Tag: Chicago (Page 1 of 3)

Excerpts from an interview with Michael Ventrella, the new Biggest Loser

We were fortunate to be asked to join a conference call this past Wednesday with Michael Ventrella, who was crowned The Biggest Loser on NBC’s hit reality show on Tuesday night. Michael began the season at 526 pounds and lost 264 for a final weight of 262. In other words, he lost more than 50% of his body weight, in just a few months time. It’s an incredible feat, and since we were on a call with many other journalists, we chose a few of the questions at random and Michael’s answer. Our question is in bold. Enjoy!

Question: Going into this experience did you ever think you’d make it to the end? Did you think that game play would get in the way or did you think you’d have any kind of major struggles that would stop you?

Michael Ventrella: I thought there was going to be a lot of different things that might interfere with my journey. You know, it is a game show. I mean at the end of the day that’s what it is. And on top of it, you know, being at 526 you have no hope for a future. You have no hope. I mean I knew that I was going to give it my all and I knew that I would be relentless at my efforts of, you know, healthy but I surpassed my wildest dreams.

Q: So what are some of the challenges that you faced when you transitioned home? And how do you plan on dealing with those challenges moving forward in maintaining your weight?

MV: Surprisingly enough I thought the biggest challenges when I went home was, you know, like putting in my workout regimen and my new eating habits, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t that because I’m not that person at 526 anymore. I don’t think that way. I don’t eat that way. I don’t live that way. The biggest challenges I’ve experienced being at home was having everybody understand what I’m going through, what I’m trying to do. You know, I have friends who are (unintelligible) and they don’t know like the commitment at I’m – and the hard work that I’m putting towards doing this. And then I have friends and family who are overweight and never even attempted to try to lose weight and they don’t understand what I’m going through.

Q: I know that love – finding love was a big theme this season on the show. So I want to know are you dating. Are you seeing anyone? What’s your love life like now?

MV: My love life is nonexistent. The only thing that I’m learning to love is myself and that’s the only thing I have time for right now because I haven’t done that ever. I never learned how to respect myself, respect my body and take care of me. So before I learn to love somebody else I need to learn how to love myself. And I’m not completely there yet because I’m still not done with my journey. You know, the finale for Biggest Loser was last night but the finale for my weight loss is yet to come.

Q: So now what are you planning to do with your prize money?

MV: Get out of debt, at least try to. We’ll see what happens – we’ll see what I get after Uncle Sam gets a hold of me. But that’s first and foremost because, you know, being in debt you feel like all that (weight) on your shoulders and, you know, that just weighs you down along with the fat on your body. So as I’m losing weight I’m getting things sorted out and I’m really cleaning up my life in every angle.

Q: Coming from a family of big Chicagoans, I know we love our deep dish pizza and our (unintelligible) and Chicago dogs. Is there room for that in your new life or are there different ways of enjoying those kinds of Chicago foods?

MV: Oh, most definitely. I try to be as creative as possible to recreate these, you know, dishes and flavors that I love so much, that I grew up on. But of course there’s going to be some things that I can’t imitate, you know, in a healthy way. So I mean it’s inevitable that I’ll have it one day or another but I’m going to work for it. Just like a person that wants to buy a house, you don’t buy a house and then get a job. You get a job, you work hard for your money, you earn, you save and then you get what you want. And that’s exactly how I look at, you know, these different foods that might be – I might not be able to recreate. So I’ll plan ahead and be like, “Oh, Sunday’s coming around. I’m going to go get myself some deep dish pizza. So to work towards that I’m going to do an extra mile a day on the bike.” Or you know, Sunday before I go, I’ll ride my bike to the restaurant and back that way my metabolism is at its highest and I burn it off and it will just completely wash through. And so it’s a treat but I’ve got to work for that treat. It’s not going to – you know, so many Americans these days we like to play then pay and we’ve got to switch that around.

Q: You seem to have kind of a kinship with Ashley given that you both made it to the final. Did it – did you have to struggle to stay in that competitive mode given that you were facing off with somebody you grew close to?

MV: Yes and no. I mean Ashley and I’s relationship is just phenomenal. She’s like my twin, not evil twin, but my twin, you know. And we encourage each other and push each other to our limits and see what we’re possibly capable of and we’re always, you know, comforting each other because deep down to the root of things we started off this whole journey feeling the same things, going through the same things. We were both overweight throughout our whole lives. We never knew any different. And it seemed like every time she’d face a problem I would face it a day before or day later or at the same time. So all through it we knew that we were each other’s competitors but we wanted the best for one another because we are friends. And that’s – at the end of the day that’s pretty much it is that we all have witnessed such a great portion of one of the most life-changing moments. And no matter how articulately capable we can be of explaining to another person what we felt, what we went through, what we did, you know, what we were thinking, nobody will ever get it unless they were there. And me and Ashley totally (unintelligible) as far as what we went through and the whole experience together. So it’s hard not to bond after that or through that and want to see each other succeed, you know, because that’s who we are. We want (to) better for everybody.

Q: And I know you watched the show in the past, so what’s the biggest difference between watching it on TV and then actually being there?

MV: Oh, good question. You know what, when I studied it before I auditioned for the show I was just watching all the episodes and, you know, like how is everybody’s relationship? How do they react to one another? You know, how do they react to the challenges and everything like that? I told myself, “Oh, this is something I’ll never do. I’ll never partake in an eating challenge. I’ll never do this challenge. I’ll never do that.” Because it’s kind of got a standard theme throughout all the seasons. And when you’re there all that goes out the window. When you’re there you’re – I was in survival mode. I was like, “All right. I got to do this.” Because the old Michael would put so much of his fate in other people’s hands and that made me so unhappy and that’s what brought me pretty much, you know, contributed to me being at 526. So I really had to get over it and say, “I am going to play the game because my livelihood depends on it.”

Q: I just have to ask, is there something that you’re really looking forward to doing now that you felt you couldn’t do or didn’t want to do when you were heavier?

MV: Yeah. I’d love to go to a theme park with all my cousins and ride a roller coaster and be a kid for the first time in my life. You know, I am thinner now and have a smaller waist at 31 than I did when I was like 13 or 14. So I never got to experience what being a kid really was and I want to do that. I want to live that out, you know. And I love kids. I love to be around them. I like to be playful and I love my family. And so I’m definitely so excited to spend a couple days at a theme park, you know, and take all my little cousins out and just live it up.

Q: My question is, do you have a specific goal weight to reach and do you have a timeline and plan to reach that?

MV: Now that the Biggest Loser finale is over I can really rearrange my workout routines. And I can start incorporating, you know, lifting and muscle gain into my workouts now, which is great because it’s going to make losing weight a hell of a lot easier. So my – as far as losing fat mass. I’m going to start gaining muscle and losing fat. So you know, might weight might go up a little bit, it might go down, it should stay around the same but it’s the inches that are definitely going to change. You know, my arms will get bigger and my waist will get smaller and my legs will get toner and I’m really excited about that because I’m going to see how far I can exercise and push my body to the healthiest I can possibly be. And so overall that’s the biggest difference because now I feel that my body’s probably gotten used to all the cardio that I’ve been doing plus it’s taxing on my knees. I’m excited definitely because I can’t wait to just get my arms ripped up.

Q: If you had to pin down the biggest lesson that you learned on the ranch, what would it be?

MV: The biggest lesson is to really understand in order to help other people I need to help myself. You know, as a natural caring individual I was always putting other people before me because I thought, “Oh, well they need help more than I do.” Well I couldn’t really help anybody if I was sick or if I was, you know, dead. So the minute that I learned how to focus on me and what my body needed and what I needed to sustain life and live happily is a perfect example. Look at all the other people that have changed their lives. I meet countless people every day that email me, call me, salute me in the street, you know, shake my hand and say, “Ever since I saw you on Biggest Loser run the five miles, I’ve been able to walk one mile and I can’t wait to do what you just did.” And I’m sitting there like, “I never even had that intention. I’ve never even known this person. And look what happened just from me focusing on myself and setting an example.” So it’s honoring. I can’t even (unintelligible) to say how amazing it feels to be able to get that return even on top of everything I’ve done for myself I’ve been able to help other people.

American Idol: another surprise and a big finale

Last night’s season finale of “American Idol” had a bit of everything. It even had another somewhat surprising ending, at least from where I sit. Ryan Seacrest promised that there would be a few tributes to outbound Simon Cowell during the night, and there were. But here is how the rest of the show went down, and we’ll sum it up as quickly as we can:

The Season 9 Top 12 sang Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and once we saw the school kids dressed like Alice Cooper we knew the man himself would make an appearance and he did. But he didn’t sound very good.

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Friday night movie news dump

I’ve got a bunch of other stuff to get to, so let’s see how efficient and selective I can be tonight.

* We have a Bat-date and it’s July 20, 2012.

* “Iron Man 2” is already starting to rake it in.


* I can’t believe I failed to mention this a couple of days back, but writer-director Bill Condon is handling the next “Twilight” film. These days, Condon is best known for “Dreamgirls,” and he did a brilliant job turning Bob Fosse’s anti-dramatic theater-piece, “Chicago,” into an audience-friendly hit as a writer. However, he’s made a horror film (one of the “Candyman” films) and also his terrific “Gods and Monsters” was an homage to “Frankenstein” director and all-around filmmaking great James Whale. In other words, he’s far more interesting a guy to do this than you would expect.

* News-flash: “Kick-Ass” man Matthew Vaughn will, once again, not be directing an X-Men movie. Don’t stop the presses!

* If James Cameron paid such careful attention to the science in “Avatar,” why couldn’t he also spend a little time on the dialogue?

* With all the sequels being made, why the f*** not “Anchorman 2”? Too many comedy superstars means too much $, I suppose.

* Speaking of money, you’d think it would be easy for David O. Russell to get enough money for two or so days of shooting to finish “Nailed,” written by Kristen Gore (Al and Tipper’s  funny daughter). It seems the quirky comedy (the extremely talented, conflict-prone Russell makes no other kind) has been sent to cinema hell — or purgatory if we’re all lucky — not by Russell, who for once seems to have things nicely under control, but by seriously troubled producer David Bergstein. For those of you with enough time, check out the long version of what left this film literally hanging as written by Kim Masters. Sad/fascinating stuff.

* Justly respected critic Todd McCarthy is back after being canned by Variety and blogging for Indiewire. Good news.

* J.J. Abrams may be doing something with Steven Spielberg. Quoth Beaks:

[It] will be “both a tribute to and a collaboration with Steven Spielberg”. The film, about which nothing specific is known, is intended as an homage to Spielberg’s ’70s and early ’80s output; “…an interpretation of some of Spielberg’s earlier films, but done in a personal way.”

…This is either kinda cool, or a little creepy. I can’t decide.

We Believe

You have to feel a little sorry for the makers of “We Believe,” the entertaining movie documenting the 100-year anniversary, if you want to call it that, of the Chicago Cubs’ last World Series victory. Many thought the 2008 Cubs were going to be the team that ended the heartbreak, and goodness knows they gave even the most cynical Cubs fan – of which this writer is one – reason to, well, believe. Late-inning comebacks, a no-hitter in a neutral stadium…it was a crazy year, just crazy enough to do the impossible. Director John Scheinfeld assembles a who’s who of Chicago celebrities, Cub players past and present, and assorted baseball luminaries (Bob Costas, George Will, Bud Selig) to discuss the unique relationship between the Cubs and their fans, intercutting it with history lessons of both the city of Chicago and the team they love. Their coverage of the material is most comprehensive; they even took a few minutes to talk about Steve Goodman, the folkie who penned the good-time song “Go Cubs Go” in 1984, which received a revival in 2008.

Unfortunately, Scheinfeld didn’t get the happy ending he was clearly hoping for when he began the project; the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Dodgers, and about halfway through the movie, Gary Sinise’s narrative updates on the team’s performance during the 2008 season become less and less frequent, and the movie begins to wander. When they finally get to discussing the playoffs, Sinise is mum on the outcome; they just show people discussing the aftermath. No one mentions the Dodgers by name, and only one person uses the word ‘sweep.’ What begins as a celebration of baseball and its loyal fans ends as a surprisingly insular, fans-only event.

Ah, but those Cubs fans will lap this up. The interviews with the 2008 players are refreshingly candid – best of the bunch was Ryan Dempster, who does a pitch-perfect Harry Caray impression – and the local celebs (Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna, Billy Corgan and Dennis Franz, to name a few) are upfront about their love for, and frustration with, their team. While “We Believe” may not chronicle the breaking of a century-old streak that they had hoped, it is a heartfelt tribute to arguably the most steadfastly loyal fans in baseball, if not all of sports.

Click to buy “We Believe”

The Biggest Loser: foul play?

I smell foul play on “The Biggest Loser.” Not Vicky and Brady foul play, but some manipulation by certain contestants. More on that later.

The show began last night with Daris being upset about his mom Cheryl being sent home. That lasted about 5 seconds. Then it was on to the initial challenge, and one of the contestants even said “oh crap” when they saw host Alison Sweeney in the room. That was funny. The challenge was a trivia game, with the winning team earning a “spa night” at the Four Seasons Hotel, and the losing team having to clean both the kitchen and the gym. Yikes. After some trash talk from Stephanie of the black team, the blue team won, which was funny, because their team is mostly huge guys, not the types you’d expect to see in a spa.

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