When Michael Ventrella showed up at the Biggest Loser ranch as the largest contestant in history, imagining himself $250,000 richer and weighing half his body weight a few months later was not so easy.
Despite starting out as 526 pounds, Michael's charm, willpower and competitive nature got him to the live finale, where he won after losing a higher percentage of bodyweight (50.19 percent) than his fellow competitors Ashley Johnston and Daris George.
Michael told TVGuide.com that teaming up with his mother Maria on the show was "amazing ... because she's not just my mother, she's my best friend."
"As an Italian family, we use our food and eating as a social way of staying close," he said. "And being able to go there and change my habits and changing my mother's habits ripples into our family and friends because that's our way of celebrating."
Off the ranch, the 31-year-old has seen the influence his time on the weight-loss show has had on others. Michael said he meets countless people who tell him, "Ever since I saw you run five miles on the Biggest Loser, I've been able to walk one mile, and I can't wait to do what you just did."
Michael, who is now down to 262 pounds, said that biggest lesson he learned was that in order to help other people, he needed to heal himself.
"I was always putting other people before me, [but] I couldn't really help anybody if I was sick or I was dead," he said. "I learned how to focus on me, what my body needed and what I needed to sustain life and live happily. Look what happened from me focusing on myself and setting an example. ... I can't articulate how amazing it feels to be able to get that return. On top of everything that I've done for myself, I've been able to help other people."