After The Bachelor New Zealand, Lily McManus seriously wondered if she'd ever find true love again. She'd spent three years looking for "the one" and came close on the romantic reality series, making it to the last two vying for that final rose – then ultimately leaving with a buddy but not a boyfriend in Zac Franich.
When 21-year-old Lily jetted to the States to take part in spin-off series The Bachelor Winter Games, she remained quietly convinced she wouldn't meet any decent guys.
So when the Australian-born snowboard instructor found herself falling for The Bachelorette Australia's Courtney Dober within 48 hours of her arrival, she had to pinch herself.
"I was like, 'This is so good! Where's the catch?'" she recalls, talking to Woman's Day in her new Los Angeles home.
"From personal experience, something always goes wrong, so I kept wondering, 'Why is it so perfect?' I didn't believe I could find the perfect story here. Everyone else was having drama and issues, and I was so happy, I felt out of place!"
It was on day one, as the contestants settled into a cosy lodge in snowy Vermont, that Lily and Courtney – a 31-year-old Australian TV host and producer – found themselves enjoying a "weird little banter". Conversation flowed easily and the following day, they became engrossed in more "good chats", before sneaking away from cameras.
"We were hanging in this stairwell, then suddenly he just planted one on me," reveals Lily.
"I didn't see it coming, but the fact he did it off camera showed he genuinely wanted to kiss me and cemented the fact he wasn't in this for the show, the cameras or to increase his social following."
Romance continued to blossom as the two discovered their similar senses of humour, opinions and passions. But it was their wild zest for life – like jumping out of the hot tub to do snow angels in their swim-suits – that saw them become fan favourites and has viewers still approaching them on LA streets.
"We're active, adventurous people who want to grab life by the balls," says Lily.
"One day, we were sick of being inside and producers said we could go for a walk if we stayed inside the boundary. You wouldn't see any other couple in snow gear, linking arms and doing tiny, 10-metre-radius laps in the frontyard for an hour!"
Lily adds that the show environment, where crew were wallflowers who let romance develop naturally, made it easier to bond than on the NZ show, where producers asked contestants to discuss certain topics.
With her fellow Kiwi star Ally Thompson eliminated in episode three, then series two Bachelor Jordan Mauger unexpectedly leaving during the finale, Lily represented New Zealand in the final ice-dancing challenge with Courtney.
The couple then took a road trip across the US, putting their TV romance to the test. First, Jordan showed them around his favourite city, New York. "We had that third wheel in the house too," laughs Lily.
"Jordan's always with us. He'll be with me on my deathbed!"
Driving through Washington and Nashville, then spending Christmas in Texas tested and strengthened Lily's new love.
"The Bachelor Winter Games created this nice bubble to get to know somebody. They take your phones, your family and strip you of everything but each other. That love bubble is nurturing, whereas the road trip was gnarly, raw and realistic. Courtney saw me hit rock bottom and me him.
"Like after Vegas, when we were cripplingly hungover, had no hot water, and were just dirty, tired and stressed. Any couple who's known the other for 14 days and is put into that environment would be ruined, but for us, it cemented things.
"I joked, 'I'm in an RV with a stranger!' but I felt like I had known him before we met."
Courtney planned to return to LA in the new year to utilise his US visa and raised the idea of Lily joining him. Deciding "why the hell not?", she headed home – briefly jetting to Sydney to meet Courtney's "awesome" family – then relocated to California in February.
Lily believes that living everywhere from Cambodia to Canada has prepared her for LA, where she's pursuing TV hosting work and social media opportunities. She spends her downtime with Courtney, eating Mexican food, bike riding and ogling "real estate porn".
Although there's a 10-year age gap, Lily notes they're at similar stages of life.
"He wants kids, I want kids, but right now, he feels everything's starting with his career and I do too. It's a nice point to be at."
Lily admits it's a stage she feared she'd never reach again, following her first great love at 18.
"Dating after that, I started to think, 'Is something wrong with me? Do I not like dudes any more? Maybe that one guy was my only one.'
"I found myself getting into relationships, thinking, 'I don't fall for anyone hard and heavy any more – I just like people now.' Then I met Courtney and was like, 'Wow! It's still there. I'm still capable of that.'
"When you're picturing yourself with someone beyond next week, it's a strange and scary thing, but there's a drive that comes from somewhere deep in your organs, where you just want to make it work."
As for going from NZ to the US to end up with an Australian, Lily believes their paths would never have crossed without The Bachelor Winter Games.
"Even though we are both Australian, we had to go half-way around the world to meet.
"Everything happens for a reason. I didn't even want to go on the original Bachelor, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here with Courtney. It's a pretty wild story. We'll see where it goes next. I'm excited!"
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