebert Corns when her family gathered in Fiji to meet the final two men — Rosenbaum and California winemaker Ben Flajnik.
“He’s not right for you,” Corns told her younger sister after meeting Rosenbaum.
“I don’t know what was up with my sister,” Hebert said. “She was definitely being the overprotective big sister.”
As that episode aired, Hebert said her sister called to apologize.
“The day we got back from Fiji, they were laughing about it,” Hebert said, adding that Corns and Rosenbaum are now on excellent terms.
While no date has been officially set, Hebert and Rosenbaum are engaged and, she said, totally head-over-heels in love as she now turns her attention to completing dental school.
“I know it sounds cliche, but every time I’m with him I fall more in love,” she said. “Going through something like this really bonds you.”
And what of Hebert’s televised assertions of Rosenbaum’s smooching prowess?
“Oh my goodness, you do not know,” she said. “I actually feel kind of guilty taking J.P. away from the women of the world who don’t get to kiss him now.”