From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
For a moment on Dec. 5, Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter found themselves in a strange and unfamiliar position—off camera. With none of the 22 lenses on hand to capture their wedding weekend trained on them, reality TV's most successful experiment in romance could finally let down their guard and stop all the lovey-dovey stuff. So what did they do? "They're over in a corner kissing!" recalls their wedding planner Mindy Weiss. "I finally had to tell them, 'You need to stop. We need to finish here. Seriously.' As mushy as I am, even I couldn't take it anymore."

That stolen smooch was just a prelude to the stunningly lavish ($4 million!) Dec. 6 wedding of Trista and Ryan. The Harlequin Romance conclusion to their engagement—which began when Ryan popped the question on the finale of The Bachelorette last February and spawned three highly rated ABC specials—played out like a prime-time version of many a little girl's fantasy. "You don't want to sound materialistic, but you're going, 'Wow, this is really cool!'" says Trista's stepmother Carol Rehn, one of 300 guests invited to the spare-no-expense ceremony at the Lodge at Rancho Mirage in Southern California's Palm Springs Valley. "There is no way to describe it. It was surreal."

And that's not even taking into account that Trista, 31, a former physical therapist, and strapping but sensitive firefighter Ryan, 29, cashed in a cool $1 million from The Bachelorette's producers for tying the knot. Lest skeptics snicker that the nuptials were much "I do" about nothing, listen to the man of the cloth who bound them in holy matrimony: "I've married hundreds of people, and from what I can tell, they really do truly love each other," says the Rev. Clint Hufft, a nondenominational minister. "And I don't always see that."

It's unlikely the Reverend has ever witnessed the sort of extravaganza staged by the producers, who made sure the wedding was, among other things, a very special rose ceremony (30,000 of them were supplied by L.A. florist Mark's Garden and flown in from Holland and Ecuador at a cost of $250,000). Amid a dizzying swirl of opulence—including 5,000 yards of pink ribbon; $83,000-worth of custom-made Lehr & Black invitations, place settings and menus; and a $15,000 wedding cake—the couple at the center of it all were shockingly relaxed. "People kept asking me, 'How are you not freaking out? How are you not shaking?'" says Trista. "We were both really calm because we both know this is right."

Behind the scenes, teams of professionals fussed with Trista's shoes, hair ("a glamorous ponytail with extensions and gold highlights," says stylist Gerard Touroul) and not one but two Badgley Mischka wedding dresses, one for the ceremony and a slinkier lace number for the reception (see box). Yet it was two gifts from Ryan—a ring and ring box he carved out of aspen wood and one of his poems hand-embroidered on a silk fabric card—that struck her as priceless. "I'm trying not to cry," she said after reading it four hours before the service. "My nose will be bright red."

Assembled next to the outdoor gazebo at the Lodge, guests including Trista's mother, Roseanne Rehn, and Ryan's folks, Bob and Barbara Sutter, melted when two flower girls pulled ringbearer Nicholas, the 10-month-old son of Trista's maid of honor, Sara Flood, down the aisle in a miniature red firetruck. At 6:30 p.m., to the strains of "Here Comes the Bride," Trista, accompanied by her father, Stan, walked—or rather sprinted—toward the altar. "She went fast!" says Weiss. "She couldn't wait to see him and hold his hand." A beaming but nervous Ryan watched her approach. "With each step she got closer, I was soothed," he says. "And when she got there we could both relax."

The couple first read to each other from the classic Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet that begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," then from love letters they had written to each other (see box). After slipping on their platinum-and-diamond wedding bands—and with paparazzi helicopters buzzing overhead—Trista jumped into her new husband's arms for their first kiss. "The helicopters were frustrating, but they were oblivious to them," says Flood. "They were just so enthralled with each other. Watching Ryan's face was incredible. You could see the power of his love for Trista."

Cameras rolled when the couple were introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Sutter at the reception dinner (highlight: country singer Brad Paisley surprising Trista with a musical version of Ryan's poem about their trip to Sea World during Bachelorette), but were finally shut off once the newlyweds closed the door of their honeymoon suite decorated with 50 candles, a trail of pink rose petals and 40 gardenias floating in the bathtub. "But the water was cold by the time we got there," says Trista. "So we decided not to take a bath."

In fact, the lovebirds—destined for a 10-day honeymoon in Fiji—didn't do much of anything. "We were so tired, we just passed out," says Ryan, who overlooked the one detail producers didn't plan—carrying his bride across the threshold. "Oh, my God, we didn't do that!" says Trista over lunch with her dream man two days after their dream wedding. "Yeah, we didn't have the key," he explains. "So someone let us in, and Trista is all excited, so she just ran."

Maybe in Fiji they can work on that whole threshold thing again. If not there, then back home in Colorado. "They are crazy about each other," says bridesmaid Missy Zambelli. "Trista knows she married the man that she is meant to be with."

Alex Tresniowski. Cynthia Wang and Ulrica Wihlborg in Palm Springs

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg.