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JAKE PAVELKA CANNOT STOP WHISTLING "On the Wings of Love," the power ballad that became the unofficial theme song for this season of The Bachelor. The hit ABC reality show saw Jake, 32, a Dallas-based pilot with a fondness for baring his abs, choose from 25 young women vying for his affections. "I'm absolutely in love," he says now with a grin. "I'm soaring." • The rumors and gossip also hit new heights this season, though many fans felt their hopes plummet during the March 1 finale, when some 15 million tuned in for an evening full of tears, tension and impromptu mud wrestling. In the end, Jake popped the question to 23-year-old fitness consultant Vienna Girardi. "This is the real deal," he insists, well aware that many are stunned by his choice of Vienna over 25-year-old college admissions administrator Tenley Molzahn.
From the first episodes, Vienna blithely alienated herself from her fellow competitors-and many viewers. Tabloids quickly pegged her as the villain of the show, printing tales of her allegedly wild past, claiming the onetime Hooters waitress had betrayed her ex-husband while he was fighting in Iraq and was desperate for fame, or a man, to rescue her from the rural Florida town where she was raised.
But there are at least two people who don't care about the sordid stories, and right now, they can't keep their hands off each other. "The tabloids have really veered everybody in the wrong direction," Jake says. "Not everybody may agree with my decision, but I know who in my heart is best for me. I can't wait for everybody to see the Vienna that I fell in love with." Adds Vienna, happily flashing her 2.72-carat Neil Lane ring, "Jake is so much more amazing than anybody knows."
The giddy couple sat down with People Senior Writer Monica Rizzo to talk about why they fell in love, the naysayers who have attacked them, and their plans for the future.
Given that many people believed that Vienna was not the right choice for you, Jake, how are you feeling now that the world knows you're a couple?
JAKE Vienna is everything that I have ever wanted and more. I wanted compassion and romance, passion and protection. I could have lived with just those four things, but she's just off the charts. She's one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. I made the best choice. Tenley is such a wonderful woman, but my heart just didn't go all the way for her.
Vienna, how do you feel about Jake?
VIENNA He's such a gentleman. I want girls to know nice guys do exist, so don't settle. Jake is so sweet to me. He does the cutest little things. When I get up in the morning he starts the shower to get the water hot so it's ready for me. He notices when I change my toenail polish colors. He makes breakfast for me. It's like, "Wow, there are really guys out there like this?"
You guys certainly seem very much in love!
JAKE We're a perfect match. We're quite opposite on some things. But on the really important things-values and temperament and character-we line up. I like a woman that challenges me, and Vienna definitely does that.
Jake, how has your family reacted to your choice? On the show, they didn't seem on board at first...
JAKE My parents loved Tenley like crazy, but they saw how happy I was with Vienna, and I think that's overall what won them over. They were pulling for Vienna.
How have you dealt with all of the rumors that have been swirling about Vienna?
JAKE The thing about tabloids is that it's not personal. They don't really want to get to know you. They want to sell magazines. It's a business. If they can move a million copies by slamming you or defaming you, then that's what they are going to do. I'm not saying I agree with it, and I'm not saying it's right, but I get it. But at first we didn't read them. It was too hurtful.
You're hardly staying out of the spotlight now, though: Jake, you're going to be on Dancing with the Stars!
VIENNA He was like, "I want to talk it over with you," and I was like, "Just say yes!"
So you're okay with a sexy pro dancer pressing her body against Jake for hours at rehearsal?
VIENNA He can do whatever he wants on the dance floor, because he comes home to me at night! I'm going to be his biggest cheerleader.
We know going shirtless isn't an issue for you, Jake. How about sequins or spray tans?
JAKE I like to spray tan. I'm spray tanned right now. You smell like a candy bar, but you look okay.
After DWTS, what are your plans?
VIENNA I'll move to Dallas to be with him.
JAKE She's never been to Texas. We're engaged, and we're very serious, but we've not seen our first movie in a theater together or gone out to dinner or gone out to the lake. We have a lot of first times still ahead of us.
What do you guys like to do together?
VIENNA We cook together. I baked him a chocolate cake for his birthday. It had sprinkles all over it.
JAKE I make a lemon pepper chicken with white rice. Her lasagna is great.
What quirks have you discovered about each other?
JAKE Her jaw pops when she eats. When she's nervous she looks up.
VIENNA I talk during movies. And he wakes up too early, like 7 a.m., and he's wide awake. It's like I have to be up too.
JAKE Well, I see her there and I start kissing her. I can't help it.
There's nearly a nine-year age difference between the two of you.
VIENNA Jake has helped me mature and become a woman. I keep him young and bring out the little kid in him.
JAKE Age is just a number. My mom is seven years younger than my dad and they still walk through the grocery store holding hands. In 10 years, I'm still going to be attracted to her.
Jake, did you really think you'd find the woman of your dreams on TV?
JAKE I thought I might meet somebody and it would build up. I had no idea sparks and fireworks would happen.
VIENNA Every day I love him even more. The comfort level is getting better every day. We don't have to try. It just comes natural.