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stepped on the giant scale that would weigh him like a prize head of cattle, he did so with a certain swagger.He took off his white sweatband, twirled it around his finger, and flung it to the studio audience as if it were a garter.For now, his agent is his mom, who appeared on the show with him and lost almost 120 pounds.Given Ventrella’s transformation, he briefly thought about going on tour as a paid inspirational speaker, but most of the groups that invite him to speak are nonprofits, such as Children’s Memorial Hospital, and Ventrella doesn’t feel comfortable charging them for his appearance.To win, the 31-year-old Bartlett man needed to weigh less than 269 pounds, almost half his starting weight of 526 pounds. At a recent breast cancer marathon, his new physique attracted wolf whistles from female admirers. But aside from the ego boost and the excitement of fitting into pants with a 38-inch waist, Ventrella hasn’t found a way to capitalize on his celebrity.The numbers on the scale flipped wildly back and forth, then stopped at 262. His prize money is long gone, half to the taxman and the rest to paying off his student loans, credit cards, and truck loan.Ventrella knows that maintaining his relatively svelte physique is critical if he is going to turn his status into cash. It’s inevitable I’m going to be gaining weight,” he says.
On a late summer day, Ventrella, sporting a red bandanna around his forehead and wearing a Superman T-shirt, sips a glass of water in Marino’s Pizzeria & Italian Cafe in west suburban Wood Dale.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. One is that every season brings a new group of contestants who often break the weight-loss records of their predecessors. [Ventrella] is not the expert, he is basically the subject.“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. 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 are famous for being fat.As the most recent winner, Ventrella isn’t on NBC’s payroll, although he is spending much of his time promoting the show.
It’s part of the contract he signed as a contestant; he receives only a modest per diem rate, plus expenses.“They aren’t as unique anymore.” More than that, Nordhielm says, winners of weight-loss shows aren’t really demonstrating any talent. You can’t translate that into a talk show or a mall tour or a hit single. That’s like being a former comedian.” It probably doesn’t help Ventrella’s prospects that some of the winners become fat again—for example, the season 3 winner, Erik Chopin, regained almost all the 214 pounds he lost.