Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC Television Group ©2011 Disney Photo: West is Eliminated

Like Masked Jeff before him, West Lee really liked Bentley Williams. “He seemed genuine and he talked about his daughter all the time,” West told reporters on Thursday’s media conference call. Like everyone else, West was surprised by the things Bentley said on The Bachelorette Season 7, but he’s not sure he’s taking it at face value. “Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.”

West, 30, a lawyer from Columbia, South Carolina, talks about JP Rosenbaum repeatedly during the call. He thinks Bachelorette Ashley Hebert has an obvious connection with JP — and that kind of natural chemistry is something Ashley lacked with West.

Ashley may have thought West wasn’t ready to move on from his wife’s death in 2007, but he thinks that missing connection, and their limited time together, was just as much of a factor in him being the only guy sent home from Phuket, Thailand.

West does address his wife Sarah’s death when asked to comment on the tabloid story featuring harsh words from Sarah’s mother. “I was shocked that her own mother and stepfather were so willing to drag their daughter’s name through the mud like that,” West said, adding that the people close to him, and to Sarah, knew that he truly loved her.

West said he is ready to find love again and if ABC asked him to be the next Bachelor, he would consider it.

Read on for all the details from West’s call:

Credit: WENN.com Photo: West Lee and Ashley Hebert Chat in Bachelorette Season 7, Episode 4

When we talked to Jeff last week, he said Bentley wasn’t the only one who wasn’t into Ashley and only three or four guys were really into her. Did you see that as well? What’s your take on that?
I think sort of the nature of the experience is, at first, when there are so many guys competing for such limited time with her, you’re only going to get a fraction of your time with Ashley and the rest is going to be spent with the guys. So, at first, as long as Jeff was around, perhaps — by the time he had left, some people had established some connections. But at first, you’re spending so much time with the guys, obviously your connections are going to be stronger with them than they’re going to be with her. And that’s nothing to do with her, it’s just the nature of the process. As more and more people get eliminated, you get more time with her and your connection with her becomes stronger and stronger. So I definitely had that same experience where I made such great friends with the guys and had such little time with Ashley. My connection was stronger with them, but that’s not anything to do with the guys not liking her or not thinking she was a good catch or anything, it just has to do with the time that you get with her.

There’s been some recent coverage of your wife’s death beyond what you told Ashley on the show. The police said there was no evidence you were involved, but before the season premiere your former mother-in-law did an interview where she said she thought you had something to do with Sarah’s death and she thought you were her enabler. Do you have any comment on that? What was your reaction when that came out? Did you anticipate anything like that coming out?
When I went on the show, I knew that my past would be fair game. I knew that that was a possibility and that that might be brought up. And I’m OK with that. I have no problem discussing any flaws that I might have. I have no skeletons to hide, per se. So that wasn’t a big deal. I was shocked that her own mother and stepfather were so willing to drag their daughter’s name through the mud like that. They — I don’t want to say too much because obviously it’s been talked about and talked about. And I would just prefer that Sarah’s name be allowed to rest in peace at this point, but they were never really involved in her life. Her mom left at an early age and a lot of Sarah’s issues that she had were directly the result of their actions. So I don’t know if maybe it’s just a thing where they’re trying to pass off blame or deal with their own sense of regret. It’s natural when you lose someone, especially a daughter, that you’re going to wonder what you could’ve done more, wonder what you could’ve done differently to save her. It’s also natural to blame yourself for the things that you could’ve done differently or maybe that you didn’t do. So I don’t know if that has something to do with it, if maybe they’re trying to ease their own sense of loss by passing off blame to me or what. But I know I loved Sarah. Sarah knows I loved Sarah and would never have done anything to hurt her, God bless her soul, rest in peace. Anyone that knows me, my family, anyone that knew us, knows how much I loved her and would never have done anything to hurt her. So I’m not worried about anything that her mom and stepdad might say. I know that her real father knows that I loved her and always did my best to take care of her — and I know that her brothers know that. So I’m not too worried about what they have to say or what people that don’t know the situation might think. It’s just a tragic situation and I hate that it’s gotten to be what it was. I really do feel bad about that, but it is what it is.

Since you did lose a loved one, was it hard for you to go on the show and open yourself up or were you past that point and you were ready to date again?
Right after Sarah passed away, I probably tried to start dating again a little too quickly and not because I was ready to date. [It was] just because I had some sort of void inside of me and I was hoping to either distract myself from it or fill it with something. So I started trying to date a little too quickly and that just did not work. I just couldn’t, there was no way I could because… I just had these strong feelings of love and loss and ultimately [the relationships] all sort of ended. So I took a long time for myself, just to be alone and close myself off. I was not emotionally available to people, for better or worse. I watched a lot of really, really good girls come and go in my life because I wasn’t able to put myself out there — because I still had that hurt inside of me. So I ended up taking a lot of time just to myself and finally I think I had reached a point where I was able to put myself back out there. So, I think I went on the show at a good place. It had been over three years and I had taken some time to myself and really gotten to a place where I was happy with my own life again. I picked myself up off the ground,passed the bar, got a good job, and had my own home and great friends, great family. I was just so happy again on an individual level and that’s when I think it occurred to me that I was ready to share it with someone else.

Now that you are in a good place, are you dating anyone now or are you still looking?
I would love to say that I’ve been able to settle down but, unfortunately, the search continues.

Do you think anything could have changed if you had a one-on-one date with Ashley or was it just a chemistry issue?
That’s tough to say. Without having had the one-on-one date I can’t really answer for sure that it would’ve changed anything. But going from minutes at a time with her to several hours, lots of things could change. We could find that we really enjoyed each other’s company and that just wouldn’t have been apparent in the limited number of conversations that we had. That’s where I think I started out at a bit of a disadvantage because I had this sort of situation with my past that I needed to get off my chest with her before I could fully be myself. Because, with the limited time that we had together, there were some things that she needed to know about me before I could really let loose and just be the sort of jovial person I usually am — the laid back, fun-loving guy. I felt it would’ve been disingenuous had I been really laughing all the time and just being super excited about everything at first and then step back and been like, but hey, also this. I just wanted to be really up front with her and honest with her from the outset so she would know where I was coming from. I think that level of seriousness that went on in the earlier conversations sort of put me at a disadvantage ‘cause a lot of the other guys were just having fun with it and I wasn’t able to just jump right into that. Had we had more time together, I think she definitely would’ve seen a different aspect of my personality but, again, there’s just no way to say that it definitely would’ve changed anything.

So, based on your earlier comments, it sounds like when you were eliminated it wasn’t too much of a surprise or a shock?
No, it wasn’t. I knew that I was one of a few people that were on the chopping block that night. I hoped to have another opportunity, but I was definitely not shocked.

Who else did you think was on the chopping block?
I think from what you’ve seen on the show, William had a bit of a meltdown on his group date with the roast and he was worried. When I talked to him in the house — we actually roomed together in Phuket and he was worried that he was also on the chopping block. So I thought he was there — and there were some other guys that just hadn’t gotten a ton of time with her. Lucas hadn’t gotten a lot of time. So, you know, there were just understandably some guys that I thought, along with myself, were sort of on the outside looking in, in terms of that connection. There were some guys that had a lot more one-on-one time, William being one of those guys. For example, JP or Mickey or Ben C., she’d gotten to see a lot more of them than she had of me at that point.


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Credit: Kenny Ting/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: Ben F. and West Give Bikes to Thai Orphans on The Bachelorette Season 7, Episode 4

You talked about the orphans. Would you say that’s the most memorable experience of the show or was there another moment we didn’t see?
No, without a doubt helping out at the orphanage was the most gratifying, most memorable experience that I had on the show. I mean, we went in early on — just to step back a little bit, the rain was awful. The rain was just terrible. I don’t know if maybe no one looked at The Weather Channel before we went out there, but it was the end of monsoon season and it was just rainy and humid and hot. Ashley could’ve easily stepped back and said there’s a thousand other things we could do with our time on this day besides get wet and do manual labor all day, but she [was into it] and we went out there and it was just so great. We started out the day, you know, we unloaded plants and did some painting and moved in a bunch of furniture. We also brought in a bunch of hula hoops and soccer balls for the kids, set up soccer nets. And that was all wonderful, I mean, just the fact of helping was fantastic. Because the story I heard was that the orphanage had started from a bunch of tents. Basically, it was right after the tsunami happened, all these children had lost their parents in the tsunami, right? So they had this makeshift orphanage that they had started from tents and they had slowly built up these houses — and of course the houses needed work, so we went out and did that with them. Just that alone was great, but then when the kids showed up? It was so over the top. We got to play pick-up soccer games with them. They were just all so sweet and nice and they were trying to communicate with us in a completely different language. But, yeah, it was fantastic.

We saw some frustrations toward Ryan coming out this week. Do you think that’s something that’s going to escalate? How did you feel abut him?
I think it’s funny the way that Ryan’s coming across, or the way that he’s — not being portrayed, because that is very much Ryan. That is him. I like Ryan a lot. I think he’s a really good guy. He’s solid, he’s sweet, he’s smart, and he genuinely just means really well. The thing about him is — and I don’t even mean this in a negative way — but he’s sort of like the human equivalent of a puppy. He’s just so high-energy all the time and he has such a zeal for life and he’s just so happy about everything. In puppies and people, you love that quality about them 95 percent of the time, but when it’s 8 in the morning or 11:30 at night and all you want to do is sleep, or something like that, and the puppy needs to go outside and use the bathroom or something like that — or Ryan is still being super high-energy — that is the 5 percent of the time where it kind of wears on you a little bit.  But the thing is, we had been together in such tight quarters for several weeks straight at that point. There was no diversion of TV, no nothing. So it was just like, we had all sort of reached that 5 percent moment. And that’s nothing against Ryan — Ryan is a great guy — it had more to do with us and just being super-tired. We were kind of sleep-deprived and all over the place and just generally kind of cranky at that point. It’s not Ryan — Ryan’s a great dude.

You said you’re ready to find love and happiness. What are you looking for in your next relationship? Did you learn anything from the show about what you want and don’t want?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the most important part about relationships is chemistry. And not necessarily physical chemistry — I mean, obviously that’s important, but I mean like the kind of easy connection that you can kind of see on the show between Ashley and JP. There’s just this sort of ease to their relationship and easy communication and just naturally have this sort of give and take like bam-bam-bam kind of deal. And it’s never forced or anything like that. I think that’s sort of what I took away from this experience is — I think Ashley is an amazing person and she has all these great qualities, and I’m sure if she were to be asked she’s probably say I have some good qualities as well, but she just didn’t feel that chemistry between us. That’s why it’s so important, because two really good people can meet each other and maybe depending on timing — timing’s also really important — maybe depending on timing and chemistry it just doesn’t work out. So I think the biggest thing I’m looking for is chemistry. I don’t really have a checklist or anything like that, I just want to be happy and comfortable.

Going into the rose ceremony, when you found out Ashley had added a rose and only one person would be eliminated, did that make it harder to know you were the one to go home?
West Lee: Well, obviously, beforehand I didn’t know that I was going to go home, but once I got kicked off it stung a little that I was the only one that she chose to leave, definitely.

Did you feel like you were making a connection with Ashley?
I didn’t really have a lot of time with Ashley. In the four episodes that I was there, I was on two group dates. So I ended up spending the lion’s share of my time with the guys and formed some strong connections with them. I couldn’t put a number on how much time with her, but it wasn’t a lot. So there were definitely some qualities I saw in her that I thought were attractive qualities and would be good to have in a potential partner— but I don’t know that I would say there was a connection, per se on the same level that there was that was evident between her and, say, JP or some of the other guys.

What was your reaction to the announcement that there would be an extra rose added?
When Chris [Harrison] said there was going to be an extra rose added I was definitely a little more hopeful that I would stick around for another week. I really was hoping at some point to get a one-on-one with Ashley because, while there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for us to forge a connection, I thought that if there were more time, if we had some significant one-on-one time together, that maybe there would be something there. But it was just hard to tell without having that time yet. So when there was another [rose] added I was hopeful that I could stick around another week, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Credit: Isaac Brekken/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: Ashley Hebert's Bachelors Compete to Participate in a Jabbawockeez Hip-Hop Show in Las Vegas

When you had conversations with her, did you feel like they were going well?
Well, the thing about Ashley is she’s a really easy girl to talk to. She’s nice, she’s sweet, she’s smart. So I think every conversation with her is going to go well regardless of who you are, just because that’s the kind of person she is. But, again, in watching this season — how it’s played out so far — I think it was evident that there wasn’t as much of a connection, or maybe she didn’t feel a chemistry between her and I as much as she did with some of the other guys.

When Ashley asked you if you were ready to love again, it seemed like you hesitated before you answered. Looking back, do you think you were ready at that time? Are you ready now?
I think I was ready. I think I paused a little bit when she asked just because I thought that my going out there and putting myself out there in that situation was sort of evidence that I was ready to put myself back out there and find love again. So it was kind of a surprise that she maybe didn’t see that or didn’t think I was. I kind of took a second and paused and collected my thoughts before answering because I really wanted to give her the thoughtful answer that I thought she deserved. I definitely think that I was ready to move on and find love then. And I absolutely think I am now.

With that in mind, would you consider coming back to the show as The Bachelor?
I think that The Bachelor represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find love in an amazing set of circumstances with some incredible people. So being offered that chance would definitely be something I’d have to think about, because it is such an incredible offer. But, again, I would just have to really sit down and talk with my family and my loved ones and just consider it ‘cause, like I said, it’s an amazing offer and anyone that’s ready to find love would have to consider it.

America was shocked when we heard the things Bentley Williams said. What were your thoughts when you heard the things he said? And was there anything that surprised you about the other guys in the house?
Well, first and foremost, when I came on the show I was half expecting that the casting people — or whoever is involved — I was half expecting that the other guys in the house, that the personalities would clash. I don’t know why I had that thought process or that opinion, but that’s what I was expecting. So the thing that surprised me the most when I got there was how well everyone seemed to get along. All the guys, at least at first anyway, just really enjoyed each other’s company and it was an amazing time. Obviously as things went on and people started developing feelings for Ashley, some of that camaraderie went away a little bit, but in general I was just really surprised by how cool everyone was and how easy they were to get along with. Bentley, it’s tough to say, really, because I really liked Bentley. The way that he carried himself, us hanging out together, he was always really nice, he seemed genuine. He talked about his daughter all the time, so I really thought that he was missing her and his love for her was very genuine. And of course to see all this stuff on the show was a bit of a surprise. I don’t know, maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. At least from my experience with Bentley, he was a good guy. I liked him.

Who would you pick if you were Ashley?
That’s a tough choice.

Top two, if you can give us.
I think based on my gut, just from seeing her interact with people, I really thought that JP was going to be the one that she picked. Just because they had this natural chemistry together. You could see whenever we were in a group together and she was there, she tended to gravitate toward him and there was just this easy kind of connection that was just evident from them. So I think that he would make the best choice. As far as maybe another person who would be up there, probably Ben. F. He’s just a really easy to get along with guy, super funny. He’s just always so laid back, no matter what the situation, and I thought that was really cool.

What were your expectations going into the show?
My expectations going into the show were, of course, that it’s an amazing opportunity to find love. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet some great friends — which I did. It’s a great opportunity to do some things that you’ll absolutely never get to do again. For instance, the dancing with the Jabbawockeez thing, I mean, we were the only people that had ever gotten to do that, according to them… So that was just a really, really cool experience. And then helping the orphans out at the Ban San Fan Orphanage was just life changing. There have been a couple of opportunities that I’ve taken since I’ve gotten back to help out… with some children and that was just amazing. It was just a really perspective-giving experience and I really appreciated that. So, yeah, just going out there and hoping to make some great friends and hoping to do some cool things and hopefully along the way to find love. Unfortunately that didn’t end up happening for me, but I still really am appreciative of the experience.