Lisa Rambo was watching the finale of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," which featured two women who weighed about 250 pounds.
The Hudson, Wis., mother of four said she turned to her husband and asked, "'Man, do I look like that? Do I weigh that?' And I immediately said, 'Don't answer.'"
After several more seasons of watching women shed their weight, 37-year-old Rambo -- whose own weight has yo-yoed between 210 and 260 pounds for the past 15 years -- had finally decided enough was enough.
Rambo wanted to be a role model for her four athletic children, so in June she traveled to Chicago for the casting call of "The Biggest Loser." Rambo was selected as one of 15 adults and three children to compete on the show's 14th season, set on a ranch in Calabasas, Calif.
By the end of September, she had temporarily left her job as a special education assistant at Hudson High School and headed for the ranch, which features a state-of-the-art fitness room plus outdoor exercise areas and weekly challenges for contestants.
Each of three teams wears matching red, white or blue shirts and has its own personal trainer.
Rambo kept out of the limelight during the first episode, which aired Jan. 6, when others were fainting, vomiting and falling off treadmills during their first rigorous workout.
"Before I went to the ranch I didn't have an exercise routine," Rambo said in a recent telephone interview monitored by show representatives. She wasn't allowed to reveal where she stood in the competition, which culminates in a live finale March 18, when all contestants -- even those who've been sent packing -- will return. Previously aired episodes are available at www.nbc.com/the-biggest-loser/.
"I'd never been in a gym before my first day on the ranch," she said. "I had never been on a treadmill. It was crazy and I just kept saying to myself, 'You gotta do the best you can, and just stay upright.'"
When the first two episodes automatically eliminated contestants who had failed to lose a certain percentage of their weight, Rambo was spared. On the third episode, Rambo and others were up for elimination by popular vote among contestants, but she escaped when a teammate was voted off. Rambo and others were clearly upset by their teammate's departure.
"I think what drives her is this great sense of compassion, and you'll see that in her all the time," said her husband, Tony Rambo, pastor of the River Community Church in Houlton, Wis. "That image that you see, that's real. You always wonder every now and then what TV magic does, but that's the real deal."
The Rambo family, which includes Richard, 11, Joy, 10, Ryan, 7, and Micah, 5, kept in touch with Lisa by writing letters but didn't hear from her while she was at the ranch, Tony Rambo said. His mother visited from California to help with the children; local family members, friends and church members pitched in, too.
All of the contestants are home now, finishing their at-home portions of the weight-loss challenge. Rambo, who had lost 32 pounds by the end of the episode last Monday has discovered a love for spinning classes, and she's inspired her husband to lose 55 pounds while she was away.
"I got picked up by a skinny husband," she said. "He didn't tell me ahead of time that he was going to do this. Now we're running together, doing it all together -- it's awesome."
In addition to hours of daily exercise, Rambo was given a calorie budget, eating five small meals a day that focused on proteins, fruit and vegetables.
"It was incredible the things I learned about eating," she said. "I've been able to keep that up."
The Rambos' children now enjoy fish and vegetables for dinner, according to their mother.
"My kids are all involved in sports and want to be athletes, and they're loving it that we're doing it together," she said.
Laura Love, principal at Hudson High School, said Rambo has been speaking to students about health and wellness since her return to work. A group of teachers and staff members who are doing their own version of "The Biggest Loser" competition consider Rambo an inspiration.
"She is probably one of the most positive people in the building and just clearly loves her job and loves the students," Love said. Rambo has "just a great attitude about life in general, and is somebody who you enjoy seeing in the hall and usually makes someone else's day."
She is also very driven, according to Love.
"She is determined," the principal said. "She has made incredible strides, and I think she's one of those people you can't help but root for."
Nancy Crotti is a Twin Cities freelance writer.