With the premiere of The Bachelorette just days away, Andi Dorfman spoke to PEOPLE about the tragic death of contestant Eric Hill, who was killed in a paragliding accident April 23, after he had left the show.
“When I heard the news, I was devastated,” says Dorfman, who also reached out privately to Hill’s family. “Shock, devastation, grief. It’s something you never could have predicted [or] expected.”
Hill, who will not be edited out of episodes, “was part of our family,” Dorfman says. “And I had just seen him. He was a member of our cast and we had an inherent bond. The [other contestants] shared that bond too. It was shocking and devastating to all of us and it’s still a tough thing that we’re going through.”
For her part, Dorfman will keep fond memories of the adventurer and extreme sports enthusiast.
“I will always remember Eric’s love for life,” she says. “People say, ‘Oh he lived life to the fullest.’ But Eric really was the epitome of someone who lived life to the fullest. This man had amazing stories and great experiences. His sense of adventure inspired not only me, but every guy in the house, every producer, every crew member. Everybody says they want to do stuff in their life but he was really doing it.”
It’s a bittersweet lesson and one of many Dorfman will take away from her Bachelorette journey.
“I learned that I’m a lot softer than I thought I was,” she says. “I knew I had a tough shell, but I’m a softie inside.” And as far as finding a fairytale ending? “I am happy,” Dorfman says. “I’m excited for everyone to see how this turns out.”
The Bachelorette premieres Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.