DeAnna Pappas Stagliano has been kissed in a helicopter, left broken-hearted on TV, courted by 25 men at once, betrayed by the one she chose and, finally, swept up in her own fairytale ending. A former contestant on both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, DeAnna twice shared her heart with the world – and twice walked away with disappointment. Though everything about her love story seemed extraordinary, heartache had cast a shadow over DeAnna’s search for love – until she met Stephen Stagliano. Now, eight years after she accepted her first rose, DeAnna’s happily ever after includes a true and simple love, beautiful blue-eyed daughter, baby on the way, and a whole lot of faith.
“I had a very jaded experience. It skewed my view on what love and relationships could be,” said the now Canyon Country resident of her past experience on the shows. “But I had to learn and grow and go through some tough things to be ready for Stephen.”
A small-town Southern girl, DeAnna first applied to be a contestant on The Bachelor to appease her friends, who said they would buy her dinner if she did it.
“I never thought in a million years they’d choose me,” she said. “I’d never even seen the show before.”
DeAnna quickly found herself in a house with 24 other women, all competing for the love and affection of Brad Womack, an entrepreneur and bar owner from Austin, Texas.
“It’s like being on vacation for six weeks,” DeAnna recalled. “You don’t have to worry about anything – bills, working, food, drinks – everything is provided for you. You just have to concentrate on falling in love.”
And to her surprise, love came easier than she expected, or at least the beginnings of love.
“I felt very secure in my position the entire time,” DeAnna said. “Brad was going to choose me in the end, and that was it. The night before the finale filmed, the producers let me stay overnight at his house, off camera, and when he put me in the car the next morning, he said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be a good day.’ I was completely blindsided.”
Brad shocked America by being the first and only Bachelor or Bachelorette to purposely walk away alone.
“Obviously, I now know I wasn’t meant to be with Brad,” DeAnna said. “We never would have been happy together. But rejection is a weird thing, and it’s really tough in any form.”
In the weeks that followed, DeAnna discussed the idea of becoming the next Bachelorette with ABC producers, and when she sat down for a spot on The Ellen Degeneres Show, the producers surprised her by announcing her as the next Bachelorette.
“I wasn’t going to be left broken-hearted this time,” DeAnna recalled of her excitement. “I was definitely in it for the right reasons, for the fairytale ending. And when it started, that’s exactly what it felt like – a fairytale.”
Through the twists and turns of a Bachelorette romance, DeAnna traveled the world, kissed on deserted beaches and prepared herself for a proposal. And as her season came to a close, she knew it would be Jesse, a professional snowboarder and business owner from Breckenridge, Colorado.
“I thought I was in love with Jesse,” DeAnna said.
On the season finale, Jesse got down on one knee and proposed. But DeAnna was in for another round of heartbreak and betrayal.
“After filming ended, he told me he went on the show for (product placement) for his sponsors, but his feelings for me eventually grew. He even had a girlfriend back home and didn’t break up with her until (the sixth week of filming).”
After being separated for a short period, DeAnna flew back to Breckenridge with empty suitcases, packed all her stuff and left, breaking off their engagement without publicly sharing the details of their split.
“Whatever we had shared in our relationship was gone, overtaken by all the lies and negativity,” she said.
Burned again by a man she trusted, DeAnna spent the next few years as a TV personality, co-hosting Get Married for Lifetime TV.
“I was traveling the world, making tons of money,” DeAnna said, “but I was so unhappy.”
Then Stephen Stagliano changed everything. Set up by Michael Stagliano, a Bachelorette contestant and Stephen’s twin, DeAnna and Stephen quickly developed interest in each other over a few phone conversations and a group game night. So he asked her on a date. At the time, Stephen was teaching history at West Ranch High School, and he was a bit nervous.
“I was literally planning a date for the Bachelorette,” Stephen recalled. “The last guy probably picked her up in a helicopter, flew her to the top of a volcano and toasted her with Champagne. I was way out of my league.”
With The Bachelorette as his bar, Stephen planned an elegant evening of dinner and live music. It seemed destined, however, for the two to start off with anything but a Bachelorette-style date.
“The day before our first date, my car was hit by a drunk driver while it was parked on the street, so I had to pick up The Bachelorette in a rental car,” Stephen said with playful exasperation.
Then came dinner. The music was terrible, but Stephen was determined to make up for it, “hootin’ and hollerin’ to cheer them on in this tiny Italian restaurant,” DeAnna recalled, still laughing.
“In my head, I thought the date was OK,” DeAnna said, “but I’d only go on a second date if he kissed me.”
“Oh, I thought I nailed it,” Stephen said.
At the end of the night, Stephen grabbed DeAnna on her doorstep and kissed her. By the end of their second date – church and lunch with Stephen’s family, followed by a round of couples golf – both Stephen and DeAnna knew they were done searching for love.
“In the car on the way home, I thought: I will not be OK if this person isn’t in my life forever,” DeAnna recalled. “This is it.”
And in the seat next to her, Stephen was thinking the exact same thing.
Within three months, Stephen started making plans for the proposal, and the two were married in October 2011. Both remember their wedding day as the best day of their lives, next to the birth of their daughter. Two-year-old Addison was born in February 2014, and the happy couple is expecting their second child, a baby boy, at the end of February.
“I thought I went on the show to get my fairytale ending, and I was so disappointed,” DeAnna said, holding Addison in her lap at their kitchen table. She paused to give Stephen a kiss before he left for work. “But now, we are just so, so happy here. I’m secure in my life and marriage, and I got my fairytale ending.”
photos by Leigh Castelli Photography