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Wisconsinites flock to Tosa for chance to lose weight

'Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition' holds casting call

Feb. 21, 2012

Melissa Batog turns 30 this year. If that's not enough reason for a transformation, the extra weight that prevents her from playing with her young nephews and niece is providing motivation.

The Franklin woman tried Weight Watchers with success, only to put back on twice what she lost.

"I'm 110 pounds overweight, which is a place I never thought I would be," she said.

Sick of diets and seeking an entire "lifestyle change," Batog was among the people who waited in line at Dave & Buster's in Wauwatosa on Saturday hoping to win over casting directors for the television show "Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition."

As episodes from the first two seasons of the show played on big-screen TVs, Batog filled out her application, answering questions about her job, health and the life events that have impacted her weight.

"It's the first time I've had enough guts to do this," she said. "I feel like this is something I need - something extreme."

By the end of the day, the number of applicants surpassed casting director Holland Weathers' expectations; 165 people came looking for a chance to take part in the show. Ten applicants were taken at a time to tell their stories in a roundtable discussion that lasted about 20 minutes.

"If you have a sad story, that's fine, but if you're that happy-go-lucky mom who started eating badly after she had kids, we want those people, too," Weathers said.

Weathers gave participants credit for showing up, a sign they want to embark on a healthier life even if it means admitting they need help. She generally looks for people who need to lose at least half their body weight.

Wisconsin has reputation

She has cast numerous weight-loss and competition reality shows and has heard her share of stories. Not only did she listen to the 165 people who showed up for the open call, but an undisclosed number were called back over the next three days for more-indepth, one-on-one filmed interviews. A large number of applicants will bypass the casting call and submit videos through the show's website, Weathers added.

The Tosa stop was just one of nine on the casting tour, but with Wisconsin's reputation for eating foods like beer, brats and cheese, Weathers expected to find a number of contenders.

"For other shows we've had great success (casting in Milwaukee)," she said. "A lot of the time we look at the fattest states lists, and Wisconsin is always on there."

Filming happens over a year, and the eight cast members are expected to be chosen by April. Those who made it through call-backs will be flown to Hollywood to meet with producers and doctors before the final selections are made.

Steve Kenyon, a 36-year-old from Belmont, said this show could save his life. With high blood pressure since age 20 and a family history of "life-changing health issues" - his father had a heart attack at age 33 - he's worried he will die young if he doesn't get on the show.

"Now it's a struggle sometimes to walk up a flight of stairs," he said.

Personal approach

Applicants talked about all the methods they have tried to lose weight, from the no-carbs Atkins Diet to pills and weight-loss shakes. Most have had success losing but weren't able to maintain a healthier weight.

People picked for the show will find trainer Chris Powell moving into their homes to gauge their nutrition and activity habits. He will formulate a plan specific to their lifestyle. After he leaves, he continues to check in and provide incentives along the way.

Kristine Lay, 29, of Big Bend said she needs someone who won't let her give up if she's going to lose 150 pounds. Lay has been married for two years and wants to start a family, but doing so at her weight would put her at high-risk for complications.

"I like the premise of a trainer that gets your lifestyle and makes changes while you're in your house and sticks with you," she said.

Roger Joerres, a 47-year-old single dad agreed. He's tried eating "nonfat everything," but the number on the scale keeps getting higher.

"The fact that he would come into my home would be awesome. It would be my reality," Joerres said.

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