Go­ing Com­mando

The Big­gest Loser trainer Steve “The Com­mando” Wil­lis talks about fi nd­ing the right bal­ance, both on and off screen, with Anooska Tucker- Evans

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

STEVE “The Com­mando” Wil­lis has wit­nessed the good and bad side of fame dur­ing the past nine months. On the one hand, it has al­lowed The

Big­gest Loser trainer to achieve his dream of help­ing hun­dreds of Aus­tralians across the coun­try change their lives and live a healthier ex­is­tence.

On the other hand, it has shined a very bright spot­light on his con­tro­ver­sial per­sonal life.

In May last year, it was re­vealed Wil­lis and his TV co- star Michelle Bridges were in a re­la­tion­ship. She had split from her hus­band two months ear­lier and he had left his long­time part­ner and mother to two of his chil­dren.

How­ever, af­ter only a few months to­gether, things went sour for the tele­vi­sion pair with Wil­lis re­turn­ing home to try to rec­on­cile and save his fam­ily.

But in Oc­to­ber, Wil­lis and Bridges were back to­gether and re­main so to­day.

It was an ex­pe­ri­ence that cre­ated count­less head­lines and had the pub­lic judg­ing their ev­ery move.

“It comes with the ter­ri­tory. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a dou­ble- edged sword,” Wil­lis says of the fame and pub­lic at­ten­tion.

“You kind of live your life in that space. I just get on with life. I’m the same per­son I’ve al­ways been and I truly try to live my life and lead by ex­am­ple.

“Ev­ery­one’s got a say on it but that’s their opin­ion, that’s for them to deal with. But I just keep mov­ing for­ward and do­ing what I do.”

Wil­lis won’t be drawn much fur­ther on the re­la­tion­ship with his co- star, but re­veals it’s been a diffi cult time for him and his fam­ily.

“I don’t want to get caught up in confl ict or any­thing like that and, at the end of the day, my chil­dren are very spe­cial to me and they don’t need this,” he says. In­stead, the per­sonal trainer wants to fo­cus on cre­at­ing a healthier and fi tter Aus­tralia, which he says the new sea­son of Big­gest Loser is all about.

The ninth se­ries sees the train­ers, Wil­lis, Bridges and Shan­nan Pon­ton, travel to one of the coun­try’s fat­test towns, Ararat in coun­try Vic­to­ria.

Here, the train­ers choose 14 “town cham­pi­ons” to take back to the Big­gest Loser house and ed­u­cate on how to eat well and ex­er­cise. The con­tes­tants will com­pete to raise money for a healthy liv­ing legacy for the com­mu­nity, while in­spir­ing the town’s 7000- strong pop­u­la­tion to em­brace a healthier life­style.

It’s a weighty ex­per­i­ment and one Wil­lis says was quite nerve- rack­ing at fi rst.

“To have to con­nect with a town and a town that you don’t even know whether they’re go­ing to en­gage and re­ally want to be a part of it was daunt­ing,” he says.

“But those nerves were put to rest within the fi rst few hours and days of be­ing in Ararat, and we got a huge re­sponse. So many peo­ple wanted to be a part of the pro­gram.”

How­ever, the mis­sion also had its chal­lenges. As the con­tes­tants all knew each other, when it came to elim­i­na­tion time things quickly be­came tricky.

“At some point you’re go­ing to have to elim­i­nate each other and you’re all go­ing to have to go back to the town, so you’ll prob­a­bly see that per­son fi ve times a day, it’s awk­ward,” Wil­lis says.

“But they re­ally took it upon them­selves to re­mind them­selves of the big­ger pic­ture and about re­mov­ing that la­bel of obe­sity in their town. The re­spect they had for one another was amaz­ing … and there are some re­ally heart- felt mo­ments.”

Sur­pris­ingly, there’s also a lot less of the bitchiness and fi ght­ing from pre­vi­ous sea­sons, Wil­lis says.

“From all ac­counts, they re­ally were look­ing out for each other and were mo­ti­vat­ing and en­cour­ag­ing and in­spir­ing each other,” he says.

“Some­times some­one would slip and there would be some words said, but that’s go­ing to hap­pen, es­pe­cially in the con­text of some­thing like Big­gest Loser be­cause at the end of the day it is a com­pe­ti­tion.”

The end re­sult, though, is Wil­lis’ favourite sea­son of the show so far.

“The thing that was fan­tas­tic about it was that in en­gag­ing the town, they were all on board as well, so when the con­tes­tants would go home, the town folk would look up to them and they would all mo­ti­vate each other so that sup­port net­work is there,” he says.

“And then the chil­dren see the adults chang­ing their life­style choices and want to be a part of it as well, so the groundswell was re­ally through­out the whole town.”

And Wil­lis says they have the med­i­cal sta­tis­tics to prove the ex­per­i­ment worked.

Not only did the town lose weight, but their risk of heart- disease, stroke, and other weight- re­lated prob­lems de­creased.

In fact, the fit­ness guru thinks the show may have even stum­bled upon the an­swer to tack­ling Aus­tralia’s obe­sity prob­lem.

By fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach across the coun­try, Wil­lis be­lieves that Aussies could be in much bet­ter shape.

“It was huge suc­cess. It’s the shin­ing light for ru­ral Aus­tralia and all those small towns out there, and even some of the big­ger cities and the like,” he says. THE BIG­GEST LOSER: CHAL­LENGE AUS­TRALIA TDT, tonight, 6.30pm

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