NEW YORK – Fox struck it rich with the Joe Millionaire finale, as a whopping 40 million fans tuned in to see faux heir Evan Marriott choose good girl Zora Andrich.
The ratings were only a hair behind last year's Oscar broadcast on ABC, which drew 42 million viewers in what is traditionally the second-highest-rated TV event behind the Super Bowl.
Monday's Millionaire finale attracted the highest number of reality-TV fans since the last show of the original Survivor in 2000, when 51.7 million viewers tuned in.
The ratings bonanza came as Fox tried to build even more hype over next Monday's scheduled follow-up, Joe Millionaire: The Aftermath.
It will be the first time the couple has appeared in front of the cameras since filming the show's finale last November.
The pair is expected to talk about what really happened during filming -- and whether they are still together.
The main players, under contract to keep mum about the show and their relationship for now, were nowhere in sight yesterday.
Zora Andrich, reached by The New York Post on her cell phone last night, only said she was in Los Angeles.
"I can't talk right now, maybe I can next week," said Andrich, a substitute teacher from Lambertville, N.J.
A former student close to the aspiring actress said Andrich has been particularly jittery about the publicity she's been getting -- especially after receiving an anonymous note from "an admirer" since the show began.
Gabrielle Dudbridge, 15, of South Hunterdon HS in New Jersey, where Andrich taught until last year, said the popular instructor "moved out of town because someone sent her flowers to her [Lambertville] apartment, and the message read, 'Do you want to go out on a real date?'
"She thought it was a bit freakish," Dudbridge said.
As for Marriott, a construction worker and model, he has reportedly been staying in L.A., although he was recently spotted in the Big Apple.
Andrich and Marriott split a surprise $1 million "bonus" from the show.
Fox also will send Marriott on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii as a way to say "thanks" for the huge Joe Millionaire ratings, sources said. There's no word yet on whether Zora will go with him.
Meanwhile, Monday night, just after the show in which Marriott ditched blond contestant Sarah Kozer in favor of Andrich, Kozer licked her wounds with two gal pals at a Hollywood bar.