By Todd Peterson
February 19, 2004 10:00 AM

And then there were two. As ABC’s matchmaking reality series neared its end Wednesday, bachelorette Meredith Phillips left her man Chad hanging — but just for a minute.

After spending a romantic day (and evening) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with each of the three remaining bachelors, Meredith handed her first rose to Matthew, and paused ever so slightly before passing the second to Ian.

On the steps outside the mansion after she had made her selection, Meredith sought to reassure ousted bachelor Chad Schlee, a 32-year-old pharmaceutical salesman from Buffalo, N.Y., that he should not take the rejection personally (as if there is any other way he could have taken it).

In an interview with PEOPLE, Chad says he was stung. “Being in the final three guys, I thought I would make it into the final two,” he said. “When I didn’t, I was devastated.”

But even though Meredith’s decision hurt, he says he realized that she had something special with Matt and Ian. “As much as it hurt me, I didn’t want it to keep going if it wasn’t right.”

From the episode’s start, it was clear which direction the bachelorette was leaning. In the show’s opening segment, Meredith, 30, flew kites with Ian in San Juan’s Old Town, as she said she hoped to deepen her communication and “iron out (her) expectations” with the 29-year-old investment banker. The couple then retreated to the Fantasy Suite where they (and millions of viewers) attempted some alone time.

Meredith ended her dates on the beach with Matthew, a 28-year-old salesman from Texas. From the beginning of their date, it was clear that he would be advancing to the final two. “Sometimes I am just in awe of (Matthew),” Meredith told the cameras. She presented him her first rose without hesitation.

During the second segment, she and Chad began with lunch aboard a cruising yacht, and later Chad sought to up the level of intimacy. “We were a little more kissy and touchy-feely than we usually are,” he said. But as Meredith pushed her relationship with each guy, it seemed clear that she and Chad were not clicking on a fundamental level.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, ABC will air “The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All,” a special episode of “their” story, at 8 p.m.