The copy for last night's Biggest Loser: Couples finale pretty much wrote itself. The season's heaviest man going head-to-head with the season's heaviest woman was sure to be emotional, any which way it turned out. But in the end, Michael Ventrella of Chicago IL who had weighed in at a whopping half-ton (526 pounds) at the start of this record-breaking eighth season of NBC's hit weight loss show stood victorious. During his time on the ranch, he lost just over half his physical mass (50.14% or 264 pounds) but his sense of humor, wit, and positive attitude only seemed to grow.
"I surpassed my wildest dreams," Ventrella admitted during a post-big win conference call. He always swore he would never partake in eating challenges or allow anyone else to control his fate on the show, but he knew there would be heavy game play involved. And he knew at a certain point it would just be about survival mode so he could stay at the ranch, and on the show, for as long as possible. At over five hundred pounds, he said he felt like "there was no hope for my future." But all of that has changed.
"I'm not that person at 526 anymore. I don't think that way; I don't eat that way, so one of the biggest challenges I'm experiencing at home is just having everyone understand what I'm trying to do. I have friends that don't know the commitment that I'm putting toward doing this. I have friends and family who are overweight and never even attempted to lose weight, so they don't understand what I'm going through. They think it's the old Mike, and it's party time…but that's not the case."
But Ventrella is proving that this truly is a lifestyle change for him. Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels hate the word "diet," and Ventrella agrees. And even being stripped of his ranch support system—including finale buddy Ashley Johnston—he is able to apply the lessons he learned there to his new life at home in Chicago.
"I try to be as creative as possible to recreate some dishes and flavors that I love and grew up on," Ventrella explained when asked if he still indulges in any of the traditional Italian meals his family serves every week.
"Coming from a big Italian family, you know, that's our way of celebrating our love—through dining," Ventrella shared. "But there some that you just can't imitate! So it's another goal that I'll have it someday, but just like a person who wants to buy a house: you don't buy a house and then get a job. You get a job; you earn; you save; and then you get what you want. That's exactly how I look at these different kinds of food. I'll plan ahead. Sunday's coming around, and I'm going to get some deep dish pizza, so I'll work towards that by doing an extra mile a day on the bike. Or Sunday before I go, I'll ride my bike to the restaurant and back, that way my metabolism is at it's highest, and I'll burn it off. It's a journey, but I have to work for that journey."
The one thing Ventrella wanted to press upon his fans and anyone in the public who believes in the phrase "maintenance weight," then, is that "the finale of The Biggest Loser was last night, but the finally for my weight loss is still to come!"
And just what does Ventrella want to do now that he is at his healthiest weight in a long time? He's going to Disneyland! Well, sort of. Ventrella told My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture that he was excited about heading out to a theme park with his family, something he couldn't do when he weighed over five hundred pounds. "I'd love to go to a theme park with all of my cousins and ride a roller coaster and be a kid for the first time in my life! You know, I'm thinner now, and I have a smaller waist at thirty-one than I did at thirteen or fourteen, so I didn't get to really experience what being a kid really was, and I want to live that out."