Hey, Joe: Yes or No?

updated 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Loves her, loves her not...Larissa Meek could pluck the petals off every orchid in sight and still not figure out the deal with Gil Hyatt, the hunky Fort Lauderdale contractor she chose on the March 1 finale of NBC's Average Joe: Hawaii. "It's not a fairy-tale ending," concedes Meek, 25, of the bizarre final twist: After she had sent home Hyatt's rival, nice-guy Boston auditor Brian Worth, Meek and her above-average Joe went off to a deluxe resort in Baja California. It was there that the L.A.-based artist told him more about her past, including the curious fact that for a few months in 2002 she dated Fabio, the romance-novel cover model and former "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spokesman. "I knew there was going to be publicity," she says, "and I would rather have Gil hear it from me than from a third source."

Hyatt, 26, bolted, leaving Meek to reflect sadly on the irony of having dumped 25 other guys only to end up dumped herself. "I don't think I rejected her," says Hyatt in self-defense. "I was like, I need to get back to my life, my real self, figure out what I want.' " He blames the show's pressure-cooker environment, and Meek is inclined to agree: "I didn't expect him to get so freaked out, but we were both completely exhausted." What exactly is Hyatt's problem with the 45-year-old Italian beefcake? "Everybody always jokes about Fabio," he says. "I never in a million years would think she'd want to be with someone like that. He's older. I was bothered. I'm still bothered."

Things went smoothly again when Meek spent a week with Hyatt in Fort Lauderdale in December, four months after the finale was taped. "It was 10 times better," he says. "Amazing chemistry." They didn't see each other again until recently, and he doesn't seem likely to move to L.A: "Too much traffic." But Hyatt remains optimistic. "I'm going to give this the best shot I can," he insists. Reunited for a photo shoot, he holds Meek in his arms. "It's like an old feeling," he says. "I think we'll be more than friends." Meek isn't ruling anything out either. "When we've tried to say good-bye, I can't muster myself to do it," she says. "It's weird."

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