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'Age of Love' star Mark Philippoussis picks Amanda Salinas over Jen


By Christopher Rocchio, 08/07/2007 

Mark Philippoussis may have learned that age is just a number when it comes to love, but the 31-year-old Australian professional tennis player still chose Amanda Salinas, a 25-year-old financial planner's assistant from Nashville, TN, as Age of Love's winner during last night's finale broadcast of the NBC reality dating series.

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"I think I'm a little bit happier than the happiest girl in the world.  I have my man.  I have Mark," Amanda said when Age of Love's bachelor revealed she was the winner.  "It could not be more perfect.  I couldn't have dreamt this up."

Mark's choice of Amanda -- the only remaining 20-something "Kitten" -- meant Jennifer Braff, a 48-year-old Carson, CA-resident who has a 25-year-old son, was the seventh and final 40-something "Cougar" to leave the competition.

"Until going into this experience, I thought about shows like this, and the emotions that the women and the guys develop for each other," said Jen when Mark revealed she was the final suitor to be eliminated.  "I thought to myself it couldn't possibly be real.  But I'm sitting here... and I know now for myself that my emotions are real.  This is real for me, and it makes me sad.  I know that we had a connection.  I know we had a very strong chemistry.  But he got scared.  I know that if I had been younger Mark would have chosen me.  It hurts.  It hurts a lot."

Age of Love's eighth and final episode began with Mark, Amanda and Jen arriving in the bachelor's native Melbourne, Australia.  Mark realized that his big decision was almost due, which made him both "nervous" and "excited."  Mark then commented on both the woman.  He called Amanda the "first one he really felt chemistry with" out of the 13 Age of Love bachelorettes (she was also the first one he kissed, but certainly not the last).  Mark described Jen as "the oldest but most beautiful" of all the suitors, adding she doesn't play any games and has a "ridiculous" body.

Once in Melbourne, Mark informed the girls they'd both be meeting his family, however unlike ABC's The Bachelor, both girls would meet his kin at the same time.  Mark said it was a "big deal" to meet his family, especially his mom since she's shy and he's only previously brought home four girls.  Jen immediately made Amanda look bad by bringing Mark's mom a gift without telling, a move Amanda called "childish" only because Jen kept the idea from her.

"I'm definitely not ready and I couldn't be more nervous," said Amanda.

Mark's oldest sister Maria immediately took a liking to Jen, who talked away about everything from softball to her son.  Amanda was looking for a conversation starter of her own but came up empty and found herself sitting in Jen's shadow.  Jen noticed, didn't care, and made it even worse for Amanda by showing her skills in the kitchen while the Kitten sat confused on how to cook.

"She didn't even know what to do with the lettuce!" said Jen.

However Mark's mom noticed Amanda was shy like her, and made both girls feel like they were at home.  When Mark's mom told Amanda she noticed how shy she was, Amanda felt "much better."  Once the lunch date with Mark's family was over, Maria made it clear she liked Jen because she's "outgoing" while Mama Philippoussis was a fan of Amanda due to their similarities.  Mom then reminded Mark he wasn't getting married so not to move too fast with either of the girls, and Mark commented he was still confused and unsure of who to pick.

Jen received the first of the final one-on-one dates with Mark, and said it was her first time feeling nervous because her feelings for him had gotten stronger.  Mark commented how he was "definitely" feeling Amanda during the first few weeks of the competition for his heart, however had quickly started to warm-up to Jen.

"Jen has opened my eyes and my heart to the fact that age doesn't matter in love," said Mark.

As Mark and Jen enjoyed their gondola ride, Amanda said it was "unnerving" and "not easy" to know Mark wasn't spending time with her.  Jen said she was in a "playful mood," and told Mark a dirty secret about herself.  The two then went for dinner in the aquarium, where Mark revealed he felt he could be himself around Jen and she felt the same with him.

"You've given me hope again for love," Jen told Mark.  "You have, and I thank you for that."  She added she was feeling confident Mark could be the one for her, while he commented the more time he spends with her, the more he keeps falling for her.

"If Mark doesn't choose me it will be a lot harder to get over than ever before," said Jen at the conclusion of her date.

It was then Mark's turn to romance Amanda one last time, and he began by taking her for a drive through the Australian countryside until they arrived at an animal sanctuary and frolicked with some kangaroos and koala bears.  Despite her enthusiasm, Amanda said she couldn't help but wonder how "intimate" Mark's date with Jen was.  Jen was also a little nervous because she was aware Mark liked Amanda.

Mark and Amanda then went for dinner, and she decided to open up and let her guard down, emotionally revealing herself to Age of Love's bachelor.  "It was one of those opportunities that I keep letting slip by and I wasn't going to let it happen this time," said Amanda, who instantly felt better once she told Mark how she really felt about him.

"The more I drop my guard, the more I open my heart, the longer of a fall it is if he decides to let me go," realized Amanda.  "It definitely came into my head that this guy is everything and then some of what I've been looking for... I can say I'm in love with Mark."

The next morning, Jen and Amanda discussed their age differential before Mark made his final decision.  Amanda commented that Jen has a "to do list" while she has a "wish list," while Jen knocked Amanda's "experience" due to her age, calling it "sub par."  Jen also got in the final word with Amanda, letting the Kitten know that she has serious feelings for Mark too.

"If Mark decides to start a relationship with Jennifer, I'd be heartbroken," said Amanda.  "I'd be upset.  I'd be hurt.  I have no idea who's going to get eliminated... I don't want to go home.  I don't want to say goodbye."

Mark said he was nervous about his final decision and added he thought it was "unfair" he had to hurt one of the girls by sending them back to the States without him.  He compared the pressure he was feeling to a big tennis match.

"I came in here with an open mind, and it's who I click with.  It's as simple as that," said Mark.  "This is about who I could see myself dating, and I could see myself dating both of them.  That's why this is so tough.  It doesn't matter what age.  If you click with someone, you click.  You can't help who you click with."

Mark apparently felt he clicked with Amanda more, as he spent Jen packing.  Needless to say, Amanda was elated with Mark's decision.

"Next is happily ever after..." she said as the two sailed off into the Australian sunset.

(Photo credit NBC/Suzy Wood)

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