From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
On the Feb. 17 finale of Joe Millionaire, some 36 million viewers witnessed Evan Marriott, a handsome lug of a construction worker who'd posed as a $50 million playboy and toyed with the emotions of 20 single ladies, give his heart to Zora Andrich, a prettily demure substitute teacher from small-town New Jersey. But speaking one day later, he sounds as if he wished he had wound up with her rival, Sarah Kozer, a sharp, sophisticated L.A. blonde who devoured the luxuries of Evan's decoy French château with eager eyes. "Sarah and I got along like gangbusters—got along better than a lot of ex-girlfriends I've had," says Marriott. "But the premise of the show was to find a girl that I thought was into me for me. Sarah and I were more intimate, but that didn't mean that Sarah wasn't a gold digger." And Zora? "I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Zora wasn't into my money. Zora was an innocent girl who was sweet and nice, and she was kind." Yes, and...? "She was pretty. She was just the perfect girl for the show."

But what about you, Evan?

Although he kissed her in the finale and asked her to continue with him on what he called "this journey," Evan, 28, today seems less taken with having someone as guileless as Zora for a sidekick. When butler Paul Hogan presented the couple with a $1 million check to be split between them in the show's surprise ending, "she didn't believe it," says Marriott. "She didn't believe it the day after. I almost got mad and just said, 'Look, you've just been offered a half million dollars. Why don't you snap out of it and realize what's going on?' "

Of course, these hints of disillusionment may just be another trick played on our reality-addled minds by cynical FOX programmers, who will reunite the couple Feb. 24 for the first time since taping ended in late November. But even Andrich, 29, sounds underwhelmed, like a Cinderella who finally made it to the ball and called for her carriage well before midnight. "Is it possible to find true love in just a month with someone?" she asks. "I am a true believer in possibility. I never rule out anything. But honestly, I think it would be highly unlikely. The chances of it are pretty slim." Since her possible love match with Evan became a matter of heated national debate with the show's debut on Jan. 6, "I have friends who think he's perfect for me and that we make a beautiful couple," she says—then deflates the sentiment: "Others say they would never in a million years have set me up with Evan."

For now, living apart, they seem to be sticking to the roles they assumed on the series: the Playboy and the Good Girl Next Door. Evan seems to enjoy having a chunk of change above and beyond his $19,000-a-year construction gig, tooling around L.A. in his new Mercedes and sampling celebrity life at events like the fashion shows last week in New York City. "I don't have to get up in the morning and wonder where my next meal's coming from," says Evan, a Virginia Beach, Va., native who has asked his father, bank vice president Hank Marriott, for tips on managing the money.

If anything, many of his meals these days are catered celebrity events, including the Hollywood premiere of the film Daredevil, where fans scream out his name. "I'm having a blast," he says. Still, he admits there's a downside to his newfound celebrity. "I've had people just come over and slide into the booth when I'm in the middle of a bite at a restaurant," says Evan. And he's annoyed that the demands of fame have kept him from hitting the gym for nearly seven months. (His wide-shouldered 6'5" frame is down to 208 lbs. from 225.) He's still ticked that Joe Millionaire's producers never outfitted his rented château with some fitness equipment. "I told them before I went over that I'm a pretty easy guy to please," he says. "I told them that as long as I get enough sleep and have a place to work out, I'm happy as a clam." But everything's dandy when he tools around in that new Mercedes. "It's like a rolling therapist," he says. "I feel good in it. They should make them affordable for everyone."

Zora would probably just give them away. "I recall once there was a time we were on a date in Paris and I was asking Evan, 'Do you feel it's important to contribute to society?' He basically said no, it wasn't a priority," says Zora, who until recently lived in a cramped, unheated apartment above Bell's Tavern in Lambertville, N.J. (where one beer-hoisting neighbor declared her win "the most exciting thing to happen here besides the shad festival"). She made ends meet as a substitute teacher and visiting aide to senior citizens, along with the odd modeling job (including a heavy-machinery calendar). Last summer she made a few extra bucks handing out tiny promotional bottles of gin at a local bar, Havana, on weekends. Her annual income, says Zora, was even lower than Evan's $19,000. "I whited it out on questionnaires for the show, it was such a pathetic little figure."

She plans to share her windfall with her family, starting with her mother, Vujka Andrich, an astrologer who raised Zora in near poverty in Boulder, Colo. "She needs $15,000 in dental work, and she doesn't have a car that's running," says Zora. "And my aunt has bone cancer and lives in a little village outside Belgrade. She had part of her jaw removed and needs another operation to finish the reconstruction, and she can't afford it."

That's the Zora everyone recalls back in Lambertville. "You know how sometimes you can't wait until someone leaves? Not her." says Joanne O'Shea, a Bell's waitress. "It's just the opposite." Zora looked after O'Shea's grandmother in her later years. "Zora would comfort her," says O'Shea. "She would sit with her for hours, hold her hand, rub her face and her head. A lot of people don't have the patience."

That's one virtue Zora can justly claim, along with a noble stoicism that helped her endure a ruined hot tub date with Evan that the other women crashed. "The Zora I've known my whole life takes the good, the bad and the ugly," says an old Boulder friend, Carrie Bowers. "She goes with the flow and rolls with the punches."

Still, the sniping and plotting among the Joe Millionaire ladies may have left a few bruises. On the finale, Sarah Kozer, a 29-year-old notary who has lately experienced a small degree of notoriety for her appearances in foot-fetish and bondage films, referred to Zora as having fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. "I'm sure she said a lot more than that about me," says Zora. "They teased me that I was the grandma of the group because of how early I went to bed." A loner, "I did a lot of yoga," she says, "and I walked a lot around the château."

But Kozer insists that she and the others weren't the wicked stepsisters in this reality-TV fairytale. "It was a joke," she says. "There's absolutely no animosity between myself and Zora—there never was." After the finale, she adds, "I called and congratulated Zora and told her how beautiful she looked."

Rejected contestant Alison Ball, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Manhattan, agrees. "Not by any means did any of us feel like that about Zora," she says. "None of us thought she was less worldly than the rest of us. She was just very sweet—a little less analytical than the rest of us maybe, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I liked Zora."

Evan, however, is hardly a prince by the women, even if he should end up in Bel Air. "He was treated as if he were the last man on earth," says Ball. "He's not. And I can tell you right now, I don't have much faith in blind dates. Not after this." You won't see her wearing the gift pearls (worth $500) and sapphire necklace ($2,000) she received before being rejected from the show. (Apart from Zora's check, the contestants' only payments were a small per diem and their baubles.) "I'll keep them," she says, "and in 20 years show it to somebody as a laugh."

Sarah, who is now dating a house painter she estimates probably earns as much as Evan did before the show, says she too is over Evan Marriott and his faux fortune. "Money was never a big thing for me. I really like intellectual men."

For his part—and despite his on-air confession of anguish to one of the show's producers—Evan says he experienced less and less guilt as Joe Millionaire moved along. "I felt they signed up for this," he says now. "We're all in the same boat. Let's just get this thing over with. I don't think anybody should be mad or feel like they were betrayed." Given Millionaire's success, "they ought to be very proud," he says. "They all had a hand in it."

But, one more time: After all the hype, dewy music and romantic lighting, Evan and Zora ought to be in love, right? "I didn't do a charity thing picking Zora," says Evan. "I genuinely liked the girl. It couldn't have happened to a better person." As for the last woman standing, she left her heart behind at the château. "Oh, I loved those horses," says Zora. "Being with the horse, the one whose name meant 'Sweetie' in French, I was in heaven. That's who has my heart. The horse."