By Emily Exton
Updated May 26, 2010 at 11:40 PM EDT

The winner of this season of The Biggest Loser was literally the BIGGEST loser. Mike Ventrella shattered the show’s previous weight loss records, dropping 264 pounds and 50.19 percent of his body fat. Read on as the chatty Chicagoan talks about his relationship with fellow Biggest Loser Ashley, his love for his mother, and his commitment to end childhood obesity and actually make those high school PE classes worthwhile.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, congratulations! Have you been able to wrap your head around it yet?

MIKE VENTRELLA: I just got off the phone with my buddy who said that I left a bunch of stuff at the hotel in California and I’m obviously in New York! I’m like, “Oh my god I’m like forgetting everything!” Like seriously, Emily, I’m still in competitive mode. Being on the plane for six hours coming from California to New York, I’m, like, frantic in my seat looking around for a spin bike.

Going into the finale did you think that you could win? What were you feeling?

I was feeling that I had a 50-50 chance. Ashley and I both agreed that if Koli got voted in that he would beat both of us and so we collaborated forces and honored Daris’ wish of being in the top three. And you know I had all our supporters help Daris out and, that way, me and Ashley felt like we only had each other to compete against. It might seem odd to everybody else, but as competitive as Ashley and I were towards one other and understanding that, we were so compassionate because we’re friends. And that’s what it’s about, pushing the other person to reach their goal and to help them succeed because Ashley and I are feeling the same thing, you know? The finale for Biggest Loser was last night but the finale for our weight loss is quite awhile away. [For] me even more than her. I mean she looks great, but I still have a way to go so it’s kind of hard for me to swallow and be like “Yay!” because I know I still have a lot of hard work ahead of me.

Was it motivating to be that close with someone you were in direct competition with? Did things ever become awkward?

I think it was helpful because we were really honest with each other as the weeks were going by, at least I was, and very helpful like when she’d call and she’d be crying and I’d be like “What’s wrong shortcake?” and she’s like “I can’t lose any weight, I’m stuck at 195!” and I’d go “Ash, we always go through the same thing at the same time.” It was very weird, we’re like twins, and our bodies just go through the same cycles together, it’s very odd, it’s more than coincidence. We pushed each other and there were days where I was in pieces and I called her up and she’s like, “No matter what happens, we have each other.” We gained a lot of ground in our life, so it was cool to have each other as a competitor.

Do you guys still keep in touch?

Yeah, I mean I haven’t talked to her since I left the finale, but even during the finale when we were in our “holding cells” as we called it, because we were sequestered from each other and from the other contestants in the back of the studio, we were like talking through walls, screaming, pounding on walls, calling each other on the cell phones, texting each other, you know, me, Ashley, and Daris. That’s the three amigos. We stick together.

Going into the competition in general, you had to imagine you had an advantage, since you were the bigger than other members of the ranch.

It’s odd because when I see my position as that character, I see that person with so much weight, I would think that [it would be an advantage] going forward. But I am that person, [and] I can tell you that it was not an advantage, as Bob puts it perfectly and plainly: “You’re bigger than everybody else. You have to work harder than everybody else, work longer, you have to rest more, you have to eat more.” You have to do everything more than everybody else while still playing on the same playing field, meaning the time and the day. And I was exhausted! That’s why I was always run down, I was always an emotional wreck. This was a tough thing for me to do because I wasn’t doing it at my own pace, I was doing it as a rush, rush, rush thing and I had to make sure I was ahead of everyone else. Being a big person, it’s taxing [on] your body. I mean my knees are killing me, and I haven’t worked out in two days.

You also had a sense of humor throughout the season. Were you hoping to lighten the mood on campus?

That’s my character, I always joke, I’m a Leo true to heart — August 19 — I’m everybody’s protector, I’m a caregiver, I’m loud, I’m funny, I love the spotlight, that’s my character you know? And I was just being me. I went into the whole Biggest Loser experience bearing all, this is all I have to give and all of it is me. So I was just myself. I definitely feel that I grew a lot as a person and as an individual, standing up for what I believe and what I want. Before I did a lot of compensating for people, to make sure that they were pleased, and I’m very surprised and proud of myself.

Overall, how did it feel to break Danny’s record from last season?

Honored. That’s a good word, I just felt honored. The whole season I broke every record, I set records, I’ve made the impossible possible, and I didn’t do it intentionally, I just took one thing at a time. I felt bad, Danny didn’t look to happy in the finale! But it felt good, what an accomplishment, I did a clean sweep this season.

Anything you regret from the experience?

It was weird, it was weird how they edited it. You know, so much stuff goes on that doesn’t make the show of course because there’s so much taping, so sometimes I get a little frustrated, like, “Oh, they totally left off that one part!” But I’m not the producer, I’m not the star of the show, I’m just some fat person that made it to a reality show! But I think if [there was] anything that I regret, [it] was just maybe keeping a better tab on my mom the night that she got hurt. I don’t know why she attempted what she did. She was just worried for me and at that point I think she was still there for me and not for herself, and that really bothered me.

You gifted your mother with a flower last night. How much did she help you in this journey of yours?

Even when my mom was gone, the memory of my mother and what a strong woman she is was definitely in my heart the whole time. I remember when she was on the ranch, every time when I felt like giving up, I would look over to her to be like “I’m done, I want to get out of here, I’m done” and she’s still going! She’d have her head half-way down a garbage can throwing up and still be going! And I sat there and I looked at her and it was just like a moment of solace where I was thinking, man, if she’s toughing it out, then I can tough it out for my love for myself and to honor her for what she’s doing for me. So I always thought about her and how much strength she has and that’s what pushed me to new limits that got me this far.

Did this whole experience change your relationship? Had you always looked up to her?

Yes, ever since I was a little kid. She’s like one of my best friends. We laugh, we joke, we hang out, we talk, and doing this whole thing with her just brought us even closer than I thought possible. If you compare my mom now to the person she used to be, it’s like night and day. She was half awake before, she was just like a suppressed woman who went to work, came home, took care of her family, sat on the couch, watched her Dancing With the Stars, cooked and cleaned, and did it all again the next day! Now, it’s clicked for her. Just as I feel like I’ve been reborn to a new life and to new experiences, [she’s] just vibrant.

What was the scariest thing to experience throughout your journey?

Almost going home. Yeah, that would be it. I put so much on the line, I took away from time that I could’ve been spending with my grandmother when she was really sick, before she passed. And then I did it because you know I knew that I had to address this problem of obesity and I sacrificed a lot and those are days that I’ll never get back, but I do have a new life now and I’ll be living longer and I’m going to take that time that I’m living longer and I’m going to dedicate it to my grandmother who didn’t have that extra time in her life because of the lack of healthy lifestyle.

Do you plan to do anything regarding weight-loss, motivation, etc. after this experience? What’s in the works for you?

Oh I have so many things on my mind, I don’t even know where to start! Number one thing is that I want to work with child obesity. This is an epidemic in our nation that is out of control and as I look back at things that went wrong in my life, I could have totally regained my adulthood. You know, the past 10-15 years of my life that have just been kind of wasted, slowly dying because I didn’t know any better. I’m not saying it’s all the parents’ faults, I’m saying that as a nation we are all responsible, we have commercials that are programming kids that Fruit Roll-Ups are real fruit. It’s not. It’s all sugar! I remember being in physical education class and there was nothing, nothing educational about PE. How ironic is that? I always felt like I never had a chance up until recently, where I gave myself the opportunity of having a chance, so I really want to address those problems because I don’t want another kid to go through what I did. It’s not fair and you feel defeated.

Have you thought about how you’re going to spend your grand prize money?

Yes and then no. I know the first thing I’m going to do is probably not cry over Uncle Sam taking probably taking the majority of it! [Laughs] All jokes aside, I’m going to make good on the promise that I made to my mom when I was a little kid. When she was younger she had a real beat up [Chartreuse] Ford mustang convertible. Sometime soon I’m going to go get her that Mustang convertible with a big bow on it and I’m going to find a way to surprise her. This all wouldn’t have been possible, this woman gave birth to me, this woman molded me into the gentleman that I am today, she’s been my friend, she’s been my inspiration, she motivated me when I felt like I wanted to give up, and so much is gratefully due to her.

And anything for you? I bet you no longer have to shop at the Big and Tall store, anymore? That must feel good.

I need to find a time to go shopping. That’s what I really need to do because I have no clothes!