Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Hey, Dad: Where's your fiancee?

Funny ring to TV finale

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Don Mueller may be engaged, but he's a long way from getting married. More than 2,400 miles away.

"Who Wants to Marry My Dad?" star Don Mueller, from Glendale, and his friend Marti Schmitt, from Symmes Township, react after watching his daughter Heidi give contestant Christy the boot on Monday night at the Paul Brown Stadium East Club Lounge for a final episode party.
(Leigh Patton photo)
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NBC's Who Wants to Marry My Dad? reality series ended Monday with the Glendale father of four putting an engagement ring on the finger of Christena Ferran of San Diego.

Mueller's four grown children selected the divorced mother of two teens over Christy Fichtner, the 1986 Miss USA, in the five-week series taped May 2-23 near Los Angeles.

"There are feelings there, but you can only talk so much over the phone," says Mueller, 48, owner of Mass Marketing Inc. in Fairfield.

"Now that it's over, we're going to do our best to try to move the relationship further - but there are some serious things to talk about and consider."

In this image from Monday's final show, Mueller puts an engagement ring on Ferran's finger as his children watch.
(NBC photo)
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Ferran, in her early 40s, has two teens attending high school in California and she doesn't want to uproot them. Ferran also is very active with charities, and a champion Arabian horse rider. Mueller can't abandon the map company he founded 26 years ago that employs 120.

Mueller has seen Ferran only twice since May - for a secretive three-day Mexican holiday shortly after the July 14 premiere and Monday on NBC's Today show.

"The truth of the matter is, I've never met her children," he says.

He describes Ferran as a "natural mom" who bonded with his four kids by baking chocolate-chip cookies. "I could sense that Christena was the leader of the house" shared by the contestants and the five Muellers during the shoot, he says.

Though no fan of reality TV shows, Mueller knows that nobody has married despite the match-making of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire and Married by America.

Does he even consider himself engaged?

"Yes, at the moment, and technically we are," he says.

Then he adds: "It's a difficult spot to be in. You get caught up in the moment (making the show), and you do what's right - but it's an awkward situation."

He describes his relationship with Ferran this way: "It's like a flower that's growing. If you don't water it, it will be difficult for it to grow and bloom. The worst-case scenario is that we'll be friends, and we'll date some. The best case is that we'll see each other once a month, and see what happens."

Mueller praises his children - Chris, 22; Joe, 26; Heidi, 21; and Karla Barela, 25 - for making the right decision. He says he was too brain dead from the day-long video tapings to think for himself. Producers finished the proposal ceremony at 5 a.m. May 23, two hours before the Muellers flew home to Cincinnati, he says.

Mueller chats with daughter Heidi's friends at the final episode party. From left (see Zoom view) are Annette McCall, from Montgomery, Elizabeth Costello, from Fairfield, and Chanda Sanders, from Lockland.
(Leigh Patton photo)
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Marry My Dad? viewers may have been surprised at the outcome, after seeing Mueller's physical attraction to Christy Fichtner. But as his son Chris said on the show: "What Dad wants - and what's best for Dad - are two different things."

"I did have feelings for both, but they were different feelings," he says. "It was like the glamorous and fun (Fichtner) versus the respectful, classy and elegant (Ferran)."

His daughters thought Fichtner, the mother of three young sons, was "not as serious as Christena, based on the three weeks. She was more of a partier," he says.

"The kids really made the right choice, you can't deny it. I knew Christena was the right choice, but I had a lot of feelings for Christy."

If it doesn't work out with Ferran, Mueller has other options. He and his children have kept in touch with the three other finalists: Cynthia, Lori and Christy.

Mueller also has received many e-mails and calls from eligible women, or people wanting to set him up on dates. At a NBC party last month, the publicist for an actress on NBC - he didn't name names - told him that the woman would like to meet him, "if things didn't work out," he says.

As the star of a top 10 TV show watched by more than 9 million people a week, Mueller has been recognized in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

"It was a wonderful experience. I knew it would never happen again in my life," says Mueller, a 1973 Princeton High School graduate with no college education.

Mueller watched the finale Monday at a Paul Brown Stadium fund-raiser for the LAM foundation, which researches a progressive lung disease with no known cause, cure or effective treatment.

And about that engagement to their prospective stepmom?

"I'm keeping an open mind," he says, "and we'll see what happens."

Check the final results of our 'Marry My Dad' poll

What you didn't see on TV

Here's what you didn't see on NBC's Who Wants to Marry My Dad?:

• Incense: Cynthia, the New Age healer who finished third of the 12, burned incense throughout the house and hung garlic over doors.

• Prayers: Don Mueller, a devout Christian whose children attended Landmark Christian High School, prayed before every meal.

• Pool: Mueller spent six hours with Christy in the pool, which was edited down to a brief scene of the two kissing. "You give them a little romance, and that's all they show, blowing it out of proportion," he says.

• Boyfriends: Producers interviewed former boyfriends of the finalists - but decided not to air their comments.

• Extra shots: Since Memorial Day, Mueller made five trips to Los Angeles, and film crews made five trips to Cincinnati, to film additional comments from the Muellers needed as transitions between scenes.

• Baking: Christena, mother of two teens, bonded with Don's kids by baking cookies for them.

• Ring: Mueller couldn't understand why Christena kept pulling away her hand when he tried to put an engagement ring on it - because he was putting it on her right hand. The scene was re-shot with Mueller, on bended knee, putting it on her left hand.

What's next

Don Mueller: Us magazine spread this week; grand marshal for Kentucky Speedway's Belterra Casino 300 on Sunday; promoting Cincinnati at an international meeting planners' trade show in Hawaii on Aug. 23-26.

Heidi Mueller: Has auditioned for a role on NBC's Passions soap opera and for the open co-host position on ABC's The View talk show. NBC has "received a lot of calls for Heidi about modeling and other things," says Jill Carmen, NBC publicist.

"She's got the whole package. She's gorgeous, smart and she's young," Carmen says.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com

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