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In the end, she lost to love

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times Television Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2003

She may have seemed like a favorite from the beginning, but in the end, Valrico's Kirsten Buschbacher couldn't close the deal.

Buschbacher, 23, was revealed as the final woman rejected by Andrew Firestone Sunday during the two-hour finale of ABC's reality romance TV show, The Bachelor.

Firestone - the great-grandson of tire magnate Harvey Firestone - chose 26-year-old Chicago account executive Jennifer Schefft, proposing to her on bended knee at the show's conclusion.

"This is about more than feeling comfortable. ... This is about love and commitment and marriage," Firestone told Buschbacher during their final meeting, set in a candle-filled room. "I've fallen in love with Jen."

During a limousine ride after Firestone broke the news, a tearful Buschbacher revealed a penchant for catty comments that earned her the ire of many of the 25 women competing in the show. "Thinking about him and Jen, it just makes me so sick," she said. "Right now, he's proposing to Jen and it just makes me want to throw up."

The whole exchange was actually filmed months ago, when ABC set up the series of increasingly elaborate dates that would allow Firestone to choose his final mate from the 25 hopefuls. The show has become a cottage industry for the network, which will feature former Bachelorette contestant Bob Guiney as star of the next Bachelor, and also spend four hours in prime time next year showing the wedding of Bachelorette Trista Rehn and her beau, Ryan Sutter.

Buschbacher appeared Sunday in pretaped promos for ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, but the network wasn't making her available to talk about the Bachelor results.

According to a publicist at the network, ABC on Sunday taped The Bachelor: After the Final Rose - a special featuring Buschbacher, Schefft, Firestone and Guiney - scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

In hopes of providing a little punch at the end of a competitive May sweeps ratings period - and facing the mother of all competition in the Wednesday finale of Fox blockbuster American Idol - ABC is keeping Firestone, Schefft and Buschbacher away from the press for the next few days in order to hype After the Rose.

From the show's start Sunday, producers seemed to be positioning Schefft as the favorite to win - highlighting her successful visit with Firestone's family in California and playing up the romantic bond between the two. Both women were shown touring the family's vineyard (they now own wineries and beermaking operations), facing a spirited grilling from Firestone's parents and siblings.

Buschbacher was shown providing answers that seemed less impressive during her visit with Firestone's family, prompting his sister Hayley to note, "Andrew is very taken with beautiful things. But where does the substance beyond the beauty lie?"

And the question of Buschbacher's ex-boyfriend Bill surfaced again, when Firestone's brother Adam warned his sibling that she may still be connected to another man.

Adam's comments led to the only moment Sunday that punched through the platitudes and promises, as Buschbacher's eyes flashed with anger when Firestone asked about the boyfriend during their final date. Always the peacemaker, Firestone claimed to believe her protests that she had broken up with her former beau - though his eyes seemed to suggest otherwise.

Since the current version's debut, critics have searched for reasons why this edition of The Bachelor hasn't matched the ratings notched by The Bachelorette earlier this year, placing the blame with the eager-to-please Firestone.

Still, Firestone becomes the second bachelor to propose on national TV at the show's end (his predecessor Aaron Buerge broke up with his fiancee shortly after the program aired; debut bachelor Alex Michel didn't even propose). Perhaps the third time will prove a charm for the reality romance series that has yet to see one of its bachelors walk down the aisle.

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