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Do you think you could be a good ‘Loser’? Find out Saturday

Ex-contestant on weight-loss show will be at Shelbyville audition

12:51 AM, Feb. 25, 2011  |   (Source: Indystar)

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Allen Smith never considered himself big enough to be on “The Biggest Loser.” It was just a show he enjoyed watching with a friend each week.

“I saw obese people out there doing amazing things,” the 45-year-old Columbus firefighter and EMT said. Then, one night, his friend nudged him, pointed at the screen and said, ” ‘Hey, dude, we are one of those big people.’ ”

“That was one of those big ‘a-ha’ moments for me,” said Smith, who, at nearly 6 feet tall, pushed the digital readout on his scale to 325 pounds. “I can remember hopping out of the shower and looking in that mirror and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Allen, you are a big person. You’ve let yourself go.’ ”

At the urging of his friend, also a firefighter, Smith drove to Chicago to audition for the hit NBC reality show’s eighth season. On Mother’s Day in 2009, he shipped out to “The Biggest Loser” ranch in California, where he lost about 115 pounds and came close to winning the $250,000 top prize with his fifth-place finish.

This weekend, hopeful “Biggest Loser” contestants in Central Indiana won’t have to drive far for a chance to be on the show. For the first time since the show debuted in 2004, casting directors will come to Indiana to see whether someone has what it takes to star in the 12th season. Auditions will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Indiana Live Casino in Shelbyville, and long lines are expected, as Hoosiers are proven fans of the show.

“We always pay attention to where the mail’s coming in from,” casting director Barb Wulff said. “We do get a lot of submissions from Indiana.”

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 65 percent of the state’s adults — or 3.2 million people — are considered overweight or obese. With the department’s plan to combat obesity and promote a healthier, more active lifestyle by 2020, the two-hour prime-time show, which attracts an average 9 million weekly viewers, could have a local impact.

“We obviously have plenty of people who can benefit from weight loss in the state,” said Dr. Eve Olson, medical director of the St. Francis Weight Loss Center. “I think it would be nice and maybe motivating for the people of Indiana to see someone successful on a national TV show. I’ve seen a lot of people motivated by the results of what weight loss can do for people.”

On “The Biggest Loser,” contestants spend 12 to 20 weeks working with celebrity fitness trainers and health experts to lose weight and change their lifestyles. Some viewers and medical professionals have questioned whether the show exploits obese people, but Terri Hohlt, program administrator for IU Health Bariatric and Medical Weight Loss, said it offers insight into the struggles of weight loss.

“It’s real,” Hohlt said. “They don’t mask the hard work and the discipline that it takes. The cameras aren’t just on the pleasant time.”

Her biggest concern is what happens once a contestant leaves the ranch. “That’s where you hope that they have truly provided them with the coping skills necessary to go back into their environment,” she said. “If they don’t, they’re at risk of going back to their own habits.”

Candidates shouldn’t expect “The Biggest Loser” to be like other reality shows that cast based on characters: villains, heroes or funny sidekicks. Hopefuls must have at least 100 pounds of extra weight, a genuine story to tell and an upbeat attitude.

“We love happy, smiley people,” Wulff said. “I promise you, we will make you cry on the ranch. So there’s no need for tears in the casting call. We know how difficult this is, especially for those of us who have struggled with it ourselves. I don’t think there’s any story I haven’t heard.”

Up to a few thousand people could be waiting in line at Saturday’s casting call, so candidates should bring something comfortable to sit on, water and healthy snacks. Smith and other former “Biggest Losers” will be there, chatting with hopefuls. Once people make it inside the casting room, they’ll meet with a group of casting directors.

“That’s their time to shine, so I tell people, ‘Don’t be shy when you come to the table,’ ” Wulff said. “We really, really want to get an idea of who they are. Just show us a day in your life. Show us where you live, show us what you do, show us what your job is. We want to know what’s difficult for you at this weight.”

The top contestants will be notified almost immediately. Smith was on his way back to Columbus from Chicago when he got the call that he had been chosen. He’s one of four people from Indiana to appear on the show since it started in 2004. Two — Courtney Crozier and her mom, Marci, both from Valparaiso — are on the current season.

For those who don’t make the show, there’s always the local version, Indy’s Biggest Loser, created by fitness trainer Tod Esquivel. The 12-week program, now in its third “season,” attracts about 15 people each session and costs $375 per person or $700 per couple. The average person loses 15 pounds, with two previous winners shedding more than 30 pounds and taking home a $500 cash prize.

“I get to see the miracles of weight loss every day, and I cannot tell you how incredible they are to see people actually getting their lives back,” Esquivel said.

Almost two years later, Smith has maintained a healthy weight of 220 pounds. When he looks back at his experience on “The Biggest Loser,” he has no regrets.

“I’m happy with the way I handled myself, I’m happy with the results I have and the knowledge I was able to gain with my time there on the ranch,” he said. “That two hours is such a small fragment of what really goes on in the ranch.”

And for fans of the show who are struggling with weight loss, he has this advice:

“Don’t wait on ‘The Biggest Loser,’ ” Smith said. “To wait to get a chance to be on ‘The Biggest Loser’ to start your lifestyle journey, I think, is crazy. What are you waiting on? If the drive is there, take it out of park and put it in drive and go. Hit the accelerator.”

Call Star reporter Amy Bartner at (317) 444-6752.

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