It was meant to be the culmination of a dream.
For so long, Olivia Culpo had been envisioning herself in the pages of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition, the honor being something the Rhode Island-bred model and pageant queen had "wished and hoped for since I was a little girl." But when she turned up to the picturesque cliffs and beaches of Kangaroo Island, just off the coast of Adelaide, her emotions were decidedly mixed. Though she was, as she put it in a May Instagram post reflecting back on the day, "so incredibly thankful for the opportunity," she also found it to be one of the toughest moments of her life.
The mental back-and-forth began before she arrived on set roughly a year ago today. "This was one of my hardest days for personal reasons (as some of you may remember)," she continued. "I landed in Australia to shoot these photos with some info that rocked my world.
Because at that same time, her then-boyfriend, footballer Danny Amendola, had been involved in a little photo shoot of his own. Unbeknownst to the 33-year-old, at the time a wide receiver with the Dolphins, cameras had been clicking away as he frolicked in Miami Beach with local CBS sports journalist Bianca Peters.
He pled his case to Culpo, claiming Peters was an old pal that he was simply catching up with. But, as a source told E! News at the time, "Olivia is not totally buying it."
Their relationship devolved from there with each sniping at the other through social media. And though they went for the Hail Mary, trying to give their three-year rollercoaster romance another whirl, it ultimately unraveled in spectacular fashion with Amendola taking to Instagram to blast his social media influencer ex for being too public about her life.
And, yeah, he may have been annoyed with the suggestion that she had moved on, getting increasingly worked up as he read articles detailing the fun times the 27-year-old was enjoying at Coachella with DJ and record producer Zedd.
But at least their meet-cute was on point.
"I met her on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, just walking down the street and we bumped into one another," Amendola shared with reporters while ostensibly answering questions about his job on the field ahead of the 2018 Super Bowl, his third appearance in football's biggest game. "It's crazy."
As he and Culpo made their romance Instagram official in February 2016, both were on the ascent. The former Texas Tech standout was in his third season of a five-year $28.5 million contract with the New England Patriots while she had parlayed 2012 victories in Miss Rhode Island USA (her first pageant ever) Miss USA and Miss Universe into a thriving career as a model, fronting brands such as Timex, Nine West and Samsung. Her natural skill, coupled with an admittedly Type A drive, would lead to a fashion collaboration (with Marled by Reunited Clothing), a burgeoning acting career and a comfort food restaurant that she opened with her family in her home state.
Already well-versed in public romance thanks to couplings with Nick Jonas (their two-year union inspired his hit single "Jealous") and quarterback turned baseball player Tim Tebow, Culpo introduced Amendola to the red carpet circuit, their pairing becoming a whirlwind of Met Gala after parties and trips to Coachella.
And while she was ushering him into her world, giving him tips on how to handle his first runway show for Philip Plein in 2017—"He said, 'Where should I look? Should I look at you?'" she told Women's Wear Daily. "I was like 'No, don't look at anybody. Look straight ahead,'"—she felt equally comfortable slipping into his.
Following his second Super Bowl win that same year, she bounded onto the field to gather her guy in a celebratory embrace.
"She's supportive, man," he would later tell reporters. "She's just really supportive. That's it."
But she was also a woman with her eyes trained on building a career and by March 2018, their limited time together had caught up with him. Though he was signing a new two-year contract that would send him south to play with the Miami Dolphins it was no closer to where Culpo had made her home in L.A., a move she deemed necessary to propel her flourishing career forward.
"Danny couldn't handle Olivia's demanding lifestyle and wasn't pleased with certain choices she was making," a source told E! News of their initial split. "The constant travel was also causing a rift."
Culpo dealt with the blow much like any twentysomething, she tapped sister Aurora Culpo and pal Cara Santana to join her for a weekend in Las Vegas, mixing business with pleasure by sharing her travel essentials with her more than four million Instagram followers, including the telling titles Burn the Fairy Tales and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.
"Olivia is upset about it but is really keeping busy and trying to move on," a source told E! News then, adding, "There could be a chance of reconciliation in the future but as of now they are split."
As it turned out, though, this was to be an absence makes the heart grow fonder situation and by late June 2018 he was hopping a flight to the recognized party island of Ibiza where Culpo was committed to making appearance for fashion brand REVOLVE.
"They really needed space and to figure things out, but their paths led them to reconnect again and they're really happy," a source explained. With the NFL season still weeks away, Amendola joined Culpo on her flight back to California, the pair having agreed to do all they could to make the distance between them work.
Trips to the Mediterranean aside, "They are trying to be a normal couple as long as possible until Olivia flies off to her next work commitment," said another insider, "but she is hoping he will tag along until his seasons starts."
Because while he was tied to the gridiron, she was the one playing the field, balancing a new E! docu-series Model Squad with her first major film role in 2018's Bruce Willis thriller Reprisal (not to mention her fashion work and charitable endeavors with the likes of Best Buddies, Pencils of Promise, Project Sunshine and amfAR).
She was able to blur the lines between her personal and professional lives a tad, revealing during a September 2018 appearance on Daily Pop that he'd be appearing on Model Squad "a little bit, but not too much." Otherwise, though, she was wholly focused on her career.
"Right now work is definitely important," she told Haute Living last August, "and my most important relationship is the one that I'm working on with myself."
A wise move, considering Amendola appeared out for himself as well. Because there he was, turning up in her news feed some 10,00 miles away, splashing through the Miami surf, as she focused on delivering for her first Sports Illustrated shoot.
He and Peters had connected a few days earlier at a house party, a source revealed to E! News, and decided to join a group of friends for a weekend beach outing, but Peters was unaware of the role she'd unwittingly played. "Bianca had no idea he had a girlfriend," the source said at the time. "Now that she understands the situation, she has no plans to see him again."
Ultimately that's the sentiment Culpo landed on as well.
"The status of their relationship is up in the air," an insider shared at the time. "Her friends think it's best for her to move on."
Which she did, but not before taunting him with everything he'd thrown away. Days after Amendola's beach romp, she flashed the $12,000 Rolex she had purportedly purchased for his 33rd birthday, writing, "Looks like this is my present now. HAPPY BDAY TO ME."
As it turned out, though, the time hadn't completely run out on their romance and as 2019 approached Culpo found herself feeling wistful about her lost love and wondering if the new year could provide a fresh start. Turning up in Miami, the duo celebrated New Year's Eve together, a source shared, "and realized they really care about one another. They are definitely trying to work out their relationship."
Of course, that would require a series of resolutions on Amendola's part. "Olivia has been more hesitant and is taking each day as it comes," said the source. "She doesn't fully trust Danny anymore, but has a soft spot for him. She is seeing how things go, but definitely wants Danny to prove himself to her."
Which he did for a spell. But by March the couple had split for the third, and potentially final, time with Culpo reveling in her newfound freedom and opportunity to date around a bit. "Her schedule is insanely busy so it's hard for her to find someone who can relate or be understanding of the lifestyle she lives," explained a source.
Her April encounter with Zedd, which saw them hanging out in his trailer at Coachella ahead of his performance, then taking in Ariana Grande's headlining gig together, was definitely of the casual variety.
"Olivia has hung out with Zedd a few times recently," a source told E! News at the time. "They will talk and text here and there, but Olivia is still dating around."
Which Amendola was totally fine with, judging by his not at all extreme reaction on social media.
"I believe there should be a boundary btw private life and social media. Olivia believes in fishbowl lifestyle," he dictated to his 670,000 followers in April, roughly a month after they split for good. "This fundamental difference was huge in our relationship. If you're my real friend you know I'm private."
The issue, he continued, is that she saw her absence from his Instagram feed as a sign he wasn't fully in on their romance. "She gets to mad at me for not posting her on social media, but I think this s--t is sometimes fake, sometimes toxic, but sometimes beautiful. And I felt like she had enough pictures online anyway."
Though he acknowledged some of the dips in their rollercoaster romance were of his own doing (see: Miami beach frolic), "She's f--ked up too! and if you cross me I'm a hard mfer to deal with."
His inspiration for posting, he continued in the since-deleted missive, was "to personally clear the air out here," after reading the so-called "wild stories" about their lapsed romance and seeing Culpo out with another guy. "The universe brought her and I together to enjoy life, love and learn. We celebrated that as often as we could. and the sex was f--king crazy too."
Which, you know, not an overshare at all.
Saying all that to say, he was glad to see she'd found someone new, but still bitter enough to fling an insult Zedd's way. "Not sure what's in the future but the only thing I care about is her HAPPINESS," noted the 5-foot-11, 190-pound athlete. "And if that's dancing with scrony (sic) little f--ks, so be it. I'm happy too." (Zedd, at 5-foot-9 is just two inches shorter than Amendola, but, shrug.)
A half a year later, though, both he and Culpo seem genuinely pleased with where their lives are at. While Us Weekly reports Amendola, now playing for the Detroit Lions, "has been talking to and texting other girls," Culpo seems to be focused on one suitor in particular.
Talking to Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey since June (hey, girlfriend has a type), she and the Stanford alum booked a July getaway to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with a few pals.
"They have been texting nonstop," a source told E! News of the 2017 Heisman runner-up and this year's Maxim Hot 100 honoree. But while they're having a lot of fun, "their relationship isn't serious," the source continued. "Olivia has a lot of upcoming working projects and has expressed to friends that she isn't looking for anything serious at the moment."
And while that could very well change as their commitment grows and they continue popping up together on Instagram, she's not about to risk letting another guy get in the way of her grind.