September 06, 2010 12:00 PM

In his eight years hosting The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Chris Harrison has learned a lot-not about romance, but roses. The walkway that leads to the front door of his Westlake Village, Calif., home is lined with several types, not just the long-stemmed variety awarded each week to contestants seeking a love connection on the ABC reality dating show. “I know a lot more about roses than a guy probably should!” jokes the Dallas native, stopping to take in the scent of one of his blossoms.

When the bloom falls off the rose on TV, Harrison, 39, is there to be the shoulder for contestants to cry on, as was the case with this year’s Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky, who faced multiple betrayals while filming before ultimately getting engaged to Roberto Martinez on the show’s season finale. And then there’s his role as onscreen mediator, which he was after the vitriolic breakup of recent Bachelor couple Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi in June. “It’s knowing when to push and when to be there to help,” says Harrison. “My job there wasn’t to stoke the flames and try to pit them against each other. My job was to try and calm the situation down.”

This summer Harrison is navigating the hot tub-filled waters of Bachelor Pad, where familiar faces from the Bachelor franchise live together under one roof and compete for a $250,000 cash prize. “It’s Survivor meets Big Brother,” Harrison says of the show, which he is cohosting with Bachelor alum Melissa Rycroft. “It’s an homage to our fans.”

Harrison’s personal life is far less dramatic: he’s been married for 16 years to his college sweetheart, Gwen. Last February, when controversial Bachelor contestant Rozlyn Papa accused Harrison onscreen of hitting on a producer’s wife, the host says he was hardly ruffled by what he calls “a cheap shot. I had nothing to hide. My wife was there.” The couple live a decidedly quiet existence 35 miles from Hollywood with their kids Joshua, 8, and Taylor, 6. Harrison, who coaches both kids’ soccer teams, is “an amazing father,” says Gwen, 38. “He’s very loving and involved.”

At times hitting the road can be grueling for the former Oklahoma sportscaster, who landed the Bachelor gig six weeks after Joshua was born. His three-week global jaunt filming the most recent Bachelorette season was “the longest I’ve been gone from my family. I hated it,” says Harrison, who kept in touch with daily Skype chats.

Back home he’s gladly resumed his role as Dad and resident relationship expert (Gwen’s friends jokingly refer to him as “Big Love”). Harrison says strangers “come up to me in bars and tell me about their sex lives. I’m thinking, ‘You think I can make it better somehow?'”

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