TORONTO - There were qualms, sure, but being Canada's first-ever star of "The Bachelor Canada" has been a life-changing experience Brad Smith says he wouldn't trade for the world.
The former CFL player isn't revealing whether he found love just yet, but he does note that the show just happened to land in his lap the moment he decided he was ready to find his soul mate.
"It seemed like it was all kind of meant to be," says the green-eyed Smith, who turns 29 the day before the series debuts Wednesday.
"It was a life-meets-opportunity moment where I had decided to settle down in my life and as soon as I had made that decision ... three days later I got the call from 'The Bachelor.'"
Make no mistake, Smith insists he's no starry-eyed idealist. A romantic, sure, but the six-foot-one football player says he joined the show simply hoping to make a connection.
Whether that leads to a relationship, an engagement or even a family is not something he expects as part of the deal, says Smith, who points to his own parents' 40-year marriage as inspiration.
Cynics can scoff, but host Tyler Harcott says it's hard not to get wrapped up in the show's unabashed celebration of fairy-tale passion, which pretty much follows the format established by the popular U.S. franchise.
"Who doesn't believe in love?" says the Calgary-bred Harcott, whose past hosting duties included "Junkyard Wars," "Guess Who's Coming to Decorate?" and "Miss America: Countdown to the Crown."
"Because he's so invested in this journey, I am invested in this journey. He's taking it so seriously and you can't help but root for the guy, because he really wants this.... He wants to find love. Is this the exact way to do it? He doesn't know but he wants to try."
Just like most reality show cynics, Smith is well-aware of the dismal success rate of past "Bachelor" pairings. He drops a random statistic while admitting it could easily all go awry — only 14 per cent have married after 10 years of televised courtship, he says — but nevertheless insists on looking on the bright side.
"Is that a large number? No. But that's still tangible proof that the system works," says Smith, a wide receiver with the Montreal Alouettes, Toronto Argonauts and the Edmonton Eskimos from 2007 to 2011.
"There's always going to be cynics to every format of anything reality television because people have the (belief) that it's directed or manipulated.... Throughout the whole process I can honestly say that ... it's exactly what happened to me and it's exactly what I felt."
The nine episodes kick off Wednesday with a 90-minute introduction to 25 eligible bachelorettes.
They include Melissa Marie, a shapely Playboy bunny and single mother from Vancouver; bubbly blond pastor Chantelle from Sylvan Lake, Alta., and Kim Kardashian look-a-like Bianka from Mississauga, Ont., (who, incidentally, is a former flame of Kardashian's ex, NBA forward Kris Humphries).
The claws come out in the very first show as each woman vies for a coveted rose from Smith so they can return for another week of marathon dates in picturesque locales.
From there it's a roller coaster of raw emotion — if the show's extended trailer is to be believed — with Smith repeatedly breaking down in tears in front of the cameras.
"I had text messages after people saw the trailer and they were like, 'I didn't even know that you cried!'" Smith chuckles.
"And I was like, 'Well, I hadn't for about six years before going on the show.' But you're in situations where you have to be so open about situations that might have been raw or unsolved or situations you hadn't dealt with in your life."
As the perpetual fly-on-the-wall, Harcott insists that none of that drama was orchestrated for an audience.
"The drama creates itself because it's love, it's loss, it's emotion and you don't need to do anything to it," says Harcott, who has been married for six years and has a young daughter.
"You're throwing these people into a biodome, a petri dish basically, and we're watching a human experiment, we're watching people interact, fall in love, get mad, get angry, be real. And you can say it's acting, it's all these other things (but) it's not because you can't act that well for that long under that kind of intense lighting and cameras. They're constantly followed so it's real."
"I think when you put 25 Cinderellas vying for the love and affection of one prince charming you're going to get drama," adds executive producer Claire Freeland.
"I mean, these women are in this mansion, all they do is date Brad and think about Brad and spend time with one another talking about Brad."
Nevertheless, the pressure to meet audience expectations of a slick series that measures up to its U.S. cousin is high.
Freeland says Canuck producers were given leeway to put their own stamp on a franchise seen in 26 territories around the world. But she says there were other concerns to take into account.
"For us it was a little different," admits Freeland, also director of original programming at Rogers Media.
"We didn't want to tinker with the format because obviously we have the American shows on Citytv, as well. That's what our viewers are familiar with."
Still, small changes include more screen time for the bachelorettes in the first episode, where some of the standouts get mini-biographies before meeting Smith at a cocktail party set at a sprawling Victoria mansion.
Smith boasts of show's production values and notes that even he and the ladies were initially skeptical of what was in store.
"When I came to pick them up for the first date, I'm honestly pretty sure that they thought we were going to go to a Burger King around the corner," he jokes.
"And then when we announced that first date (we) saw the girls literally, for two seconds, go flat and then get really excited. Because from that point on the girls knew that not only were my expectations going to be exceeded but theirs (would be too).
"This wasn't just a Canadian-only show, we were going to explore what makes 'The Bachelor' great, which is taking amazing trips, doing things you would never do."
"The Bachelor Canada" begins Tuesday with a 90-minute premiere on Citytv.