The weight is over

ARARAT - The wait was finally over on Sunday night, with the premiere of The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia watched nationally by just under one million people, and over the next three months the 14 Ararat contestants will be showing the rest of the country that it is possible for a town to turn its health around and lose the 'fat' tag.

There would have been few Ararat people that didn't sit down in front of the TV at 6.30pm on Sunday to watch the first episode of series nine, while more than 200 enjoyed the first episode from Alexandra Gardens on the big screen.

Australia met this year's 14 contestants on Sunday night, Cameron Brown, Craig Booby, Rodger Turner, Matt Dalton, Kerry Stockwell, Callan Evans, Shannon Woolley, Jane Jantzen, Sharon Basset, Natalie Wohlers, Katrina Pianta, Caitlin Munday, Toni Stockwell and Mary Reid, who endured the emotional audition process and the punishing bootcamp at Mount William in the Grampians to be selected.

While they are strangers to the rest of the country, to Ararat they are friends, work colleagues and family members, and the episode was probably best summed up by a comment on The Ararat Advertiser's Facebook page: 'Watching the whole team go back down the mountain to meet Mary... That's community spirit right there and as always Ararat showed that beautifully'.

The episode opened with two of the trainers, Shannan Ponton and the Steve 'Commando' Willis, at the Biggest Loser House being told by host Hayley Lewis that this year 'you two will be saving an entire town'.

The rest of the country got its first glimpse of Ararat with the two trainers arriving in town by train, the stunning aerial shots of the region just the start of many views of our spectacular landscape.

The trainers checked out the town and 'discovered' our eating and drinking habits, also speaking to former Ararat Rural City councillor and Mayor Ian Wilson.

"We don't want to be labelled the fat town, that's not what we want at all," Mr Wilson said.

"The people in Ararat are my friends, they're my work colleagues, people I work with, people I've lived with all my life and if we can improve their standing in this community and their health and wellbeing, fantastic, great effort, great legacy."

At a town meeting, at which hundreds attended, The Biggest Loser's resident doctor Dr Norman Swan said Ararat was a 'ticking time bomb' and provided some sobering statistics: 68 per cent of people living in Ararat were overweight or obese, 70 per cent didn't undertake adequate exercise, half of all men and a third of all women drank to risky levels and $19 million a year was spent on takeaway food.

Eight tonnes of fat was dumped outside the Ararat Performing Arts Centre; the amount of fat Ararat people consume every month.

The bulk weigh in of people by crane saw the town weigh in at 901,062 kilograms and people were told they needed to lose 26,000 kilogram to be under the national average, turning Ararat from the fattest into the fittest town in Australia.

Hundreds auditioned for the show and the auditions were harrowing to watch. The outpouring of emotion by people desperate to lose weight and change their lives was often hard to watch. Not surprisingly, a smiling exterior can often hide much sadness.

Twenty four bootcampers slogged it out out Mount William and were then put through their paces in a number of physical activities before the final 14 contestants were chosen.

There were many emotional moments: Gary Pianta getting to the top of the hill in first place before marching back down to accompany wife Katrina to the top, the entire group walking with and encouraging Mary Reid through the last 20 metres, trainer Shannan helping Cameron Brown fight his demons and slog his way to the top of the mountain.

These 14 brave contestants will now share their weight loss journey with the rest of Australia, but not only will they be changing their own lives, they will become town champions and role models for anyone wanting to lose weight and will be the front markers in helping Ararat lose the 'Fatarat' label once and for all.

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