I'll Take That One

updated 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

When we left Trista Rehn last April, her dreamed-of walk down the aisle had melted like a wedding cake left out in the rain. After coming thisclose to winning the heart of management consultant Alex Michel on The Bachelor, she sat alone in a limousine blinking back tears as he proposed instead to her rival, Amanda Marsh. The next day back in her hotel room, "I was bawling my eyes out," says Rehn. "I had developed really strong feelings about Alex."

And then: Well, she got over it.

"A couple of weeks and I was on my feet and ready to get back in there," says Rehn, 30, a former pediatric physical therapist and courtside dancer with the NBA's Miami Heat. In fact, she says she's in love—again—and it helped that this time she did the picking and the rejecting. Less than two months after the second installment of Bachelor left yet another jilted woman sobbing alone, The Bachelorette kicks off Jan. 8 on ABC with, yep, Rehn holding the reins. In February she'll settle on one man—she calls him only "my honey"—from a pool of 25 unmarried dreamboats who courted her from Oct. 10 to mid-November. "I couldn't have asked for a greater bunch of guys," she says. "Although at first I was worried there'd be fighting. You never know what happens to guys when they have a beer in their hand."

Or to hit shows that muck around with their formula. Commentators have wondered whether audiences that wolfed down Bachelor, a retrograde romantic fantasy with one Prince Charming, one glass slipper and a small army of Cinderellas, will find the flip scenario distasteful. "I'm irked there even is this double standard," says Rehn. "I don't think it's any better for a woman to meet someone in a bar—and for a lot of women, that's the singles scene."

Besides, "I have a clean dating pool here; They've been blood tested, psychologically tested. And they have to have personality because they're going to be on television."

It was, she admits, "surreal" to relive her Bachelor experience from the opposite perspective. But don't look for some sort of camp drama of woman scorned and avenged. "If you are going to focus on the negative, you're not going to have any fun," she says. That attitude is what convinced producers that she'd be the ideal Bachelorette. "Trista is up for anything," says Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, "and fans rooted for her during the first show." Before Bachelor, says Rehn, who grew up an only child in St. Louis, "I had three serious long-term relationships of more than two years. But I could never find anyone to connect to." Says her mother, Roseanne Rehn, 56, a retail executive: "She wants to find the person who can complete this puzzle in her life."

Roseanne, now divorced from Trista's father, Stan Rehn, 55, owner of a wheelchair company, sensed immediately that Bachelor No. 1 wasn't the missing piece. "Trista liked Alex's sense of humor, and they had witty conversation," she says, "but I didn't see the sparkle in her eyes." After the letdown, says Rehn, she would have liked to just close them and sleep off the whole experience. "I was so exhausted and sad. I went back to the normal swing of things as much as I could."

Of course, nothing is really normal for reality-TV celebrities. Relocated to a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles since last June, Rehn has appeared on the ABC sitcom According to Jim and even sang with recent Bachelor Aaron Buerge on the network's Christmas special. "But I don't like acting," she says. "I'm interested in other avenues of television—casting, public relations, hosting."

For the next two months she's The Bachelorette—and after that, maybe a bride. "I'm excited for all my friends and family to see what happens," she says. "This time, I did end up in love. I finally turn out happy."

Tom Gliatto
Cynthia Wang in Los Angeles

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