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A happy rejectee

Jennifer Buttacavoli of New Port Richey, one of three bay area women chosen for the new Bachelor, says she wasn't attracted to Andrew Firestone and was glad she didn't make the first cut.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 4, 2003

She knows some people will think she's a loser.

But 26-year-old pharmacist Jennifer Buttacavoli, a New Port Richey resident, swears she's happy that Andrew Firestone rejected her, along with nine other women, in the first round of ABC's reality romance show, The Bachelor.

"I was never a sorority girl, so that whole setup really wasn't my style," said Buttacavoli, a 1994 graduate of Ridgewood High School who holds a doctorate in pharmacology from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

"I never felt dumped or rejected . . . (but) it is a little nerve-racking to know you're on the Internet, you're out there for anybody to see," she said.

Buttacavoli said that she was never attracted to Firestone, the great-grandson of tire entrepreneur Harvey Firestone and millionaire heir to vintner Brooks Firestone's famous California winery and brewery. "That's why I'm glad it really didn't go any further," she said.

Buttacavoli was one of three Tampa Bay area women tapped as contestants for the third installment of the series. Christina Sztanko, 24, a Realtor from Palm Harbor, and Kirsten Buschbacher, 23, an staffer from Valrico, did make the cut and were shown Wednesday accepting a rose from Firestone, who also presented blooms to 13 other women.

The local connection didn't help Wednesday's ratings much. The show ranked fourth among network prime-time programs in the Tampa Bay area, attracting 6 percent of those watching TV (The West Wing, American Idol and 60 Minutes II did better).

Still, this is the most media-savvy Bachelor to date, with a lead guy who couldn't be better suited to the job if ABC had built him from scratch.

Self-effacing, handsome in a boyish way and heir to an estimable family name and fortune, Firestone is a catch tailor-made for contestants more used to competing in beauty pageants and sorority rushes.

And yes, Buschbacher said, all the women were well aware that the first two Bachelor shows produced relationships that barely lasted two months.

"It's a weird environment to start a relationship in," said the 1997 graduate of Durant High School in Plant City. "You are in this bubble, this fantasy world. . . . Then you're thrown back into your regular life, and all the hype kicks in. You really have to focus on staying grounded."

Buschbacher emerged as the favorite Wednesday, picked first by Firestone, who said she was "glowing" as she stepped out of a limousine to greet him. Though the series began airing last week, the contest occurred in January, sending Firestone on a series of dates to narrow the field to a final woman he may (or may not) wed.

The winner has been picked; strict confidentiality clauses ensure that contestants don't reveal the victor early. And the couple is isolated from each other as the shows air, which Sztanko said may explain why previous Bachelors Aaron Buerge and Alex Michel couldn't stay attached to the women they picked.

"It's going to cause a resentment . . . seeing how he was involved with all these other women," she said. "Going into this whole process, I knew I wasn't going to act like I was the only girl he would be interested in. That just drives a stake through the whole relationship."

All three women say that despite seemingly long odds, they started the contest hoping to find a soul mate. Each came to The Bachelor in different ways. Buschbacher filled out an online form. Buttacavoli stopped by a November casting call in Ybor City. Sztanko first sent a photo to the show's producers and then went to the open call.

Oddly enough, for somebody who has agreed to pursue a romantic relationship on national television, the one thing Sztanko hated most about The Bachelor process was losing her privacy.

"There's a camera crew with you 20 hours a day. . . . You're always open to a camera being (stuck) in your face," said Sztanko, a 1996 graduate of East Lake High School. "Whatever I do share with the man in my life, I want to share it with him, not the whole world."

Even though Internet message boards were buzzing minutes after Wednesday's show with speculation about Firestone's choices (some wondered why he cut the two women of color, for example), the Tampa Bay area contestants had no idea what kind of woman he's looking for.

"I have no idea why I didn't make the cut," said Buttacavoli, who noted that producers' questions during the rejected contestants' "exit interviews" seemed calibrated to make the participants cry.

"But I was so glad to be back in my life when it was over," said Buttacavoli, who was back at work at a Tarpon Springs Walgreens on Thursday. "Being picked (for the first shows) out of 12,000 people was good enough for me."

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