A sadder Bachelorette

David Hiltbrand interviews Penn dental student and ABC "Bachelorette" Ashley Hebert. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)
David Hiltbrand interviews Penn dental student and ABC "Bachelorette" Ashley Hebert. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer) (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)

Ashley Hebert, Penn dental student, has taken a drilling as the reality show's sensitive single. She says she's more secure than people think.

Posted: July 17, 2011

Not many dental students are hounded by paparazzi. Then there's Ashley Hebert.

"They wait outside my apartment for when I leave in the morning and they wait outside school for when I go home," says the petite 26-year-old, who has almost completed her degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

Hebert has become a tabloid obsession because of her emotional turn as the queen bee on the current season of The Bachelorette (Mondays, 8 p.m., 6ABC).

There are countless stories purporting to reveal the results of her agonizing on-air pursuit of Mr. Right.

"Before all this, when I would read magazines like In Touch, I would assume the stories had a little truth to them," she says. "Now I know they're completely inaccurate."

Her TV experiences this year, first as one of the semifinalists on The Bachelor, now as the rose-dispenser on the seventh season of The Bachelorette, have taken a toll on the small-town girl from northernmost Maine.

"On the show you'll see me trusting everybody," she says. "That's always been my default position. Now I feel like I'm jaded. I think I've learned a lot about people, but it's kind of a sad thing."

It's an intensely muggy morning in Philadelphia as Hebert sits outside a cafe across from the Penn campus. She has changed her hair to a far darker tint than the honeyed auburn you see on TV.

Every few minutes, a passerby will do a double take, then whip out a cellphone and begin excitedly texting friends. ("You're not going to believe who I'm looking at.")

When you're America's Wounded Sweetheart, it's hard to fly under the radar.

The season, which finished taping two months ago, now seems headed for a satisfying climax. On Monday's episode, Hebert will travel for dates in the hometowns of the four remaining suitors. In the case of Ames, a native of Chadds Ford, that means a carriage ride along the Brandywine.

But Hebert's image still hasn't quite recovered from the show's turbulent start. There was her blind devotion to Bentley, an utter cad who was callously toying with her emotions just to get camera time.

Then there was the disastrous episode in which the men were asked to "roast" Ashley at a comedy club.

That resulted in nasty insult jokes like "You're actually the first girl I've ever dated with a smaller chest than me" and "I thought I was signing up to be with Emily or Chantal, and then Ashley is here."

 Hebert's emotional responses to those public humiliations made her an Internet dartboard, a blog bog.

"She has the lowest self-esteem. My girlfriend says it's lower than a floor mat," says Melissa Locker, a recapper for the Television Without Pity website. "I mean she's an Ivy Leaguer with a professional career. She teaches Jazzercise. She should have self-esteem coming out of her ears. Instead, she's on the phone crying about guys who treated her badly."

Others criticize her passivity.

"Ashley wants to please the producers, but in the back of her head, she's not standing behind her decisions," says Jesse Csincsak, the winner of The Bachelorette's fourth season. "You're seeing two different sides - what the producers want and then her doubting her decisions."

Hebert finds those perceptions offensive.

"Despite what people believe, I'm actually pretty secure in myself," she says.

One of her biggest supporters is Chris Harrison, host of the Bachelor/ette franchise.

"She's an intelligent, witty, very bright professional woman with great charisma and charm," he says.

"I think up until now she's been unfairly judged because of Bentley and some other events. I've seen this happen before with Ali [Fedotowsky, of Season 6]."

He seems to be saying Hebert isn't a pushover; she's just edited to look that way.

"Look, it's not a documentary," Harrison says. "It's an entertainment show, first and foremost. There's a fine line of being overly salacious and sensational."

Hebert frets that her image has been distorted.

"There's a lot of good things happening too," she says. "You don't see much of that. You only see what sucks people in."

So what drew her into the hall of mirrors that is reality TV?

"Everyone said I'd be perfect" for The Bachelor, she says. "I'd been single for four years because I was so focused on school.

"A friend called me and said, 'They're going to be casting in Philly on Tuesday and you're going.' I figured, 'What the heck? I don't have anything going on that night.' "

Being part of Brad Womack's harem was enjoyable.

"I had a more playful mentality on The Bachelor because I was like, 'If it doesn't work out, fine; if it does work out, fine.'

"Being on The Bachelorette, the pressure is all on you to make everyone happy. You go through so much that you really want something to be there at the end."

Hebert concedes she has mishandled the Sadie Hawkins role at times.

"I don't know that I have made a good Bachelorette. In a way, I think I'm too honest. If I'm not into somebody, I have a hard time faking it and I think in this environment, you have to be able to do that sometimes."

In fact, Hebert feels she is so transparent that viewers should already be able to tell what her ultimate decision will be.

"I knew where my heart was from very early on," she says. "I wanted to give every guy a chance but by the time of the hometown dates, I was probably 95 percent sure."

The online Bachelorette oracles are predicting that her choice will come down to Ben F. or J.P. But Hebert pointedly holds out a third option: She could emulate Season 3's Jennifer Schefft and choose no one.

Whatever it is, has her final choice (the finale airs Aug. 1) made her happy?

"Absolutely," she says emphatically. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

10 Questions With Ashley Hebert. She reveals what she's looking for in a guy and the most romantic spot in Philadelphia: www.philly.com/bachelorette.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his pop-culture blog at www.philly.com/dod.

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