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by Gina Scarpa

Last night, Michael Ventrella was crowned the season 9 winner of The Biggest Loser, dropping an amazing 264 pounds. The 31 year old from Chicago walked away with the $250,000 grand prize and a new confidence about himself. Today, Michael spoke to RealityWanted and reporters in a press conference call, opening up about the challenges he faced at home, his relationship with his mother, and what he plans to do with the prize money.

Q. Gina, RealityWanted: What challenges did you face when you transitioned home from the ranch and how do you plan to deal with them, moving forward in your weight loss journey?
A. Michael: Surprisingly enough, I thought the biggest challenges when I went home would be getting in my workouts and my new eating habits but it wasn't that. I'm not that person at 526 anymore. I don't think that way, I don't eat that way. The biggest challenge was having everybody understand what I'm going through, what I'm trying to do. They don't know the commitment and hard work I'm putting towards doing this. I have friends and family who are overweight and never try to lose weight. They don't understand what I'm going through. I'm home and they think it's the old Mike and it's party time and I can leisurely hang around but that's not the case. I live an active lifestyle. I'm going to incorporate that active lifestyle in all facets of my life, including hanging out with friends and family. Some of them, very few, are just not interested and that's a shame because it's done wonders for my life. Look how happy I am!

Q. Did you ever think you'd make it to the end? Did you think gameplay would get in the way?
A. Michael: I thought there was gonna be a lot of different things that might interfere with my journey. It is a game show. At the end of the day, that's what it is. On top of it, being at 526, you have no hope for a future. I knew I was going to give it my all and I knew I would be relentless with my efforts towards getting healthy. I surpassed my wildest dreams.

Q. You and your mom have a pretty amazing relationship on the show. How did that bond inspire you, especially when you left?
A. Michael: What's really amazing about being with my mother is that she's my best friend. To have her there was great because as an Italian family, we use our food and eating as a social way of staying close. Being able to go through this and changing my habits and my mother's habits will now ripple into my family. That's our way of celebrating our lives is through dining.

Q. You seemed to have a kinship with Ashley. Did you have to struggle to stay in that competitive mode?
A. Michael: Yes and no. My relationship with Ashley is phenomenal. She's like my twin, my evil twin, but we're twins! We encourage each other and push each other to our limits to see what we're capable of. We started off this whole journey feeling the same things. We were both overweight our whole lives. It seemed like every time she faced a problem I would face it a day before, a day later, or at the same time. All throughout, we knew we were each other's competitors but we wanted the best for each other because we're friends.

Q. Finding love was a big theme this season. Have you found love? Are you dating?
A. Michael: My love life is non-existant. The only thing that I'm learning to love is myself and that's the only thing I have time for right now. I haven't done that ever. I never learned how to respect myself and my body. Before I learn to love someone else, I need to love myself. I'm not done with my journey. The finale of The Biggest Loser was last night but the finale for my weight loss is yet to come.

Q. What do you plan to do with the prize money?
A. Michael: Get out of debt! At least try to! We'll see what happens after Uncle Sam gets a hold of me. That's first and foremost because being in debt, you feel like all the world's on your shoulders. That weighs you down, along with the fat on your body. As I'm losing weight, I'm getting things sorted out and I'm really cleaning up my life.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

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