TAMPA — The battle to shed the most weight can get cutthroat on NBC's The Biggest Loser.
Personal trainers push the contestants to extremes, and they often lose more than 100 pounds in just a few months as they vie for a $250,000 prize and a life change.
But at Tampa's tryouts for the show's ninth season Saturday, everyone was best of friends.
Who better to understand your weight struggles than people who also think they could shed at least 100 pounds, said a group of giggly women as they left the tryouts at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
"We've got to stick together," said Marlena Trento, 18, of Coral Springs.
About 8:30 a.m., before the doors opened, a woman at the front of the line stood on her chair and turned toward the crowd of about 500.
"We're all in this for the same reason and, regardless of who wins, best of blessings to everyone," she said. "I believe this is the start of a new beginning for everyone."
The crowd cheered.
The interviews — done in groups of 16 — didn't start until 10 a.m., but most people lined up by 8 a.m. Several arrived before dawn, and there were rumors that a woman spent the night, although they were requested not to do so.
Shannon Charette, 31, of Riverview was wary when she first heard about the show several years ago. "I thought it was going to be really horrible because people were going to be making fun of a lot of fat people on TV," Charette said.
But they didn't.
"It became something that we all wanted to do," she said. "It gave us inspiration."
Still, Charette and hundreds of other viewers kept sitting on their couches, watching season after season and feeling guilty — until the tryouts came to Tampa.
Many said the $250,000 prize isn't the reason they want to get on the popular show. They want change.
Charette wants to keep up with her active 5-year-old son.
Her friend, Shaqwana Morrell-DeVard, 29, of Tampa, wants to get rid of her type 2 diabetes.
And Jenn Granger, 32, drove down from Tallahassee because she hopes to confront the emotional issues behind her weight.
"I wanted to kill myself," she said, "and a lot of it was weight-related."
She's no longer depressed, she said, and now she's ready to start her life. She hopes getting on the show will help launch an acting career.
Contestant hopefuls went into the Carol Morsani Hall lobby armed with strategies to catch the casting crew's attention in just a few short minutes.
Project your voice. Make eye contact. Be loud and energetic, they said.
Mickey Majewski, 18, of Coral Springs called a casting crew member sassy after he made fun of her love for one of last season's contestants, Mike Morelli.
"I want to marry him," she declared, throwing her head back.
Maybe her spunky attitude will land her and her friend Marlena Trento on the show, she said.
The two teens want to be on the show partly because they don't want to suffer from weight-related medical problems later in life. And if they lose weight at the same time, they can keep sharing clothes, they said, smiling.
As Trento held her cell phone, she said she was hopeful a casting member would call.
"They said to keep your phone on full volume and look for an 818 number," Trento said. "That's good because 818 is my lucky number."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.