Chris Harrison: Ben Flajnik 'Suffered' on a 'Darker' Season of The Bachelor
03/12/2012 AT 09:50 AM EDT
"It doesn't compare at all to other seasons. It's more competitive, darker and has raised a lot of debate and outrage from viewers," the host tells PEOPLE. "Ben was taken aback by the public outcry and the anger he's faced. The Courtney thing was not easy for him to endure."
Despite the drama, Harrison says this season has been a real chance for the winemaker to find his happy ending. "For him to go through so much trouble and pain, unless he's a masochist, definitely leads me to believe he wants to find love. ... A lesser guy – or a guy who didn't care – would have checked out a long time ago. But he fought like hell the entire time and ended up with a final two he really connected with and cared about."
Although very different, Harrison could see both Courtney and Lindzi fitting into Ben's romantic future. "Both offer a lifestyle Ben would love because he wants an independent strong woman," Harrison says.
Harrison knew Courtney, despite her girl problems, would make it to the end. "The moment she got out of the limo his jaw dropped to the ground and she always remained a front-runner," he says.
Until the hometown dates, he assumed Kacie B. would fill the second slot. But after the way Ben bonded with her family, Harrison says, "[Lindzi] is the easy choice. They have great charisma and fun together. Their whole relationship has been effortless. She sailed right under the radar because she's the only woman who never got caught up in the drama."
Courtney, on the other hand, was the source of most of the drama – and that could be the sticking point for Ben. "She's doesn't get along well with others and that worries Ben considerably," Harrison says. "He has a very tight-knit group of friends that he rolls with and loves dearly. I'm guessing he's thinking, 'Who can I bring into this circle of friends?' Who will be accepted?' That's a huge obstacle."
But perhaps one they could overcome, considering how well they meshed. "There's something to her relationship with Ben," Harrison says. "They have this quirky common bond. He really liked that she always challenged him and the whole Bachelor forum every step of the way."
Regardless of whom he chose on that Swiss mountaintop when filming wrapped, Ben still had to put up with months of public scrutiny, criticism about his decisions, endless Courtney bashing and the inability to go public with his choice.
"All of the Bachelors and Bachelorettes say that between the show airing and the finale is the toughest time to endure," Harrisons explains. "It can tear you apart. But it can also bring you together. In the end, he's going to be okay. There is a good chance for him to be happy."