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Image: Michael Ventrella
Michael Ventrella registers joy at winning “The Biggest Loser” Tuesday night. The 30-year-old Chicago DJ lost 264 pounds to finish the competition at 262 pounds from a starting weight of 526 pounds.
TODAY contributor
updated 5/26/2010 9:29:15 AM ET 2010-05-26T13:29:15

Michael Ventrella is half the man he used to be, and for that the Chicago DJ is the newest champion of “The Biggest Loser: Couples.”

After his historic win Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Michael took a red-eye flight to New York to talk about it Wednesday with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira, who asked him if he could believe he won the $250,000 first prize.

“It’s been like a bad car crash. Everything happened so quickly and I’m like in shock,” Michael said.

But it was a happy kind of shock, and Michael couldn’t stop smiling as he talked about his achievement in losing 264 pounds and setting several weight-loss records along the way.

Hopelessly heavy
When he walked onto the show’s ranch with his mother, Maria, Michael weighed 526 pounds. If someone had told him then that he would prevail against a strong field of competitors, he said, he would not have believed it.

“I would think that they were drinking hallucinogenics,” Michael said.

But there weren’t any viable choices left. He was 30 years old when the show began, and had tried every weight-loss fad diet, pill and magic potion there is. None had worked.

“At 526 pounds, nobody at that weight can ever feel any sense of hope,” Michael told Vieira. “You feel like any day is your day, is your time: You’re going to die.”

He had moments of crushing despair during his 18 weeks on the ranch, but he kept coming back and working even harder. “I realized, ‘You know what? I’m going to give it everything I got to battle this and tackle this because I’m done with being like this,’ ” Michael explained.

The 31-year-old was the heaviest contestant ever to participate in “Biggest Loser.” By the show’s finale Tuesday night, he had dropped just over half his body weight — 264 pounds — to finish the competition at 262 pounds.

Breaking records
Michael racked up some impressive numbers along the way. He lost 34 pounds the first week at the ranch, a record. He also lost his first 100 pounds faster than any other contestant in the history of the popular NBC reality show. He’s the only contestant ever to lose 200 pounds while living at the ranch.

Along the way Michael broke some impressive records, including losing 100 pounds faster than any other contestant in any season.
But as impressive as Michael’s weight loss is, he’s still got a way to go. He carries 262 pounds on his 6-foot-3-inch frame, which, according to the American Heart Association, is still obese. A man of his height should weigh between 176 and 200 pounds, the association says.

Michael told Vieira that he will continue to lose weight.

“My motivation is to get healthy and live a long life; live a life that my grandfather didn’t get to live to his fullest, and my grandmother didn’t get to live to her fullest,” he said. “As far as how I’m going to keep it off, I’m not that Michael at 526 anymore. I’m a new person that’s been reborn. The workout regimen, the eating regimen, is all second nature to me now.”

Michael had attributed his weight to the role food played in his Italian family. It still occupies a central position, he said.

“We’re an Italian family. We make food an event. It’s an occasion for all of us. That’s our time to spend together,” Michael told Vieira. “Those traditions can still go on. We’re just going to do it in a healthier fashion.”

He also took time to praise his mom, who left the show early but came out of it with a new body and a new attitude.

“That lady is radiant,” Michael said of Maria. “She’s so full of life, so beautiful.”

Bold move
Despite his achievements, Michael seemed like a long shot to win the season, competing in the final weeks against younger, more athletic players like Ashley, Daris and Koli, who left the ranch closer to their weight goals.

During makeover week, while the other remaining contestants celebrated their new sizes, even a 200-pound weight loss had failed to get Michael out of the “big & tall” men’s stores.

Image: Michael Ventrella
At a starting weight of 526 pounds, Michael Ventrella was the heaviest “Biggest Loser” contestant ever.
“Lots of people start 'Biggest Loser' at the place where I’m ending,” he admitted, leaving campus on week 18 at a still considerable 299 pounds.

In a season of very competitive players — the Red team’s Melissa and Lance and Gray’s tag-team cousins Koli and Sam were powerhouses in physical challenges and strategy — Michael managed to stay in the front of the pack through a combination of smarts, willpower and determination.

In week 7, he snatched up control of the game when he won a “Temptation” allowing him to split the group into two teams any way he desired. So Michael stacked the deck. By putting all the strongest men on one side — his, of course — he guaranteed that many of the older, female contestants would be eliminated. Michael’s bold move was the biggest game changer of the season.

Some might say that Michael had an unfair advantage over all the other players because at 526 pounds he had the most weight to drop, and therefore the potential to lose the greatest percentage of body fat.

Troubling trend?
But to cut the weight he had to do the work — and he did most of it at home, without the show’s trainers, doctor or other contestants to push him. Truly, it’s a monumental achievement and he deserves the title.

Image: Michael Ventrella
Michael Ventrella lost 264 pounds on “The Biggest Loser,” but he still has work to do.
Looking forward, Michael’s win also means that the trend toward bringing bigger and bigger contestants on "Biggest Loser" will continue.

It’s worrying because, again this season, several contestants were sent to the hospital after injuring themselves or falling ill.

“The contestants keep getting bigger and bigger,” trainer Jillian Michaels said at the start of season 9. “As the trainers, we have no say over the challenges. We worry about them.”

Finale night
In a season of big feats, the live season finale of "The Biggest Loser: Couples" was full of big surprises.

Two contestants, the White team’s Michael and the Pink team’s Ashley, had safely made it through to the grand finale. Two other contestants — Koli, of the Gray team, and Daris, wearing Orange — had both fallen below the yellow line. America was asked to vote on which of them would be allowed to compete for the grand prize of $250,000 and which would be eliminated.

America voted and Daris’ youthful charm beat Koli’s intense confidence. “I couldn’t be prouder of Daris,” his mom, Cheryl, said at the finale. “On the 'Biggest Loser' campus I saw a boy turn into a man.” He also did his trainers proud. Daris, who stepped on the scale first, weighed 178 pounds, which was an impressive total loss of 168 pounds or 48.55 percent of his body weight.

Slideshow: ‘Biggest Loser’: Before and after (on this page) Next up was Ashley, who began the competition as the heaviest woman of the season. “I have never met a stronger, more beautiful woman,” said Michael of his friend, who survived the "Biggest Loser" marathon with him. Ashley weighed in at 191 pounds, a loss of 183 pounds or 48.93 percent.

Finally Michael came up to the stage holding a white rose, which he presented to his mother, Maria, who had been on the show as his partner.

“I am feeling proud of myself — which is a new feeling,” Michael said. He had reason to be proud. His final weight came in at 262 pounds, a loss of 264 pounds. By dropping 50.19 percent of his body weight, Michael took the title of Biggest Loser and the $250,000 prize.

“This time I gave it my all. I did it the right way and it worked,” he said.

In the at-home competition, although Sherry took the early lead, she was bested by Darrell, who lost 189 pounds or 45.76 percent of his body weight. But the other man of the evening turned out to be Koli, who lost 215 pounds or 53.35 percent. It was enough to win him the $100,000 "at home" prize. 

—With additional reporting by Mike Celizic

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: ‘Biggest Loser’ Season 9

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  1. Ashley Johnston

    Age: 27
    Starting weight: 374
    Current weight: 191
    Lost: 183 pounds, 48.93%

    The heaviest woman on the show this season, Ashley, a 27-year-old esthetician from Knoxville, Tenn., dropped more weight on campus than any woman in "Biggest Loser" history. Though she fell off the treadmill the first day, she recovered to become this season’s fierce “pink ninja.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sherry Johnston

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 218
    Current weight: 119
    Lost: 99 pounds, 45.41%

    A widow at age 51, Sherry of Knoxville, Tenn., had written off finding happiness again. She came on the show to start the next chapter of her life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cherita Andrews

    Age: 50
    Starting weight: 277
    Current weight: 186
    Lost: 91 pounds, 32.85%

    Though this 50-year-old homemaker from Houston, Texas., only lasted in the competition for two weeks, she never quit. She accomplished her entire weight loss at home. "I'm fighting for my life," she says. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Victoria Andrews

    Age: 22
    Starting weight: 358
    Current weight: 222
    Lost: 136 pounds, 37.99%

    Vicki, a 22-year-old student, came on the show to become the person she always wanted to be and to make her partner, her mom, proud. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Cheryl George

    Age: 50
    Starting weight: 227
    Current weight: 151
    Lost: 76 pounds, 33.48%

    After raising a family, Cheryl, a 50-year-old shop owner from Ardmore, Okla., wanted to do something to empower herself. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Daris George

    Age: 25
    Starting weight: 346
    Current weight: 178
    Lost: 168 pounds, 48.55%

    Before he came on the "Biggest Loser," Daris, 25-year-old salesman from Ardmore, Okla., had never had a girlfriend and never been kissed. “I know I want a wife and a family one day,” he says. “I need to jumpstart my life.” Though he struggled with stress, Daris set a record by running the "Biggest Loser" marathon in slightly more than 4 hours. And, yes, he now has a girlfriend too. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Darrell Hough

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 413
    Current weight: 224
    Lost: 189 pounds, 45.76%

    He wasn’t the largest man on the "Biggest Loser" campus, but Darrell, a press operator from Ann Arbor, Mich., was told that he was the sickest man with the most health problems. “I just sat back and let things happen for too long.” After losing an astounding 189 pounds, his health is better than it’s been in years. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Drea Hough

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 298
    Current weight: 214
    Lost: 84 pounds, 28.19%

    Drea had difficulty forming close relationships because her weight made her afraid to touch other people. “But that changed on the ranch,” says the 24-year-old executive assistant. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Crutchfield

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 485
    Current weight: 357
    Lost: 128 pounds, 26.39%

    James, half of this season’s identical twins, says he came to "The Biggest Loser" because his only other alternative was surgery. Though he was hurt by injuries and restricted to the pool, he never gave up. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. John Crutchfield

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 484
    Current weight: 335
    Lost: 149 pounds, 30.78%

    John, who lives with his wife and children in Orlando, Florida, came on the show to stop the cycle of tragedy and premature death that has affected his family for years. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Sam Poueu

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 372
    Current weight: 230
    Lost: 142 pounds, 38.17%

    Sam, a former bar bouncer from California, says that getting fit and finding love on the "Biggest Loser" with fellow contestant Stephanie Anderson was “the greatest thing I have ever done in my life — hands down!” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Koli Palu

    Age: 29
    Starting weight: 403
    Current weight: 188
    Lost: 215 pounds, 53.35%

    Final four contestant Koli was eliminated by popular vote from the competition to become this season’s "Biggest Loser," but his impressive 215 pound weight loss won him the at home prize of $100,000. He came on the show in hopes of becoming an inspiration to the American Samoan community and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lance Morgan

    Age: 38
    Starting weight: 365
    Current weight: 237
    Lost: 128 pounds, 35.07%

    Lance, a commercial diver from Texas, was unable to find work because his obesity put him over the safety limits. He went on the show to reclaim his career and revive his marriage with Melissa. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Melissa Morgan

    Age: 39
    Starting weight: 233
    Current weight: 143
    Lost: 90 pounds, 38.63%

    Strong-willed Melissa, a lawyer from Texas, says she came on the show to become a better role model for her children. “This was never about the money,” she says. “It was about changing our lives.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Maria Ventrella

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 281
    Current weight: 167
    Lost: 114 pounds, 40.57%

    On the Biggest Loser campus, Maria, a mom from Chicago, Ill., not only conquered her weight problem, but she also overcame her fear of water. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Migdalia Cancel

    Age: 28
    Starting weight: 265
    Current weight: 213
    Lost: 52 pounds, 19.62%

    This military wife from Sanford, N.C., suffered from homesickness but in the end refused to give up her dream of living a better, more active life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Miggy Sebren

    Age: 48
    Starting weight: 240
    Current weight: 149
    Lost: 91 pounds, 37.9%

    Miggy, a chef from New Jersey, was one of the season’s fiercest competitors. Days after receiving an emergency appendectomy she was back on campus training for the week’s weigh in. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Patti Anderson

    Age: 55
    Starting weight: 243
    Current weight: 170
    Lost: 73 pounds, 30.04%

    Patti, a California business owner, lost her father at age 55. Now at the same age herself, she came to the "Biggest Loser" to avoid suffering the same fate. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Stephanie Anderson

    Age: 29
    Starting weight: 264
    Current weight: 165
    Lost: 99 pounds, 37.5%

    “I came to the ranch with my mom to get healthy and to start our new life,” says Stephanie, 29. “And I fell in love with Sam.” She and fellow contestant Sam Poueu have moved in together in West Hollywood, Calif. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Sunshine Hampton

    Age: 24
    Starting weight: 275
    Current weight: 161
    Lost: 114 pounds, 41.45%

    As the only two overweight people in their family, Sunshine formed an extra close bond with her father O’Neal, but was afraid to stand on her own. Her journey on the "Biggest Loser" made her much more independent. “I’m a woman now,” she says. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. O'Neal Hampton Jr.

    Age: 51
    Starting weight: 389
    Current weight: 230
    Lost: 159 pounds, 40.87%

    O’Neal, a postal worker from Minneapolis, Minn., was everyone’s favorite father figure on the ranch. Though he struggled with injuries, his fighting spirit helped him succeed in his weight loss journey. “It’s a brand new me,” he says today. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. WINNER: Mike Ventrella

    Age: 30
    Starting weight: 526
    Current weight: 262
    Lost: 264 pounds, 50.19%

    This season’s "Biggest Loser," Michael came on the show as the heaviest contestant in the show’s nine season history. The 30-year-old DJ from Chicago, Ill., shattered a number of records on the show. “I had to save my life,” he says. “Now I know that the sky is the limit.” (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Season 9 contestants

    The ninth season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser: Couples” was the show's biggest season yet. Among the 22 contestants, five of them started the show at over 400 pounds. And even though only one took the title, everyone ended the season a winner and with a new chance at life. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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