PHOTO: A native of Chicago’s Southeast Side, Toma took home the top “Biggest Loser” prize of $250,000 last season. 

Michael. Sonya. Toma. Danni.

Who are these people? “Biggest Loser” fans will tell you those are the names of some of the most recent contenders — and big winners — on the NBC weight-loss challenge.


The top 3 from season 16 of “The Biggest Loser” included  Springfield’s

Sonya and Toma  from Addison (shown with Rob, at right, who came in third place). 

Ah, but it’s a little more than that. Those also are the names of “Biggest Loser” contenders with Chicago and Illinois ties.

The show is casting for season 17 right now, and it’s coming to the Chicago area to look for possible contestants. It’s on the lookout for two-person teams, which can mean a lot of things: husband & wife, siblings, parent and child, best friends, co-workers. (Michael, as you may recall, started the show on a team with his mom.) Each possible contestant has to have at least 80 pounds to lose and be age 18 or over.

You don’t have to be an expert on “Biggest Loser,” either. As the reigning “Biggest Loser champ (and winner of the top prize, $250,000), Toma told me during an interview right as season 16 was beginning that although he had caught an an episode of the show here and there, he wasn’t a diehard follower.

While he was “amazed at their transformations,” it didn’t immediately click that he, too, could be a contender.  That changed when the Addison man saw that there would be a casting call at the nearby Biggest Loser Resort-Chicago, which is now in Bloomingdale (it was in Itasca before).

Even after a 45-minute interview he didn’t think he’d be cast, but he was. Toma, who started the season at 336 pounds, went on to lose a whopping 171 pounds.

So, who’s ready to try out? The casting call will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 25 at the Biggest Loser Resort, 250 Schick Road, Bloomingdale. (Remember, if you went out there last year, the resort has moved. Don’t go to the Itasca location!) Don’t head out planning to camp out overnight. Candidates can’t start lining up until three hours before the start time.

Here’s a tip, though. Don’t think the number of pound you’re packing will be enough to get you on the show. As “Biggest Loser” viewers can attest, people with a good story and a personality that comes through are the ones chosen. Think of the drive Springfield-based Sonya (she finished in the top 3 last season) brought to every challenge she competed in on the show. Or Toma, talking about his promise to his dying father. And then there was Michael, figuring out on season 9 how to create healthier versions of the Italian foods he loved. All that made for something that set each apart and made them so watchable.

As the show likes to tell viewers, it’s not just about the transformations made to the body, but to one’s spirit as well. When she became the season 14 top winner, Wheaton’s Danni Allen told reporters: “The physical transformation is right in front of you, but the mental change that I’ve gone through has been amazing.”

Season 17 challengers also will be able to work out with a show trainer who has local ties: Lisle native Jenn Widerstrom. (Not only was season 16 her first with the show, but she trained winner Toma AND Sonya, who came in at second place. Not bad for her debut season!)

JenniferWiderstomNo. 2

“Biggest Loser” trainer Jenn Widerstrom

So, going to give it a try? Who knows, maybe you will be able to say as Toma did last fall: “I got lucky, and here I am.”