by Cathy Bussewitz
Viewers of “The Bachelor” learned Monday night what many had suspected all along: Sonoma’s bachelor Ben Flajnik fell for model Courtney Robertson and broke sweetheart Lindzi Cox’s heart on a Swiss mountainside.
But the engagement didn’t last long — at least the first time.
On “The Bachelor: After the Final Rose,” viewers learned that Flajnik broke up with Robertson after the ABC show started airing — the episodes were taped months ahead of time — and he saw how she treated the other women vying for his heart.
About a dozen fans at the Big 3, a restaurant at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in Boyes Hot Springs, watched the drama unfold while sipping wine and cocktails.
Most had read the “spoilers” and already knew Flajnik chose Robertson, but they showed up to watch as the newly minted celebrity from their town took to the TV screen in what the show’s producers called “the most controversial finale in Bachelor history.”
Two of Flajnik’s classmates from grade school, Stacey Field, 29, who grew up in Sonoma, and Ciji Johnson, 29, also of Sonoma, defended Flajnik against tabloid rumors that portrayed him as a cheater.
According to recent reports in US Weekly, Flajnik was caught kissing three different women, none of them Robertson, on a weekend in mid-February in San Francisco.
“It’s interesting, especially how they can really portray someone differently and really make stuff up,” Field said about the reports. “He’s always been a really nice guy, and he’s been getting bad publicity from this. It’s said. Then again, when you go on national TV . . .”
In the episode, Flajnik’s mother, Barbara Flajnik of Sonoma, and sister Julia Flajnik of San Francisco flew to Switzerland to meet the two finalists and weigh in on his decision.
“My backup has arrived,” Flajnik said of them. “The questions that I have will be answered.”
Fans who may have thought Flajnik’s family would help him recover from a case of infatuation with Courtney were disappointed.
“My first impression is, ‘I’m shocked,’ ” his sister said after meeting Robertson.
“At what?” Ben Flajnik replied.
“I’m blown away,” Julia Flajnik said. “She is a really amazing girl. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“I was trying to think, what would his dad say?” Barbara Flajnik said while considering her advice for her son. His father, Joe, died in 2006.
Flajnik had narrowed the pool of bachelorettes down to two from an original 25. Early on, Flajnik and his suitors visited Sonoma, where he grew up, and San Francisco, where the winemaker lives. Then they traveled together to Belize, Puerto Rico and Switzerland.
Robertson left a bad impression on the other show’s other women throughout the season, but they couldn’t find a bad thing to say about likeable Cox.
Eventually, after their final dates with Flajnik, both Robertson and Cox learned their fate, and their outfits were mocked by viewers who took to Twitter by the thousands to critique Flajnik, the women and the show.
“The dress code for this portion of the #bachelor was ‘Harry Potter chic,’ ” US Weekly tweeted.
“Another one that won’t make it to the alter,” another viewer tweeted after learning Flajnik chose Robertson.
At the Big 3, viewers quietly shook their heads when Flajnik let Cox down gently and then proposed to Robertson.
“Courtney, will you marry me?” Flajnik asked.
“Yes, of course I will,” Robertson said, a little casually. “I love you so much.”
Linda Welch, a spa supervisor at the inn, dropped her jaw in disbelief.
“I can’t believe what just happened,” she said. “I think he definitely made the wrong decision.”
Flajnik’s childhood friends, Johnson and Field, defended his decision to propose to Robertson.
“I think he likes that she’s a model, and she has stuff going for her,” Field said.
“You don’t know how they are when they’re together,” Johnson said. “There’s a side of her that I can see why they would get along. They’re both unique people.”
Two sisters who are university students in Spokane, Wash., Haley Graham, 21, and Ashley Graham, 18, watched the show with their aunt, who lives in Sonoma.
“I’m starting to like Courtney more,” Ashley Graham said. “I definitely think he has a better connection with her.”
“They’re just more flirty,” Haley Graham chimed in.
Immediately after the proposal aired, show host Chris Harrison confronted Flajnik on the followup show, “After the Final Rose,” about rumors that he cheated on Robertson.
“On my father’s grave, I haven’t kissed another woman . . . I haven’t cheated on Courtney,” Flajnik said.
“Those are friends in San Francisco,” he said of photos showing him with other women.
Flajnik acknowledged he broke up with Robertson at one point in the past few months and stopped talking to her for a little while.
“It became too much. It became so much that I cracked,” Flajnik said. “I took a few steps back and reassessed, and for me that was the low of the experience.”
Flajnik and Robertson appeared together on the after-show, holding hands and fighting tears. Harrison pulled an engagement ring out of his pocket and asked them what they wanted to do with it. Flajnik took it and proposed to Courtney for a second time. She accepted. Their current status is unknown.
(It actually was the third time Flajnik has proposed, if you count his unsuccessful attempt to snag Ashley Hebert on “The Bachelorette” last season.)
A middle-aged couple, who chose not to be identified because they were embarrassed to be caught watching “The Bachelor,” took in the finale at the party because they don’t have a TV at home, and they grew hooked on the show after watching the episode that featured Sonoma.
“You never know what draws two people together,” the wife said. “So we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.”