‘Biggest Loser’ Winner Michael Ventrella Struggles with Life after the Show

LIVING (LESS) LARGE: Since winning on the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser last season, Michael Ventrella has struggled to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame

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Michael Ventrella - before and after
Before and after: Ventrella lost over half of his body weight to win The Biggest Loser.


Over its ten seasons, The Biggest Loser franchise has been a gold mine for NBC and the trainers on the show. Jillian Michaels now has an online diet program and a line of nutritional supplements, and she stars in her own spinoff, Losing It. NBC has created Biggest Loser–themed cruises and two Biggest Loser fitness resorts, where weight-loss-minded vacationers can undergo intensive workouts like those they see on the show.

But the rewards don’t seem to trickle down to the winning contestants. For example, Ventrella’s struggle to cash in on his fleeting fame is a far cry from what happens to winners of some other reality shows. First place on American Idol usually turns into a recording contract. Taking top honors in the Top Chef competition helped the Chicagoan Stephanie Izard find investors for her hot new West Loop restaurant, Girl & the Goat.

But participants on The Biggest Loser face particular problems. One is that every season brings a new group of contestants who often break the weight-loss records of their predecessors. “We obviously have decreasing returns because of clutter,” says Christie Nordhielm, a former Chicago advertising executive and now a marketing professor at the University of Michigan. “They aren’t as unique anymore.”

More than that, Nordhielm says, winners of weight-loss shows aren’t really demonstrating any talent. “What skill was there?” she asks. “It’s probably with the trainers. [Ventrella] is not the expert, he is basically the subject. He is a testimonial for the people on the show who advised him.”

Richard Laermer, veteran public relations man and author of the forthcoming book How to Fame, has another theory about why folks like Ventrella have trouble staying in the spotlight. “Contestants on The Biggest Loser are famous for being fat. You can’t translate that into a talk show or a mall tour or a hit single. You can’t make a living being a former fat person. That’s like being a former comedian.”

It probably doesn’t help Ventrella’s prospects that some of the Biggest Loser winners become fat again—for example, the season 3 winner, Erik Chopin, regained almost all the 214 pounds he lost.

With Chopin lingering as an object lesson, Ventrella is pushing ahead. He is working on a cookbook with his mom that will feature healthier versions of traditional Italian dishes. As a solo author, he has a book in the works on low-cal international plates, such as sashimi. He has also created a low-fat barbecue sauce and says his spicy peanut sauce is to die for. Could a line of Ventrella sauces be in the offing? Even if it is, the chance of his products muscling their way into the hypercompetitive world of grocery shelf space is slim.

* * *

J. D. Roth, the executive producer of The Biggest Loser, says his winners may not maintain their celebrity as easily as the winners of performance-based reality shows, but he points to several who have managed well.

Ali Vincent, a hairstylist who became the first female winner, has been hired as a spokeswoman for the show and its weight-loss protein powder. She also has hit the motivational-speaking circuit. Michael Morelli, a finalist in season 7, and his dad, Ron, are featured in TV ads for Jennie-O turkey. Michelle Aguilar, the show’s second female winner, is making appearances at health-related expos around the country. “If you’re plucked out of your little town and the next thing, you’re traveling the country as a motivational speaker, that’s big,” says Roth. “You can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

No matter what happens, Ventrella says, the Biggest Loser experience helped him sort out some personal priorities. “I started paying more attention to my needs rather than my wants. I want a convertible, but what I need is a car that works. I want a relationship with a girlfriend, but I need to keep relationships with family and friends strong. I want a cheeseburger with grilled onions. I need a salad with chicken or shrimp.”

As the holiday eating season approaches, Ventrella will be recovering in Los Angeles from a body-lift operation in early November to remove as much as 30 pounds of excess skin. His surgeon wants him to walk five miles a day to promote the healing process, which is easier to do in L.A. than Chicago, Ventrella says. He plans to make an appearance on the live finale of The Biggest Loser in December and then return to Chicago after the holidays.

He isn’t living the celebrity lifestyle. He is renting a condo at his own expense and cooking his meals at home. “It’s costing so much money every day to be out here,” he says. “I still drive my 2004 Honda. I haven’t bought any clothes for myself. Yesterday, it was $300 in produce and lean meat at the grocery store, and I’m just one person.”

Still, his situation could turn around quickly. “Maybe Subway will call me,” he muses.


Photography: Trae Patton/© NBC Universal Inc.



4 years ago
Posted by mayamoo55

Not sure if the whiney tone in this article came from the author or Michael himself, but this TV show helped a man to lose an enormous amount of weight, stave off chronic diseases associated with obesity and undoubtedly increased his life span by a significant amount. What better prize can you ask for? And money to pay off credit card and student loan debt to boot? Michael needs to count his blessings and good fortune to have been afforded this opportunity to focus strictly on weight loss and restoring his health. Most obese people have to do that while they take care of a family, work, manage a household....I don't spend $300 at the grocery store, EVER, and I am feeding a family of 4 (we have student loans and credit card debt to pay off...). Maybe you need to spend some time focusing on gratitude and learning to see the glass as half full. All the best to you, Michael :)

4 years ago
Posted by Shahadaroba

MayaMoo55, The tone of this article seems to stem from the author's attempt to make this some sort of "expose`" on weight loss competitions or the nature of reality star fame. Ms. Chandler's agenda resulted in an interview that overshadowed even Michael's infectious optimism and positivity. Michael is very cognizant and grateful for everything that his time on The Biggest Loser has afforded him. His health and the ability to become debt-free are invaluable prizes and he knows it. He is so very very grateful for all that he has learned and all that he hopes to pass on to others ~ rest assured, there is no "boo-hooing" on his part due to his present circumstances whatsoever.

4 years ago
Posted by cherylfrommn

i was so glad michael won...he was an inspiration..but a week after the finale he was whining he wanted his life back and now he is whinig he inst getting enuf attention? u had your 15 minutes...get over it move on..and as jillian says KEEP ON WALKIN!!!

4 years ago
Posted by dw52

I'm confused. He isn't working and doesn't have insurance. Doesn't have money left. How did he pay for a body lift? Didn't he have a job when he went on BL?

3 years ago
Posted by pollyanna08

i agree you have to count your blessings. If i were the winner of biggest loser, the fact that i lost hundreds of pounds is a major trophy prize for me already. it's like my gateway to the next chapter of my life. just don't expect too much from the celebrity world. you may not be a celebrity but it's a start of a feel-good look-good lifestyle. i am sure there is much to do. just gotta be optimistic about it and work your way through. it's already a big plus that you were guided to lose weight. :)

3 years ago
Posted by browneyedmeg

As I recall, the show gives you the opportunity to LOSE WEIGHT. It does not promise that all aspects of your life become perfect after the show.

He won 250,000 dollars for losing weight. I lost weight and I didn't receive any compensation. What was he expecting?

3 years ago
Posted by Get Real

Posted by Shahadaroba: "rest assured, there is no "boo-hooing" on his part due to his present circumstances whatsoever."
Friend him on facebook for a week. He complains about being broke and having to run around fulfiling his Biggest Loser contract, just as in this article. He even goes far enough to bash people for wearing cheap clothes, being "white" and other endless put downs. He complains and whines and works hard to make others feel less than him. I would not call that inspirational. He went from being the biggest loser to a big loser, and a let down to his supporters.

3 years ago
Posted by Proudmommyof4

I actually saw this guy walking in my neighborhood and he was utterly rude and unapproachable. I had my son who LOVED watching him on TBL with me. My son would have benefited so much from a few kind words of motivation and this guy wouldn't even admit who he was. He acted like a prima donna movie star and I would wager his attitude on the show and off is why he can't get a job. I have no sympathy. I'm sure he'll be the next Eric, he already looked bigger when we saw him.

3 years ago
Posted by pinkster88

Regardless of what Michael says in his article, if I had the chance to be on TBL, I wouldn't even care if I won or not, having my health intact is what means the most to me. I've been watching the show for a while and it's given me the motivation to lose weight. I've lost almost seven inches on my waist and I'm determined to keep on losing. I work and subscribe to DISH Network and anytime that I need some motivation, I can go view over 15 different episodes from the "Biggest Loser" on DISHonline.com. Trust me, after having so many providers, I know DISH is definitely giving me a value that I've never seen before!


3 years ago
Posted by English Rose

Season 9 is currently being screened in the UK, this week I watched the Final 4 episode - but of course I have cheated by also logging on to the net to see who won etc.

What worries me is the "after the show" story. Obviously all the contestants have a really poor relationship with food and therefore are in danger of gaining weight again once away from the spotlight. is any support offered from the programme makers?

Mike - it was great to see you win. (I did hope you and Ashley would fall in love and get married and Daris would get that girl at home he so obviously adored).

Well done for the magnificent achievement. You look absolutely amazing!

Now you have done that you can do anything- the world is your oyster. don't bother chasing fame - get a regular job and have a lovely normal life

With my best regards - Jane

3 years ago
Posted by Sunshineday

Proudmommyof4 you are absolutely right. He is a fraud and a jerk. So gee, can't imagine why no one wants to hire him. His fame will fleet as quick as it came, and he will still be living with his parents with no job.

3 years ago
Posted by baqaqi

Don't know what Facebook account Get Real is referring to. Michael is always very positive on his fan Facebook account. If it's his personal page then he must have been a little overoptimistic and not terribly circumspect about who he friended. You should always be allowed to bitch to your friends who will know when you're being serious, when you're joking and when you're merely stressed and need to vent.

3 years ago
Posted by Martinigirl56

Few months ago I had the blessing meeting Michael at a speaking event he donated his time to be at in Oak Brook for a Woman's health convention. He was totally passionate about his efforts to help people struggling with weight issues. Michael was funny, charismatic, and so nice. I can not believe some of the posts here. During his speech he did mention how unfair some people are to his new life due to jealousy and bitterness, but he laughed it off with kind humor so I don't believe it was whining at all. I have to defined him and his character because since meeting him in March I have lost 23 pounds with the simple advice and words of encouragement he spoke to us about. I actually got a personal email from him 3 weeks later asking how I was doing. Michael is a sweet sweet man. I am so happy for him and can't wait to see what he can accomplish with his drive to help children's obesity.
Michael if you ever read this I want to say THANK YOU again for your motivating words and help. Bless you child. Stand tall and confident as I said to you before GOD blesses his children that carry on his good will in the world!


3 years ago
Posted by LucyBryant

I met Michael with my two children at an event for children's obesity in Texas. I could not have been more pleased with his demeanor and professional attitude. He not only conducted himself in a very caring way towards the children but was also very informative to them about the dangers of children obesity, in a way which they understood and kept their interest.
Michael stayed after to chat with all the families. My kids talked with "Mr. Michael", as they called him, about healthy eating and staying active. He showed them some fun active games that are healthy alternatives to television watching and video gaming. Michael was one of the most loving individuals I have ever met. I could tell he was very proud of his new found level of health and happiness and wished the same for everyone.
His dedication was very high and he was extremely charismatic throughout the event. His enthusiastic personality really connected with not only my kids and I, but with everyone there. He was extremely passionate about everything and was friendly to all.

I am so happy that I got the chance to meet this young man. My children still talk about him and how much they enjoyed his company and teaching tactics.

3 years ago
Posted by honey

I cannot understand the logic of the man concerned expecting to be employed by life for an appearance on a reality show.
Why doesnt he get a real job?
He lost an enormous amount of weight, that should be the reward, not to want to be continually paid for the rest of his lfe.
Few people will get his chance, he succeeded, now he has to move on with his life, and go out into the real world.
No sympathy from me.

3 years ago
Posted by dsimlergoff

I give Michael alot of credit just for being willing to bare all on national television. Since he battled through all the pounding on the show, I'm sure he'll do great in whatever he chooses to do for a career whether it's related to his Biggest Loser success or something all together different.

3 years ago
Posted by dsimlergoff

I give Michael alot of credit just for being willing to bare all on national television. Since he battled through all the pounding on the show, I'm sure he'll do great in whatever he chooses to do for a career whether it's related to his Biggest Loser success or something all together different.

3 years ago
Posted by tinawantstoknow

Its called "Get A Job"! Great that he lost all that weight, but weight problems and staying in shape is something everyone has to deal with. Just because he was lazy and didn't take care of himself for years and years doesn't make us all need to pay his way in life. He won $250,000 which is more the most of us will ever get at one time ever.

3 years ago
Posted by OhHellNo

Someone is living in his own private Idaho. Mike Ventrella wanting a GIRLfriend is huge 2nd helping of certifiable DELUSION. I know him from real life. He ate himself to 500+lbs because he has shame about being gay in a traditional Italian family that he fears will not accept him. And this act of continually repressing his true identity has made him one of the biggest bullies I have ever encountered with extraordinary manipulative skills, a catty & shallow personality,and an amazing Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde quality. If you believe he is inspirational and a truly kind spirit then you, my dear, have been had. He needs to get a grip, grow a sack, and come OUT already. COME ON? Women catcalling him??? The only people Mike would want catcalls from are Dolph Lundgren-ish, blonde haired, blue-eyed MEN. How do you people not see that he's NOT HETEROSEXUAL. What straight guys have the dvd box set of Queer as Folk and love Mo'nique? Oh, that and who have sex with men? Wake up.

3 years ago

Ventrella THE BIGGEST FAKER.... He's is living in his own little CLOSETED world. I know who he is and what a horrible person he is. He has got to be one of the most shallow people I know..not to mention he's a compulsive liar.I completely agree with everything OHHELLNO says..
I didn't like him prior to the show for some internet drama he caused with me. What pissed me off the most about Ventrella is when he said he was looking for a girlfriend...WHAT?!?!? He's gay! A flaming queen at that.. I'm dating a guy he was after a few years ago. And umm , his dogs?? GAY!
He's constantly talking shit about ''white'' people. He forgets where Italy is located... in Europe!

The Ventrella you see on TV is a complete act. He is a miserable person inside and out. He isn't sincere . Everything he's doing is for money and it shows. Just look on his FB page. He complains about money all the time..

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