While all eyes were on lovely Lesina Nakhid-Schuster when The Bachelorette NZ made its hotly anticipated debut last week, the dating show's familiar host Art Green was captivated by another beautiful woman.
Just moments into the first episode, the former Bachelor was surprised to clock eyes on flashback footage showing a beaming, baby-faced Matilda Rice stepping out of the limo.
"It was like being in a time warp," recalls 31-year-old Art, whose heart skipped a beat as he relived that pivotal moment of meeting his now wife.
"It was like seeing Mattie for the first time all over again; she was so herself in every way – confident, gorgeous and graceful – it gave me butterflies. Considering all the amazing things that have happened between us, to think that we were just two, young nervous strangers back then completely blows my mind."
Indeed, since finding love on the reality show's debut season back in 2015 there have been countless highs for the couple, who purchased their first home and tied the knot before welcoming their adorable baby boy Milo in September last year.
With so much happy history behind him, Art says stepping back into the reality TV environment as host on the TVNZ 2 series was an exciting prospect.
"Sometimes Mattie and I have this mentality that we want to put the show behind us, but ultimately we know how lucky we are to have met at all, even if it was in such an unconventional way," he says.
"Being The Bachelor wasn't always an easy ride. It definitely had its highs, but at times it was also lonely and quite emotional, so it was nice to be able to be the support person to Lesina that I wish I could've had when I was going through the process.
"The role of host is a lot less stressful," quips Art, "but I know first-hand how life-changing the experience can be, so it felt good to be able to share my two cents with Lesina through some of the tougher times."
While Art won't be drawn on our Bachelorette's early favourites, he can say with complete conviction that the Samoan and Trinidadian doctor, 32, is serious about finding love.
"You just have to meet Lesina to know how genuine and caring she really is. Having walked in her shoes, I know the decision to put your love life on show is not one you make lightly. You have to be all in – and Lesina definitely is."
Despite early eliminations, Art says there'll be no shortage of romantic connections with the eligible group of remaining suitors vying for Lesina's heart.
"I know people had their doubts about the types of men that would put themselves forward for this show, but I don't think we give Kiwi men enough credit for how open and intuitive they can really be," says Art.
"There might be a couple in the pool who are looking to boost their fame and followers, but the majority are such great, honest men who are genuinely looking to find someone.
"I think this show will have a hugely positive impact on Kiwi males as they see these guys open up and talk about feelings and relationships, and show it's OK to be vulnerable."
While The Bachelorette continues to play out on air, for the most part Art's hosting responsibilities are now done and dusted, allowing him plenty of time to enjoy a long, relaxing holiday in his favourite role of all – doting dad.
After the show wrapped, Art and Matilda, 29, spent quality time showing off their newest addition to friends and family here and in America, where Art's older sister lives.
The holiday couldn't have come soon enough, after an international stint of filming in Argentina kept the proud father away from his baby boy for an entire month.
"I left when Milo was just two months old, so I was away for effectively one third of his life by the time I returned," says Art.
"Before becoming a father, I could never have predicted how tough that would be. I knew I would miss Mattie immensely, but at the time Milo was just a beautiful little blob who slept and fed a lot.
"About two weeks in, our little man started smiling and became a lot more alert, which was really tough to miss but Mattie would video call me every day and I'd savour those moments between filming."
It's been five months since Milo – who Art proudly boasts has recently mastered the art of rolling – entered the couple's world, and Art says becoming parents has only strengthened their relationship.
"I have a newfound love and appreciation for Mattie and her strength and warm nurturing nature as a mother. We can't get enough of this phase of our relationship and are loving life as a family of three."
Reflecting on his good fortune since his time on The Bachelor, Art says, "Returning to The Bachelorette makes me all the more grateful for my experience. I could never have predicted this kind of happiness before signing up, which is why Lesina's journey is just so exciting – because, like me, she could be just moments away from meeting her soulmate."
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