One year after going public with his romance with former Survivor contestant Julie Berry, Jeff Probst is still gushing about her.
“I finally met someone who could teach me about love,” he tells PEOPLE in its latest issue. “Julie’s given me a sense of balance I’ve never had. It’s like fingers interlacing.”
Berry, 24, whom Probst, 43, waited to ask out until the game was over (she came in fifth place during season nine, Vanuatu), is equally smitten.
“Everything is a brighter shade,” says the former youth mentor from Maine. “We complement each other beautifully.”
But what about the nearly 20-year age difference? Not an issue. “You hear people talk about wisdom beyond a person’s years, and Julie embodies that,” says Probst. “She gets stuff a lot better than I do.”
Despite Probst’s initial worries about the host/player romance appearing inappropriate, he has the boss’s blessing. “Once you have a relationship you care about, the gratefulness comes out,” says Survivor creator Mark Burnett. “And Jeff seems really grateful to be with someone he enjoys.”
Probst and Berry, who spend most nights at his three-bedroom Hollywood Hills house, are learning Spanish together and have each taken up the didgeridoo – a 4-ft.-long Aboriginal wind instrument. Though Berry, who moved from Gorham, Maine, to L.A. in December, has her own apartment, she admits she only uses it to shower and change. “We call it my office,” she says.
Despite such domestic bliss, the couple remain mum when the subject of marriage is raised. “Being committed to each other – that’s the point,” says Berry.
It would be the second time down the aisle for Probst, whose five-year marriage to psychotherapist Shelley Wright ended in divorce in 2001.
Now, it’s his relationship with Survivor on which he must cast a vote. With his contract up after he tapes the show’s 12th edition this fall, Probst is unsure about whether he’ll renew.
“There’s the inevitable point where you go, ‘Do I want to do other things?'” he says. “But like I told someone the other day, I don’t want to be the David Caruso of reality TV. I’ll never have as good a job as Survivor.”
Of course, it doesn’t help that he’d now be leaving someone behind while on those far-flung shoots. “I never thought I’d be so happy to see a car in my driveway, knowing she’s there,” he says.
Berry, now earning her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at California State University, Northridge, hopes to keep it that way. “To me, it’s the most important thing to accomplish in life, to fall in love and create a family,” she says. “I’m fascinated by it, and now I get to study it and apply it.”
Adds Probst with a grin: “And I get to sit with my feet up and reap all the benefits!”