New Bachelor Colton Underwood Is Ready for Lasting Love: 'I'm Excited to Find My Wife'

"This is the perfect time in my life to do this," he tells PEOPLE

Photo: ABC/Craig Sjodin

Colton Underwood fans, rejoice!

The football star, who competed for love on Becca Kufrin‘s season of The Bachelorette before heading to Bachelor in Paradise this summer, is back again — and this time, he’s running the show.

“I’m very excited,” Underwood, 26, tells PEOPLE exclusively of his role as the new Bachelor. “I’m so grateful. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been smiling.”

The reality TV world has been a whirlwind for Underwood, who was left heartbroken by Kufrin and then entered a perplexing “will they or won’t they” relationship with Bachelor in Paradise costar Tia Booth, whom he met while he was in the casting process for The Bachelorette. Ultimately, Underwood broke things off with a shocked Booth and left Paradise alone.

“Obviously you can tell how it was all so emotional for me,” says Underwood of his journey thus far. “But it was also good for me. I can’t say enough good things about Becca and enough good things about Tia. They’ve helped me grow and discover who I am and what I’m looking for in a wife.”

Specifically, Underwood says he’s grateful to Kufrin for the “closure” he received from her on the beach in Mexico during the filming of Paradise, and he says that his relationship with Booth crystallized his desire to find The One.

Emerald City - Season 1
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“I committed fully into that relationship and I gave it an honest to God shot,” Underwood says. “But I woke up one morning and realized that a future wasn’t there. And it was a good thing to happen because now I can take what I learned in that relationship and apply it to future relationships. And Tia and I are in a very good place. And I wish her all the best.”

When it comes to navigating relationships on the show, Underwood says he’ll stay true to himself, something fans appreciated when he opened up about his virginity on The Bachelorette.

“I’m going to live my life and do what I’ve always done,” Underwood says. “[Being a virgin] needs to be normalized; it’s just who I am and what I believe in. I hold a lot of value in it and I hold it to a high standard. I’m just waiting for the right heart.”

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For now, Underwood is appreciative of his past, complicated as it may be, and looking forward to what lies in store.

“This is the perfect time in my life to do this,” he says. “I’m so unbelievably happy with myself and now I can focus on finding my wife. I’m so excited to find that. My heart is 100 percent healed and I’m going to give this my all. And hopefully I’ll come out of it engaged!”

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