Even the most wishful of Bachelor fans likely weren't betting on JoJo Fletcher and Jordan Rodgers' journey leading them to an altar.
Because with the persistent rumors of the former Vanderbilt quarterback's ill intentions ramping up even before they took the stage for the requisite grin-and-gush After the Final Rose appearance, it seemed unlikely Fletcher would still be wearing her 3.75-carat Neil Lane diamond years later.
Which, she's not. But only because Rodgers presented the real estate developer, 29, with an upgrade this past August, putting together a proposal of his own to reinforce the idea that he was ready to make her his bride. While the original diamond (now stowed away for safekeeping) was nice, it represented the leap of faith they took back on that beach in Thailand.
The new bling, a 5-carat custom oval-cut, designed by Rodgers himself, symbolizes the life they've painstakingly put together in the three years since.
And it's that partnership that they'll celebrate next summer as they officially pledge forever in an outdoor ceremony near Santa Barbara, Calif. Their walk down the aisle taking some three years longer than the average married Bachelor Nation pair, they know it's built to last.
"The show brought us together and set us up for a truly amazing proposal the first time around, but this was all YOU," she wrote on Instagram in praise of his engagement redux. "And that means everything and more to me. I can't wait to marry you!"
Truthfully, though, Fletcher wasn't always so sure she saw this as her end game—not when the former NFL athlete, the dashing younger brother of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was one of the 26 suitors romancing her at the Bachelor mansion and not even, really, when she was confidently placing a bet they'd still be together more than a year after their engagement aired on the ABC love hunt.
She knew she wanted it to be him as she felt what she called "this immediate sense of comfort" during their dates, doing her best to send signals that he was the frontrunner by squeezing his hand three times in a row as a way of saying, "I love you." But to her, their instant connection felt like a bit of risk. On a March episode of their YouTube series, Engaged With JoJo & Jordan, Fletcher revealed she felt "a little emotional" after seeing a fan comment that they felt the 31-year-old may have been putting on a front.
"Kinda thought the same thing about Jordan when I met him, and it was a struggle the whole time we were together," she said. "I knew how great we were, and how much I cared for him, and I was falling in love with him, but there was something....The whole time I had this thought in the back of my head like, 'Dude this guy's gonna leave me broken hearted.'"
Accepting his proposal felt like "a leap of faith" on that Phuket beach, she shared on Instagram, but as her season began to air, it started to feel more like a free fall. Cheated out of the standard Bachelor couple honeymoon period, stories about Rodgers began emerging long before America saw him accept Fletcher's final rose.
One ex-girlfriend called him a "prolific liar and cheater," her friendship with Aaron's then-love Olivia Munn, exposing the initial cracks in a longstanding Rodgers family feud. And from there, Rodgers was targeted as the type not there for "the right reasons," tabloid reports dubbing him a fraud, hoping to use The Bachelorette to propel a sports commentating career, while stringing Fletcher along.
By the time the two made it to the After the Final Rose couch, it felt disingenuous to chat about cohabitation and wedding plans.
"I don't want to sugarcoat it, it's been difficult it," Fletcher admitted, saying that as the headlines rolled in, "It was hard and it was confusing and neither one of us understood why it was happening."
But the attacks lead to constructive chats, her fiancé shared. "I thought that was a really good part of our relationship, that we were able to communicate and have those conversations that are real-life," he explained. "In the show, you can get caught up in the fantasy dates and the places you're at and that part is amazing, but to have some realness and some tough conversations, we've only been able to grow on that. Since that, communicating with each other and being completely honest with each other, we've taken it to the next level."
Press obligations done, the couple put on a good performance of a madly in-love, ready to wed pair, mindfully filling their Instagram feeds with grinning selfies and photos from their travels to the British Virgin Islands, Mexico, New Orleans and Georgia. They documented their cross-country road trip—complete with jam sessions to Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom"—to Fletcher's native Dallas and when talk of their nuptials came up, they'd swear it was in the works.
"His mom is always sending me wedding books," Fletcher told E! News in October 2016, "and we're like, 'We've gotta figure out where it's going to be first!" That tiny detail aside, they were shooting to make it down the aisle before the close of 2017.
In actuality, though, Fletcher wasn't sure she'd ever be Rodgers' blushing bride. The rumors that he was using his Bachelorette fame—and, ultimately, Fletcher herself—as a stepping stone to a sports career proved unfounded. (Unless he's playing the long game, keeping their engagement intact more than three years after he accepted a job with the SEC Network.) But they still stung. "All the nasty stuff people said about Jordan, it kind of made me sad because I loved him and I wanted to defend him," she shared on their YouTube series.
Coupled with an intense spotlight that had brought the ongoing Rodgers family feud to the surface for millions to dissect, plus the fact that people were counting on them to live happily ever after, it all began to feel like a little much.
"The first year was tough, and it takes a lot of work," Rodgers told E! News last year. "You meet each other in a very different environment, and then you get to reality and you're merging your lives together. So, there was a lot of work that was involved in getting to know each other. We had this promise on the table and our lives are trying to figure out where they fit and how they mesh."
Everything became so draining, he continued, "I remember one moment we sat down [and] we were like, 'How much more can we take?'"
That juncture came thisclose to being their breaking point, the likes of which have felled some 30 other pairs from the franchise. "You know, we almost broke up," Fletcher recently admitted to E! News, "and I think that we really have worked on how we are with one another because I think that more than anything like communicating out of respect even in times that are not so great is so, so important. And so I think that's something that, you know, we've just learned that that's a huge part of our relationship and a huge part of why, you know, we, I feel like we are successful and where we are today."
The other thing they had going for them was their decision to decamp to Fletcher's Texas home, rather than linger in Cali as so many couples had done before them, taking a spin through the Dancing With the Stars ballroom or otherwise squeezing out every last minute of fame.
"We were told that you can be in trouble if you sit around in LA, if you try living this life for a little bit longer," Fletcher told reporters at NBC Universal's TV Critics Association press tour. "So the day after we got together, we moved back home. We started renovating a house in the very next week. So it was important for us to not stay and get caught up in whatever it is you want to call it. And I think it saved our relationship...It was really important for us to just get back to normal life."
With Fletcher's experience as a real estate developer, that meant flipping properties together ("We get back to reality and it's like hey, here's what I do, you're doing it with me, and I'm like, all right boss," said Rodgers), a shared livelihood that led to this summer's Cash Pad, their CNBC show that has them partnering with home owners looking to turn their domicile into an enticing short-term rental.
"People always told us the first way to break up is to renovate a home with your significant other, and the second is to start a business together," Fletcher admitted. "Somehow we decided to do both, and we haven't killed each other, so I think we're ready. I think we're ready for the wedding."
Stepping back in front of TV cameras with Cash Pad wasn't their first test, though. Before they got their hands dirty on CNBC, they spent a month bunking in tiny hotel rooms as the hosts of Paramount Network's Battle of the Fittest Couples.
Though Rodgers told E! News he was nervous for the 2018 shoot that saw them "on top of each other 24/7," he soon learned that "I actually loved it," he said. "It was one of the best times of our life."
Working so closely together gave them the opportunity to beef up their already fairly strong connection. "I think we've just gotten a lot better at understanding and knowing how to handle each other's communication styles and how we process things and how we process stressful moments," Fletcher shared, "and just learning how to balance what I need versus what Jordan needs."
Once they wrapped not just in tact, but thriving, "We looked at each other, we were like, Whoa. Like how did we just do that? We're pretty solid, huh?"
Having aced that particular challenge, they trained their eyes on the next one. After years of offering excuses whenever their engagement was mentioned (they weren't sure where to have it, their schedules were insane, they had careers to build, they were just enjoying "this really great place that we're in"), the twosome revealed they were actively wedding planning while on Today this summer promoting Cash Pad.
"We're waiting to find the exact date with our venue, but that's it," Fletcher revealed. "We're actively planning."
And that's just what they were doing on that August day, purportedly on California's mountainous coast to scout out potential venues. Rodgers had meticulously seen to each detail, having the Ring Concierge bauble shipped to his friend's place in Nashville, where he'd pick it up en route to L.A. from work commitments in Charlotte. He'd covered his bases, telling Fletcher that he'd be working until midnight—then his flight was delayed four hours.
"I took off at 2:30am all the while praying JoJo didn't FaceTime or call me because I wouldn't be able to answer in an airport or on the plane & that would seem SUPER shady," he shared on Instagram. By the time he landed in Nashville, he had just enough time to grab the ring and make it back for his 6 a.m. flight to California. He hadn't slept and had just received word that the woman at the venue, with whom he'd carefully coordinated his surprise, "So some random lady that had no idea I was proposing walked us through the venue and miraculously caught on to what was happening and filmed it from afar on her iPhone," he shared. "Somehow....it all came together and was so amazing and surreal."
All's well that ends well and everything, he said, but the moment was stressful: "Funny how much harder this proposal thing is without 20 producers planning the whole thing!!"
Makes sense, then, that he's leaving the bulk of the wedding planning to his bride. Together they've chosen a date, a venue and a growing playlist ("Every time we get in the car, there is a new song playing over the speakers that JoJo has suddenly fallen in love with," he jokes to E! News) and now Fletcher is busy working out how to fuse her desire for a romantic feel and a fun party that's "a good time for everyone that's coming out and going to be supporting us," she told E! News. "So there's a lot to still figure out."
Starting with the guest list. Good pal Becca Tilley has secured a slot in the bridal party and Chris Harrison is definitely a must, though they'll give him a pass on officiant duties. "Yeah, we will tell him to grab a drink and relax," says Rogers.
He just might be doing a little kicking back himself, letting his bride take the reins with the whole 2020 affair. "JoJo's a great planner. I'm the worst planner," he told E! News last month. "I just got a deadline today, actually a few hours ago from JoJo. She goes, 'I need your guest list in two weeks.' And then about five minutes later, it turned into one week. So by the end of this phone call, I'm probably gonna have a few days to get my entire guest list together because JoJo has got hers nailed down."
She certainly does.