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‘Golden Bachelor’ finale: Gerry Turner speaks about Theresa and Leslie

This article contains spoilers for the season finale of “The Golden Bachelor.”

Gerry Turner vowed to find love and happiness when he was named “The Golden Bachelor.” Although the 72-year-old widower has reached his goal, his happy ending was nearly overshadowed by a woman’s shattering heartbreak.

After starting out with a dating pool of 22 women, the season finale of “The Bachelor” spinoff highlighted the Indiana-based restaurateur’s proposal to financial services professional Theresa Nist. The couple, who became engaged in August in Costa Rica, announced their plans to wed Jan. 4 in a ceremony that will be broadcast live on ABC.

The episode showed Nist meeting Turner on a platform in a lush, decorated field to learn whether Turner would choose her or finalist Leslie Fhima as his bride-to-be. Holding hands as they faced each other, Turner told Nist, “You’re not the right person for me to live with,” pausing dramatically before declaring, “You’re the person I can’t live without.”

Screaming “Oh my God!” the momentarily shaken Nist was quickly overcome with joy, smothering Turner with kisses. He knelt and presented Nist with an engagement ring before performing the franchise’s climactic tradition of delivering a final rose, which in this case was golden.

A key part of the connection between Turner and Nist, who lives in Shrewsbury, N.J., was their similar personal histories. Both were married for more than 40 years to their high school sweethearts. Turner’s wife, Toni, died of a bacterial infection while Nist’s husband, Billy, died of kidney failure. Both said they had not been involved in a serious relationship since their spouses passed away. (The Hollywood Reporter reported that Turner had a live-in girlfriend, but he declined to comment about the story to The Times.)

While the finale was focused on the uplifting power of love for people in their golden years, the Bachelor Nation fan base, as well as other viewers, may be buzzing more about the brutally raw encounter between Turner and Fhima.

A few weeks earlier when he and the Minneapolis fitness instructor had spent the night in their fantasy suite, Turner told Fhima he loved her. “I think you’re the one,” he said. The twice-divorced Fhima met Turner’s family and choked up as she related her past failures in finding true love: “’Til death do us part’ was all I ever wanted. He is the man of my dreams.”

Gerry Turner, left, with Leslie Fhima as she meets his family on “The Golden Bachelor.”

(John Fleenor / The Walt Disney Co.)

But during their final one-on-one date before the day of the decision, Fhima told Turner he was acting different. After several awkward, tense moments, Turner finally confessed he had fallen in love with Nist and that she would be his choice.

Devastated, Fhima said, “So everything you told me the other night was a lie.” Turner tried to comfort and reassure her she had done nothing wrong, but she was inconsolable.

“Right now I’m heartbroken once again, but now I have to do it in front of the whole world to see how broken I am,” she said between sobs. “And it’s mind-boggling to be honest how you can talk to me all night, say you love me and then not even a day, 12 hours later, you change your mind.”

Turner was visibly distraught. “I took a good person and f— broke their heart,” he said to host Jesse Palmer. “I hate myself, hate everything right now. The only time I’ve felt worse is when my first wife passed away, and this is a goddamn close second.”

Fhima and Turner reunited for the first time since the breakup during the live portion of the finale. “What I really fell in love with was your integrity,” she said to him. “Because of your integrity, your words meant so much to me. I didn’t take them for granted. I put them in my heart. Those words gave me 100% certainty that I was your girl.”

“You were the person I believed was my person until I suddenly knew you weren’t,” Turner said, apologizing repeatedly. “I don’t know if I accept your apology, but I understand,” Fhima said, wishing him and Nist the best.

In an interview the day before the special, Turner discussed the season, his upcoming marriage, the breakup with Fhima and his future plans.

Congratulations, Gerry. What are you feeling now that you’re at the end of this journey?

Joy. There’s a lot of relief, a lot of anticipation about what’s going to happen in the future, now that we can openly talk and plan things together.

This is such an unusual process in terms of finding a life partner. How has going through this compared to your expectations on what it would be like?

The expectations were certainly quite different than what ended up happening, but for the most part in a good way. I certainly entered determined to find my one last true person, and I definitely accomplished that goal. That was the most important.

Standing outdoors on a platform, Gerry in a blue suit hugs Theresa in a silver dress.

Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist embrace in the finale of “The Golden Bachelor.”

(John Fleenor / The Walt Disney Co.)

You and Theresa obviously had a great connection from the beginning. Was there always something that stood out about her?

The criteria I had looked for in a perfect partner included a few things, including the ability to make me calm when I got excited. In my first one-on-one date with Theresa, you saw how well she made me calm. One of the other things I realized with the passage of time was finding someone who would make me a better person. She has done that. She makes me smile.

Any other qualities?

Her sense of humor is really fantastic. It’s very dry. She’s a strong person, no one’s pushover. Her ability to match my personality was also a huge factor. We just make a perfect pair. We’re better as a couple than we are individually.

What was the most challenging part of the journey?

The rose ceremonies. Having built good, solid connections with 22 women during the journey only to be the one to send them home was extremely difficult. I hated those days. It was awful.

You have to make a very difficult decision in the finale. Your conversation with Leslie was extremely uncomfortable and raw. How are you processing her hurt and your anguish in that encounter?

It was indeed raw. I go back to what I said about the rose ceremonies and take it one step further. Theresa and Leslie were there at the very end with me. As wonderful as the other contestants were, they both stood above them. I really felt love for both of them. But at the end, there was only one right person for me. To tell Leslie she was not that person is a pain I never will forget. She and I had worked very hard to develop a bond, a partnership that very simply did not have the legs to go forward into the future. She was a wonderful person. I loved her for who she was. But she wasn’t the right person for me.

When she told you that she felt you lied to her and had deceived her, what was that moment like for you?

I didn’t feel it was an attack on me personally. My actions and my words may have meant that I was lying to her, but the reality was that I was following my heart. Maybe the downside of giving undivided attention and complete commitment to every one of those relationships is that at the end it’s more painful than if I had been a little bit superficial. I’ll never know.

Gerry leans against a wood railing and looks out onto trees.

Gerry Turner on turning down Leslie Fhima: “My actions and my words may have meant that I was lying to her, but the reality was that I was following my heart.”

(John Fleenor / The Walt Disney Co.)

What are your plans after you get married? Is Theresa moving to Indiana?

There’s a certain amount of fates attached here. For the last couple of years at Christmastime, my family and I would talk about how the fall chores at the lake house were getting too much for me to handle by myself. I had identified Charleston, S.C., as a place I could possibly move to and live. In conversations near the end of my journey, Theresa talked about having a son and three grandsons in the Charleston area. All of a sudden, the possible obstacle of geography melted away. Maybe it’s fate that really helped us in that department, but it really lifted a burden off both of us on what that compromise would be.

During this process, it’s clear you became a major celebrity, even though you haven’t been in front of cameras and have lived in Indiana. How did you handle this situation with such calm and grace and not get rattled or overwhelmed?

I did a lot of public speaking in front of large crowds during my career, so being in front of cameras didn’t put me off. I was quickly able to forget the cameras were even there. Also, I was a marathon runner. Doing that took a lot of mental as well as physical work. So when I got into the grind of the production and it got long and exhausting, I just kept saying two things: “Just do a little bit more.” The second thing was that this was my journey, and at the end I would find my person.

One thing that made this show stand out was the interactions with you and the women. There seemed to be meaningful conversations, real eye contact, more than what usually goes on in the Bachelor shows. Each of the women seemed to feel a true connection to you.

I agree. I think there was so much mutual respect in that group that we realized we owed each of the others our full attention, our full commitment in learning about each other.

Before the finale, there was a report in the Hollywood Reporter about aspects of your past that they claimed were misrepresented on the show, past relationships that you may have had. What is your response to that allegations?

My only response is that I have so many positive things in my life right now. I have the wonderful love of Theresa, my partner. I don’t have time to reflect on comments like this. I’m happy to look forward.

In addition to your upcoming nuptials, any other show business aspirations now that you’re a huge TV star? Or are you just planning a quiet future with Theresa?

I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. I can have a great, quiet life with Theresa and still look at the aspirations and ambitions that may be out there. But I will say this, I am absolutely going to savor every moment until I get to that altar and say my “I do’s.” I want every single moment to be as joyful for her as it is for me, and I never want to look back and feel I hurried through anything. We’ll deal with the aspirations after that.

What do you think the legacy of this first season of “The Golden Bachelor” will be?

I feel we accomplished something very meaningful and historic. Because of how strong the women were and how much I enjoyed the journey, the message of hope that at our age we were still meaningful and we can still find love came out so strongly. That is the part of history that I hope carries on. Theresa and I have gotten so many letters from people who have said, “We’ve watched you on the show and we have developed so much confidence that we are going to go out there and date.”

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