Nov. 21, 2002 -- Aaron Buerge went from having 25 beautiful girlfriends to just one. Wednesday night, the former bachelor's choice was revealed on ABC's The Bachelor, when he popped the question to Helene Eksterowicz.
Buerge dropped to one knee and looked into his bachelorette's eyes in the suspenseful ending moments of the eighth and final episode.
"Will you marry me?" he asked. "Yes, I will," replied the 27-year-old grade-school psychologist from Gloucester City, N.J. "Without a doubt."
But the day after the big finale, Buerge and Eksterowicz told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that they would have a very lengthy engagement.
"I don't think people should be in a rush to walk down the aisle," said Buerge, a 28-year-old banker from Springfield, Mo. "We're going to be diligent and take our sweet time to get to know each other better," he said.
Although Eksterowicz is still wearing the ring, purchased by Buerge and not the producers of the show since he insisted the process should be as it would in "real life," she has no plans to move to Springfield just yet.
"I think a long-distance relationship is what we're going to do for a while until we both feel comfortable," Eksterowicz said.
Buerge's runner-up, Brooke Smith, was heartbroken when he broke the news to her.
"It breaks my heart to have to do this," he told Smith moments before proposing to Eksterowicz.
"It's fine," she said bravely, then broke into tears in the limousine as it whisked her away. "Why didn't he know I was the one for him?"
On Good Morning America, Smith congratulated the couple in person, hugging both Eksterowicz and Buerge, and wishing them luck. But Smith says she was really hooked on Buerge and that he "will always hold a very special place in my heart." Smith, 22, is finishing up her senior year at the University of Alabama and says she thinks her age was a factor in Buerge's decision.
All three participants said the process has been rough, but that they would do it all over again.
Buerge said watching the program on TV with the rest of the nation for two months after he proposed to Eksterowicz had put a bit of a strain on the relationship. They have only seen each other twice since the end of the show's taping in order to keep the outcome from getting out.
In the first edition of The Bachelor last spring, Harvard-educated management consultant Alex Michel picked his favorite bachelorette, but never proposed.