He spent a stormy three months struggling to develop genuine connections with the 23 ladies vying for his attention on The Bachelor New Zealand, but within a day of arriving on US series The Bachelor Winter Games, Jordan Mauger found himself falling for American beauty Bibiana Julian.
While the rapid romance was a surprise, the bigger shock came when it all unexpectedly crashed, forcing the 34-year-old assistant film director to leave the series heartbroken.
"The fall was hard," he admits, talking to Woman's Day in Los Angeles following the finale.
"It really hurt because you're vulnerable when you put yourself out there. I'm so happy I got to that place, but I fell hard and it hurt."
Jordan was stunned how easily he found romance on the series given his rocky road on The Bachelor NZ, during which he didn't experience sparks with any contestants, but forged on due to contractual obligations, then ended his relationship with winner Fleur Verhoeven since he couldn't envision a happy future with her.
As viewers struggled to understand his decision, Jordan faced death threats and abuse, was excluded from charities he'd worked with and found women uninterested in "a muppet from reality TV".
While he briefly romanced LA-based DJ Gina Middleton, they soon found themselves in "different parts of the world and parts of life".
Despite his reality TV misgivings, Jordan revisited the franchise on The Bachelor Winter Games because the producers seemed intent on helping him find love – unlike the Kiwi production, which he claims prioritised ratings, sponsorships and drama.
Arriving in Vermont to join fellow Kiwi contestants Lily McManus and Ally Thompson from The Bachelor NZ's third season, he felt instant chemistry with Bibiana, a 30-year-old cheerleader-turned-executive assistant, who came straight off The Bachelor USA to compete in the spin-off.
"It was the energy she gave off," Jordan recalls over burgers and beers on LA's Sunset Strip.
"I mentioned I went to [music festival] Burning Man and she was like, 'I want a guy that'll take me to Burning Man!' We talked about travel and how I find Latin women attractive. She started speaking Spanish and I spoke in my strongest Kiwi accent.
"It was one of those playful conversations that's just buttery and delicious. I found myself giggling, kissing and cuddling a person I barely knew and was blown away but also freaking out, wondering why this never happened once in my season.
"There were 23 people and I didn't have that connection with one – then I enter this house, am allowed to be myself, have supportive producers and boom! The difference is that the girls were prepared to be on the show, while in New Zealand, I reckon they were afraid to be around cameras and exploited. That freedom of intimacy and expression was never there.
"In America, I was blown away with the care and consideration for everybody," he tells.
"I was constantly engaging with people and forgetting I was in a world of reality. They just let me be. I was so relaxed and happy that I'd found a place in this crazy reality-show world that I'd always hoped for."
Jordan bonded with Bibiana amid the Vermont winter wonderland. Enjoying two-hour breakfasts and even discussing baby names, Bibiana told cameras the Kiwi was "everything I ever wanted".
But after Jordan asked if she saw a future for the pair beyond the finale, she had no answer and instead broke down, then decided to exit the series.
"I think it made her realise she wasn't all in," he reflects.
Jordan tracked her down the next day to talk further and, after parting amicably, they stayed in contact following his return to NZ. However, communication waned as Bibiana's popularity grew as her Bachelor season began airing in the US.
He was further perplexed to get a "cold" vibe from her during the show's "World Tells All" reunion, during which she said the pair had been on different pages in their relationship.
Despite leaving The Bachelor Winter Games single, Jordan has no regrets, having found lifelong besties in Lily and her new boyfriend, Australian contestant Courtney Dober. He also brought "Kiwi-ness" to the States by wearing stubbies on live TV and now has confidence he can find love again.
"There's a stigma that follows me around like a bad smell in New Zealand and I know I'm not going to shake it, which is terrible because I've always tried to be a role model and upstanding person with morals. But no-one wants to look back at the person I was growing up, charity work I've done or things I've accomplished," says the Christchurch native, who is exploring further charitable work, a travel series and doesn't rule out another US-based Bachelor show.
"The Bachelor NZ is a paragraph in the book which is my life and it's upsetting that it left such a stain. Friends keep reminding me who I am and what I've done, and that's what brought me here.
"Now that I've distanced myself from The Bachelor NZ, people are starting to realise who I really am. It's taken two years, but hopefully I can get back into that space where the old Jordan can be influential and start doing some good."
And, hopefully, find love!
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