December 15, 2004 05:00 PM

Jeff Probst has had many adventures as host of Survivor, such as hacking out of the Vanuatu brush, skydiving over the California desert and zooming into this season’s finale on a big hog (motorcycle, that is). So who knew the biggest adventure for Probst would be embracing a new love?

Probst, 43, and Survivor: Vanuatu‘s fifth finalist, Julie Berry, who turned 24 Wednesday, are a couple.

“Nobody is more surprised than me that I could find my love affair on a show that I host,” Probst tells PEOPLE, “but the truth is when something like this gets dropped in your lap, you don’t look at how it’s wrapped, you don’t look at how it’s being delivered. You just put your arms around it and you hold on because this is my love affair and there’s no question in my mind about it.”

Rumors of a relationship started among viewers who noticed Berry sporting a dabbed-on heart tattoo with “Jeff” scrawled on it during one episode. “That was just harmless fun,” Berry told the Portland Press Herald.

Probst concurs. “The funny thing was there was this perception we were flirting on the show,” he says, “and that was actually just fun stuff on the show. I didn’t really talk to Julie until long after the show was over.”

After production on Vanuatu wrapped over the summer, Probst says he e-mailed Berry just to say hello. “Once we started spending some time together, I didn’t have any doubt. I didn’t have any doubt and all the questions about how you meet and any potential obstacles, they fade away like an old dry leaf.”

Happily, Probst adds, “I’m in love. I’m with her. I’m with her family, and there ain’t no turning back. When you find it, you know and now I get it. The funniest thing is people used to always say, ‘you’ll know,’ and I’d think, ‘Oh, shut it! Let me tell ya, I’ve been around long enough, I don’t know.’ And then suddenly one day, I knew. Now I am one of those irritating people that is now saying, ‘you’ll know.'”

Berry, a youth mentor from Gorham, Maine, is moving to California to pursue her master’s degree in family counseling. Probst is in Los Angeles, having returned from shooting the 10th season of the series, Survivor: Palau.

Probst was married to psychotherapist Shelley Wright from 1996 until 2001.

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