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Olivia goes up against sister to win 'Biggest Loser'

After countless challenges and tears, not to mention more than 2,700 collective pounds lost, the 11th season of “The Biggest Loser” came to a climactic finish. In the end, Olivia stood tall as this season’s big “Loser,” $250,000 check in hand. As many people expected, it was her sister Hannah who Olivia beat out for the top prize.

Olivia began the competition at 261 pounds. She clocked in at 132 pounds in her final weight-in, down nearly half her weight and just enough to edge out her sister. The 35-year-old opera singer had talked earlier in the two-hour live broadcast about how much her time on the ranch had changed her life.

“I’m so excited because a whole frontier of roles is in front of me. Now, the sky’s the limit and I’m so excited,” Olivia said.

“I just don’t think you understand how proud I am of you, how proud these people are of you,” said Hannah just before her sister’s final weigh-in. “You have always been beautiful to me, but finally you’re beautiful to yourself.”

In one of the night’s sweetest moments, Olivia also acknowledged her husband Ben’s weight loss. Ben dropped more than 100 pounds at home. He worked out on the treadmill as a way to stay linked to his wife during the long months apart.

The live finale began with the revelation of who would join sisters Olivia and Hannah as one of the three finalists.

Jay, 53 years old and 181 pounds lighter than when he first walked on to the ranch, appeared onstage with a fresh tattoo that said, “What you’re for strengthens you.” Talk about living on the edge. Jay had already been voted off earlier in the season, but earned his way back on to the ranch. He had teetered on elimination several times, but always managed to survive somehow, someway.

But America voted for Irene, who was the biggest weight-loser in the house this season. Her final weigh-in had her at 139 pounds, down from her initial weight of 255 pounds.

It was the first all-female trio of finalists in “Biggest Loser” history, and it demonstrated just what a life-changing experience the show could be. Hannah, Irene and Olivia were unrecognizable standing next to the hologram “before” versions of themselves that are a trademark of “Biggest Loser” season-enders.

Hannah, 32, weighed 248 pounds at the beginning. Her final weigh-in revealed her new weight to be 128 pounds, a mammoth 48.39 percent weight loss. Even her hair is different; she’s styling blonde locks these days.

The grand prize wasn’t all that was up for grabs. The $100,000 at-home prize was also decided.

The various highlight videos helped us retrace the journeys the contestants have taken. There was Dan, one of the twins, recounting how he was motivated to lose weight to honor the memory of his late son. We remembered how far Justin came during his time on the show, turning into a leader who rallied the others during those moments when they thought of throwing in the towel.

One notable absence from tonight’s big finale: Olympic gold medal winner Rulon Gardner. He was nowhere in sight, and his absence was not mentioned at all. Gardner quit the show at the end of April, despite having dropped 188 pounds during his time on the program and being considered a favorite to win the whole thing.

In the end, the at-home winner was Deni, who won out by losing an incredible 125 pounds. She dropped more than 48 percent of her beginning weight to edge out Austin for the $100,000 prize. The 59-year old mother of eight, who was the seventh person voted off, showed her determination by sticking with the program once she left the ranch. The oldest woman on campus praised the newbie trainers for helping her stay on track.

“Cara taught me that I could do this,” said the Utah native, who began the season weighing 256 pounds. “And Brett, he’s been with me the whole way. Even at home, he would call me.”

The judges are always as much a part of “The Biggest Loser” story line as the contestants. Bob, Jillian, Cara and Brett joined host Alison Sweeney onstage and shared what they learned this season. Jillian, who’s exiting the show, seemed genuinely touched by the standing ovation she received from the audience.

The night’s other big news was the announcement of who will replace Jillian in season 12: former pro tennis star Anna Kournikova. She told Sweeney onstage that she looks forward to sharing her experience as an athlete with next season’s contestants.

Michael Avila is a regular contributor to TODAY.com.