October 01, 2007 12:00 PM

Continuing a Today show tradition that began in 2000, Jessica Mapel and Cody Helgeson from Mesa, Ariz., will swap vows live, on air, before Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and millions of TV viewers Oct. 5. Jessica, 23, a nursing student at Mesa Community College, and Cody, 21, an architecture student at Arizona State University, met while working as servers at a grill. At Jessica’s mother’s suggestion, the pair entered Today’s annual competition and beat out thousands of other couples for the honor of having the public choose—and the show pay for—all of their wedding essentials, from the flowers to the honeymoon. This year, even Martha Stewart will lend her crafty touch to the ceremony. “It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” says Jessica. “It adds another element of excitement to our big day.”


The Waggoners may have gotten a late start on married life, but they wasted no time adding to their family. Shortly after their honeymoon, Molly, then 37, swung by a drugstore and picked up a pregnancy test kit. Nine months later, Hudson James was born. Proud papa Jason, 38, says his son’s name is “a tribute to the city we got married in” (the couple wed in Manhattan, which is on the Hudson River). Despite their fond East Coast memories, the Waggoners are staying put in L.A., where Jason runs his family’s movie studio rental equipment business and Molly is writing a book “about the journey from being single to relationships to marriage to family, and all the lessons you learn along the way.” Family life seems to suit the newlyweds, whose first anniversary is fast approaching. “Molly is the love of my life,” says Jason, “and now being a parent, it’s just amazing.”


A honeymoon in the Maldives wasn’t enough for Sarah and Mark. As much as work will allow, the couple from Lusby, Md., plan to live out of suitcases for the next few years. “For our first-year anniversary we went to San Diego. This year we want to go to Africa and next year, Australia and Japan,” says Sarah, 25, a director of sales for a hospitality company. (Inspired by her experience on Today, she is also working on her acting skills in hopes of launching a TV-hosting career.) After the wedding, Mark, 28, bought a gym where he had worked as a general manager, and the couple began planning exotic trips—like a South African dive they hope to take to see great white sharks. So, will these fearless world travelers slow down anytime soon for diaper duty? Not likely, says Mark. “Right now, we have two dogs, and that’s good enough.”


They fell in love the day they met—at his cousin’s wedding. “Sounds cheesy, but it’s true,” says Nikki. A year and a half later they tied the knot and now, three years after their Today ceremony, the romance remains strong. “I would not want my previous life for anything in the world,” says Buddy, 31, a pharmaceutical rep who finished a stint in the Army in 2004, but was reactivated last summer and will serve until 2009 (and head back to Iraq if duty calls). The Butlers now live in London, Ky., and Nikki quit her job as an assistant in an eye surgeon’s office before giving birth last May to son Baron, who joins her daughter Addison, 8, from a previous marriage. “The baby looks just like Buddy,” says Nikki, 32. The new father is equally proud: “I couldn’t be happier.”


Proving that fairy-tale weddings do not guarantee a happily-ever-after ending, Seneca and Chris divorced in April 2006. “We were just not compatible,” says Seneca, 38, who no longer speaks to Chris, 39. “From what I can tell he seems to be doing well.” (Chris could not be reached for comment.) As for their ultra-public wedding ceremony, “There is nothing negative about that experience,” says Seneca, an accountant in Erie, Mich. “If it had been the right person, it would have been great.” Today, Seneca’s top priority is raising her two boys, Braxton, 11, and Teague, 15, from a previous marriage. She has also found love again. “It’s going really well,” she says of her relationship with Mike Bunker, 24, a floor layer whom she met through a mutual friend. “The kids just love him.”


Shortly after their wedding, the Landrys moved to Georgia, where Marcus took a job as a veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One and a half years later, Cynithia, now 29 and a fifth grade teacher, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Lauren. “We’ve been contemplating working on baby No. 2, but we are still content,” says Marcus, 32. Looking back at their big day, Cynithia recalls, “If I had to do it all over again, I would—in a heartbeat.” Minor regret No. 1: “I’d change my hair a little bit,” she says. “I was really nervous about people picking my hairstyle.” Minor regret No. 2: “I got my gown, but Marcus didn’t get to keep his tux.” Nevertheless, “it was an awesome experience,” says Cynithia. Last month, the Landrys celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary. “The years,” says Marcus, “have just flown by.”


Three months after their wedding—with the Today stint fresh in the public’s mind—Jenny and Jeff learned she was pregnant. “Strangers would recognize me from the show and come up to me and say, ‘You’re pregnant!'” recalls Jenny, 33. “I think they felt like they knew us, like they were at our wedding, so why wouldn’t they just come up and touch you and talk to you?” Now, the Scotts—and their boys Zachary, 5, and Trey, 3—live in Fitchburg, Mass., where Jeff plans to expand his junk removal business and Jenny works as a freelance copywriter. Of their wedding: “It was a hundred times better than I expected it to be,” says Jeff, 33. Also surprisingly wonderful? Married life. “It’s a lot easier than you hear,” he says. “Jenny and I just work so well together.”


The Ginsbergs were the first couple married on Today. “We were pioneers,” says Peter, 35, a personal injury lawyer who believes a successful marriage needs a “one-two-three punch: patience, compromise and listening.” All of which also help in raising children Jack, 4, and Emma, 2. “Just being married is one thing,” says Melanie, 34, a school psychologist. “Keeping balance with kids has been a challenge for us, but my husband and I have figured out how to still be a couple and raise a family, and that’s a big accomplishment.” Next up? House hunting around their hometown of Garden City, N.Y. Says Melanie: “We’re trying to set down roots and settle in.”

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