Lincolnshire bartender named ‘Biggest Loser’
Fans reacting to Danni Allen who is surprised on the big screen televisions as she wins on the season finale of The Biggest Loser (from left) are Cathy Hofer of Lake Zurich, Anita Chiaro of Buffalo Grove, Karilee Marcikic of Vernon Hills who owns Smaller Size Fitness, and Cathy Levinson of Buffalo Grove at the Viper Alley in Lincolnshire. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
WINNING AT HOME
While still part of the show, the contestants got to return to their homes for one week — but had to lead public workout groups using what they had learned from their trainers. Allen held hers at Mundelein High School, and designed a series of exercises that anyone could do in a living room.
“People need to get the misconception that you can only lose weight at the gym out of your head,” she said.
As the Chicagoland winter morphs into an ugly, icy, cloudy and cold spring, Allen said she knew it would be a challenge for her fans to want to go outside and walk or jog. She advised those she has inspired to buy a few small weights and some workout DVDs, then try the basis: jumping jacks, squats, inchworms and other routines one can do at home.
“You are your own excuse.”
Updated: May 20, 2013 2:19AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — Televised live and nationally, Danni Allen walked across a stage in Los Angeles, hailed by hundreds in the audience as a beauty. But the Mundelein native, now working at CityPark in Lincolnshire, remembers vividly the days when her classmates called her The Beast.
Allen won the 14th season of The Biggest Loser, the reality-television show in which obese men and women compete to see who can work off the highest percentage of their body weight. Allen, a 26-year-old account coordinator at Camping World and bartender at Viper Alley, started the show at 258 pounds (a body-mass index of 41.6 percent fat on her 5-foot-6 frame) and revealed a well-toned, 137-pound figure at her final weigh-in, defeating runner-up Jeff Nichols by a single pound for the $250,000 prize.
“I didn’t think that my dreams were possible,” Allen said before her winning weigh-in.
At Viper Alley, a crowd of about 100 stood and cheered as the local eked out a victory by the smallest margin possible.
“We’ve been watching all season, and she’s been our favorite,” said Emily Malay, a student at Trinity College in Deerfield.
Eddie Fackler, a 49-year-old Libertyville resident, came to Viper Alley with his wife, Karen to watch Allen complete her weight-loss journey — while he neared the end of his own. Fackler said he weighed 392 pounds in September of 2011, but has dropped 150 since then. He has reduced his jeans size from 58 to 36, and said he wants to get to 196 — half of what he once was.
“There’s nothing special about me, there’s nothing special about them,” Fackler said, pointing to the contestants on Viper Alley’s screens. “We just had the initiative. As long as you don’t quit, you’re going to win.”
Before learning her fate, Allen spoke about her years at Mundelein High School, where she took part in the grueling sports of water polo, swimming and soccer with a body that was simultaneously muscular and overweight.
“Even as an athlete, I was always over 200 pounds,” Allen said. “I was always the big girl. They called me The Beast.”
On the show, which moved from its usual Tuesday night slot to Mondays at the start of the year, Allen became known as one of the most positive-minded contestants, and one of the most dangerous threats during its many mini-competitions. She and her 14 competitors split into three teams, trained by celebrity fitness experts Bob Harper, Jillian Michaels and Dolvett Quince; by the fourth episode, though, Allen’s four teammates on Michaels’s “white team” had either quit or been eliminated.
She said that being alone against two squads that had lost only one player between them brought out the drive that had once made her a muscular “beast,” but it also erased her chance to hide from the problems that had turned her into an overweight “beast” as well.
“That was the core of why I became what I became,” Allen said. “Being by myself forced me to confront that.”
Her transformation began last year, when she and a friend stood in line with hundreds of other overweight suburbanites at a Biggest Loser audition in Lombard. The pair had no intention, or expectation, of either being selected, they just wanted to get started with slimming down, and saw the tryout as a possible spark.
“I was shocked, and awed,” Allen said of looking at the gathering. “We saw so many people who were struggling. We didn’t feel alone anymore.”
But Allen said that one of the problems she had to deal with was having no understanding about nutrition.
“After the audition, we went to Red Lobster, and we ate our weight in cheddar biscuits,” she said. “We did not even touch the food we ordered, we just took it home.”
Then her phone rang. By the end of September, Allen was moving into the Biggest Loser “ranch” near Los Angeles to film 11 episodes — one of the show’s shorter seasons. She and the three other finalists were back in their real worlds by the end of January.
For Allen, the road took an unexpected turn in the first episode, when one of her teammates quit the show. That loss played a role in the elimination of three other “white team” contestants, leaving Allen alone with Michaels.
“It was very conflicting emotions,” Allen said of facing life with the equally beloved and feared trainer. “Jillian said to me ‘This is the most ironic thing that could happen. You have no one else to focus on, but yourself.’
“I said ‘You know, you’re right,’” Allen recalled.
Allen said one of the roots of her obesity had been thinking too much about others and not caring enough about herself. With no more teammates to support, she had only herself to assist.
The results: Allen and Michaels never faced elimination again, and Allen rebuilt 19 pounds of muscle while dropping her body mass to 26.3 at the end of January.
The producers keep the contestants almost completely isolated from family and friends; toward the end of the season, though, the remaining players earned a trip back to their homes. For Allen, one of the perks of working at a nightclub was receiving a hero’s welcome to a roaring crowd as she walked out onto the Viper Alley stage.
“It was a completely over my head,” Allen said of her return to Lincolnshire, which took place months ago but aired on March 4. “The anticipation for that moment completely overwhelmed me. Everyone’s chanting ‘Danni, Danni,’ and my heart is racing.”
She said it was a turning point in her mindset. She had already traded in her size-20 clothes for size-12s, and her appearance as the star of Viper Alley brought the rest of her life into focus.
“This is my stage, this is my moment of joy,” she said. “I was living it and loving it.”
Months have passed since that moment, and Allen is back behind the bar when Viper Alley opens for events. Life is a little different for her, though: The men in the club sometimes ask for her phone number, and hear that she has a boyfriend.
“It’s something very new for me,” she said. “I am getting more attention than I used to.”
Some of that will wane, of course, with the show now complete. Looking at the rest of her life, Allen said she had plans for how she would stay healthy. Foremost among them: jogging with friends daily, and clearing the junk foods out of her Wheeling apartment.
“I’ve already started setting that up, to make sure I wasn’t thrown back into the shock of my old life,” she said. “It’s a new lifestyle, it’s not a new diet.”