Lauren B reflects on season as she heads to 'Bachelor' finale

COURTESY: ABC/RICK ROWELL - Where it all began: Lauren gets a rose in Episode 1.(Editor's note: Lauren Bushnell won "The Bachelor" in Monday's season finale, receiving a marriage proposal from Ben Higgins and accepting).

Considering it all started with 26 women fighting for the same man, West Linn’s Lauren Bushnell admits it was a little bit surreal to find herself as one of the remaining two finalists battling for Ben Higgins’ heart.

It’s particularly improbable, considering Bushnell says she started Season 20 of “The Bachelor” with a decent amount of skepticism. While the show produces some couples who stand the test of time, far more end up apart than together when it’s all said and done, and the odds of Higgins falling for her out of 26 women were unlikely.

But Bushnell, a 2008 West Linn High School graduate, not only outlasted at least 24 other contestants, she fell in love, too — something she said she hadn’t anticipated. Filming wrapped up months ago, but she can’t reveal whether or not she’s the woman Higgins proposed to until the ABC show finale airs 8 p.m. Monday, March 14. Though rumors are swirling around the Internet, no one will know for sure who Higgins chose until the final episode airs, and he walks out with his fiancee during the live portion of the show.

In an exclusive interview with the West Linn Tidings, Bushnell (known as Lauren B on the show) revealed how she got to the final episode, what really happened during her hometown date in Portland, and what it’s been like watching herself fall in love on national television.

She credits her mindset and focus on staying true to herself as the main reasons for her relationship with Higgins to grow like it did.

“I was skeptical of the show, enough to the point where I was aware of my surroundings during filming and didn’t want to get sucked up in the process,” Bushnell says. “I didn’t have any expectations that I would fall in love, because it seemed so unlikely, which I think helped the experience to be real.

“I felt like the whole thing was very natural. I didn’t try to compare my relationship with him to the other women, and I didn’t change who I was. Watching it back on TV, I think the show did a good job of picking up on the natural chemistry we share.”

ABC/RICK ROWELL - Lauren and bachelor Ben Higgins on a visit to his hometown in Episode 7.Bushnell says she didn’t really feel any nerves about where she stood with Higgins until the last week of filming, the finale episode, which ironically followed the week that Higgins told Bushnell he had fallen in love with her. Even in that moment she says she was cognizant that he might have similar feelings for another contestant. She says she understands how he fell in love with two women, even if she wishes it had been only her. The other finalist who received an “I love you” was Joelle “JoJo” Fletcher.

“Up until the actual moment when I found out, I had no idea if he was going to propose,” Bushnell says. “The producers keep (the final two women) separate from one another, which is good, and it allowed me to focus on my relationship and not think about JoJo. I tried to be realistic about the whole process, and I didn’t think it was farfetched for him to love both of us.”

Higgins has given interviews before the finale, with the headlines on Us Weekly screaming, “I put her through hell and back.” Meaning, he knew it wasn’t easy for his fiancee to understand his feelings.

Bushnell says she didn’t learn every detail about Higgins’ conflicted feelings until watching Episode 9 with the rest of America, when Higgins told both women he loved them. She says while it was hard to watch, she understands how it could happen.

“He had told me he loved me, but to me that didn’t mean it was me at the end,” she says. “He’s taking a lot of heat for it right now, but that’s how the show is set up. I could see how it would happen.”

She says the last week of filming was “the most anxious week of my life,” and that she’s excited for the final episode to air so that she can openly talk about everything that transpired. Contestants aren’t allowed to use their phones or Internet during filming, adding even more stress to the process. Still, she says the decision to be on the show was worth it — regardless if she is indeed engaged to Higgins or not.

“The last week was really intense, because I was so close to the end and I knew it was either going to be the best day of my life or, potentially, one of the worst,” she says. “I was also in disbelief ... because there was such a natural element to our relationship. I had never had to think about us until the end, and when I was with him nothing ever felt forced. I kind of forgot we were on TV until the end, when things got really real all of a sudden.”

Bushnell says the hometown date was just as natural as the pair’s relationship, and that introducing Higgins to her family went as well as she could have hoped. She enjoyed showing him around Portland, a city she says she’s proud to have grown up near, and was relieved that her family responded well to Higgins from the jump. At that point in the season there were still four contestants on the show, and the reality was that Higgins was dating multiple women. She says she was “extremely” nervous to introduce Higgins to her family, but that the daylong date was one of the best she’s ever had.

“I was nervous for a few reasons, because I didn’t know how my parents would react to the cameras — I didn’t know if they would feel comfortable. But they were, and it just felt like a normal night. I forgot we were in the setting we were in. They were excited to see me and met Ben, and they were skeptical, but after talking I think they were genuinely relieved and felt good about everything. I’m glad Mollie (Bushnell’s younger sister) and my dad asked tough questions, because they were valid questions that I would have asked, too.”

And while it’s still unclear if Bushnell did in fact meet her future husband on “The Bachelor,” she says her life has changed, at least a little, since going on the show. She’s amassed nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram since the show premiered in January, and says it’s not uncommon that she gets recognized in public. She considers herself a generally private person, having not been much of a social media user prior to the show, and that she’s maintained a relatively normal life to this point. What happens after the finale, though, is anyone’s guess.

“I’ve been back and forth between Portland and L.A. (where Bushnell lives now) a few times, and the strangest part has been being recognized,” she says. “I’ve managed to lay low for the most part, but I might go to the grocery store or in an elevator and someone will say ‘hi.’ Everyone has been so nice to me, and it’s been especially nice to have that hometown support in Portland.”

During the show’s finale the world will learn whether or not Bushnell was given the final rose. While she already knows the verdict, she says she’s still nervous to watch it unfold on television.

“It’s been an interesting experience to watch myself on TV and relive all those emotions, the bad ones and the amazing ones,” she says. “I’m glad this is the last time.”