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Exclusive Interview

The Bachelor: Arie Luyendyk Jr. Will Be Season 22's Leading Man

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Arie Luyendyk Jr. is ready to find his happily ever after!

The 35-year-old has been named The Bachelor‘s next leading man, Good Morning America revealed Thursday morning.

“This is pretty surreal,” Luyendyk Jr. exclusively tells PEOPLE. “It doesn’t really feel real yet, but I’m taking it step by step. The timing is just so perfect in my life. I could not be more excited for this journey I’m about to embark on.”

This won’t be the first time the Netherlands native attempted to find love on national television. Besides building a career as a professional auto racing driver turned real estate agent, Luyendyk Jr. is best known in Bachelor Nation as the runner-up on Emily Maynard‘s season of The Bachelorette in 2012.

“I’m not nervous,” he admits. “Now that I’ve had some time and distance away from it, it feels like the feeling I had before I went into it the first time. I think sometimes when you’re on The Bachelorette and you jump right into being the Bachelor, for me it would’ve been too soon. This feels more natural. I’m not concerned what people think. I’m just focused on the outcome. I want to find my person and will do whatever it takes!”

Throughout the past few weeks, there has been plenty of speculation of who was going to take the role as the next Bachelor — with the most obvious choice being Rachel Lindsay‘s Bachelorette runner-up, Peter Kraus.

“Unfortunately, Peter probably will not be #TheBachelor …” show creator Mick Fleiss tweeted Wednesday.

“They are in a full-blown panic mode,” an insider told PEOPLE prior to the announcement. “Peter was honestly never their first choice; they’re still mad at him because of the whole Rachel situation. But they knew he’s who the fans wanted. And the fact that they went to Peter even after they’d initially said they wouldn’t? That let Peter know he had a ton of power going into this situation.”

But, have producers always had an eye on Luyendyk Jr.?

“It’s been an ongoing conversation through the last couple of years,” Luyendyk Jr. says. “The timing was never right.”

In 2015, former Bachelor Sean Lowe (whom befriended Luyendyk Jr. on Maynard’s season) told Dish Nation that the franchise producers extended an offer to Luyendyk Jr. to be the next Bachelor before reaching out to Chris Soules.

“From what I understand, the show, the producers that make the show, they wanted Arie,” said Lowe, but new executives at the network “were getting nervous. Like, Arie hadn’t been on TV in two years.”

FROM PEN: Former Bachelorette Emily Maynard Johnson Says She Wants 2 More Kids to Up Her Total to 5

Lowe’s claimed that Luyendyk Jr., who currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, had gotten as far as filming introductory segments when he learned he’d been replaced.

“They actually told Arie he was gonna be the Bachelor,” Lowe said. “They flew [him] down, had a camera crew, filmed him telling his family he was gonna be the next Bachelor – then pulled the rug out from underneath him and made Chris the Bachelor.”

But now, it’s Luyendyk Jr.’s turn!

Although things didn’t work out with Maynard, one thing’s for sure: “Not only is Arie a gorgeous man, but he has a heart of gold and he’s a great kisser! Does it get any better than that,” Maynard wrote in her blog for PEOPLE in 2012.

“I just want to find that spark with somebody,” he says. “I want to someone to share my life with. I feel like it’s my time. I’m going into this with an open heart.”