Exclusive: Heba Salama talks about 'The Biggest Loser: Families'
By John Bracchitta, 12/22/2008
Heba Salama may admit to being outspoken, but not to being a bully.
During her time on The Biggest Loser: Families ranch as part of trainer Bob Harper's powerful Black team, 30-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative from Raleigh, NC was shown as the partner of Vicky Vilcan, the show's most effective gameplayer.
Presumably because of her association with Vicky, as well as numerous moments on the show when she was depicted as a bully trying to dictate how others play their game, Heba was ultimately denied entrance into the Final 3 finale weigh-in by the show's home viewers, who chose her husband Ed Brantley instead.
On Friday, Heba spoke to Reality TV World about why she disagreed with the way she was depicted on the show, how she felt about winning The Biggest Loser: Families' at-home prize and being the competition's actual biggest loser, and what she and Ed plan to do with her $100,000 prize.
Reality TV World: Do you think Vicky and yourself were portrayed accurately on the show?
Heba: Well, I think that Vicky is a really outspoken person, but she's a good person, and I think that the producers took her a little further than she really is. I mean, she's not a villain, and I'm not either.
They definitely showed me attacking certain people that I was being attacked by, so I don't think you saw both sides of the story. But the people that love me love me for who I really am, and I'm an outspoken woman and I don't make apologies for that. [But certain people on the show] didn't get an accurate portrayal of them.
So I'm happy going to bed at night knowing that people saw who I really am, and I'm a strong woman, I'm really competitive. I'm not a bully.
Reality TV World: Were there any specific parts of the show you thought were more exaggerated than should've been. Does anything stand out?
Heba: Oh yeah. When everybody came back to the ranch, when that whole fight happened. That was... (Pauses) There was a good chop job, let's leave it at that.
Reality TV World: What type of reaction did you get from people as the season was unfolding?
Heba: Everyone I've ever encountered has said that they love [my husband Ed Brantley], and me period. They get it, you know?
I have had people come up to me and tell me that they hate Vicky, but I always just defend her because she was doing it the best way she knew how. She doesn't have a filter. God love her but that's just how she is.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when you learned of that home viewer voting twist? I mean the show had already done it in last spring's edition [so] were you guys expecting something like that?
Heba: No, I wasn't that shocked. I mean, I think people have a lot of time on their hands, and people that sit at the computer and blog are the same people that have time to vote 1,000 times. We don't have a bunch of friends that sit around and vote all day. We had a lot of people supporting us, but sometimes I think people just want to do the opposite of what people ask.
And I mean I wasn't shocked. I kind of figured it would go that way. I think a lot of people really sympathized with [Michelle Aguilar] so they probably thought I was a bigger threat than Ed would've been. And they were right because I would've beat her.
Reality TV World: When you were leaving the ranch after the Final 4 weigh-in, it seemed that you and Ed -- at least at the time, based on the videos -- seemed confident that you would be the one going to the Final 3. Was that the case?
Heba: No, I mean we didn't know. Like I said, you don't know -- once the producers get a hold of the footage -- what they're going to do with it. They spun it like Ed [gameplayed] that [Final 4] weigh-in. He was in the hospital the day before the weigh-in with a saline bag hooked up to his arm because he had a hernia. He had surgery.
Reality TV World: Oh, okay. I was actually gonna ask him about that [when I interview him] later.
Heba: Yeah, there was no gameplay involved with that and I have no problem saying that. I know we're not really supposed to talk about things that didn't happen, but I'm a very honest person and that was the truth and when someone accuses us of gameplay I won't stand for that.
He had a saline bag injected into his arm, I mean what do you think is gonna happen when you weigh-in the next day. You gain weight.
Reality TV World: So is it safe to say that as you saw the season airing, and how everyone was being portrayed, that you weren't as surprised that they would've voted Ed in instead of you?
Heba: I still wasn't sure because so many people had come up to us and said "You have such a supportive husband," and why people would give it to someone that didn't really want it anyway is beyond me. Again, they may have thought I was a bigger threat and they were right. I was way ahead of everyone else.
So, I don't know. Again, the only time we encountered any negative [comments] where when I happened to come upon it on blogs, but I try not to read them. I've never run into it anywhere else.
Reality TV World: How did that scenario where Ed told the viewers to vote for you come about? Was it an extension of an earlier discussion in which you guys decided that he would be the one to go home [when] your team had fallen below the yellow line?
Heba: Yeah, I mean when it worked out that way... Like obviously if I had fallen below [the yellow line] with Vicky or Michelle it would have been more of a gamble. We knew that one of us was gonna be competing for the $250,000, and it didn't matter because we weren't there for a paycheck.
I was more there to prove that the biggest woman in the house can have the highest percentage and win the whole thing, and I proved that, just in a different way.
But my goal was to have the highest percentage, and I did. So I feel my goal was attained. I don't need the title. I mean, it's great, but I'm so happy to have been the biggest girl in the house... And I mean I beat all the men, all the women and I took home $100,000. I could not have asked for a better outcome.
Reality TV World: Okay, that was actually my next question. Clearly not making it to the Final 3 must have been disappointing, but it obviously was short lived as you took home the $100,000. How did that win feel?
Heba: It felt great. I felt like if people were trying to upset me by not voting me in than it was short-lived for them too if they were excited about it because... (Pauses) To me, what I wanted was highest percentage of weight loss.
That's what I wanted, to prove that [trainer Bob Harper] could do it, that Bob could beat [trainer Jillian Michaels], that Bob could have a win, that the biggest girl in the house could do it. And I did it. [My weight-loss percentage] was 46.94%, I was soaring above anyone.
For that I'm walking around with my head held high. I'm [also] the first at-home woman winner; I lost the most pounds of any woman in any season of The Biggest Loser. When I set my mind to something I do it, and some people perceive that as aggressive or whatever but I get my stuff done.
And I'm a good person at the same time, I mean I'm friends with every single person from the cast.
Reality TV World: How surprised were you when you won? Had you sized up the competition?
Heba: When I saw that [Amy Cremen] was at 45-something [percent] and she was in the lead I knew I had it because I knew in my worst-case-scenario that I would weigh in at about 46.25% so I knew I had crossed that threshold.
So I was excited, but you never know. You just wanna be sure that you see it and it's official because it is TV. So I was waiting for the actual number to pop up and when I knew it popped up and it's live I was like "Okay, they can't take it back. It's done."
Reality TV World: Who did you consider your biggest competition [at the live finale]?
Heba: Man... I guess Amy and [Phil Parham]. I mean they were like... I've never seen someone that skinny at a The Biggest Loser finale. I mean Amy's a size 2, so that was pretty impressive.
Reality TV World: Despite winning the $100,000, you had to be at least a little disappointed to know that you had a higher weight-loss percentage than Michelle and could've won the $250,000, no?
Heba: I don't think it's disappointment on my part. I'm happy, and I think that speaks volumes because I didn't win the title but I actually won the game.
I'd rather be in my shoes and know that I absolutely had the higher percentage and [that] I than would have won it [instead of knowing] that three people beat me.
It wasn't through any fault of my own, America wanted it that way. So I thank America for the $100,000, and I'm psyched about it. I mean we're getting phone calls left and right, I've never been complimented so much in my life and I'm so proud of what I've done. So it wasn't a bummer, [I was happy] and that's the real difference.
Reality TV World: Based on what viewers saw on the show, several of the other contestants felt you were a bit of a bully and thought that you would try to take charge of things. Do you think their perception of your behavior was accurate?
Heba: Some of the other contestants said that?
Reality TV World: Yeah.
Heba: I think that that's funny. I mean, I'm not a bully, but I guess I would say that if I was portrayed as a bully that Phil [made it look that way]. Phil's a good guy, but he wasn't really upfront. He was very underhanded with his gameplay and I was upfront about my [gameplay]. Nobody ever had to wonder about how I was feeling about them or where I was going with the game. I'm not sneaky; I'm pretty right up in your face about it. So, I'm not a bully. (Laughs) I bet none of them would've said that to me!
Reality TV World: Can you talk a little bit about [what happened at] that "in the dark" temptation challenge that led to the family teams being reassigned into the Black and Blue teams?
Heba: Sure! Actually Amy C. and I talked [before the challenge[ and she asked me to put her on Bob's team. So for all those people out there reading who just think I split [she and her mother Shellay Cremen] up, [Amy C.] asked me to bring her over. We talked about it, she didn't care if she was with her mom or not, which was what she said to me, so I was like "Okay."
My decision to move Phil at the time was purely [because] I felt like I couldn't trust him, and I was right because I read in a later interview that if they the opportunity to pick teams they would have kicked me off too.
I just felt like I needed to build a team where I could trust the people on it and have the numbers in my favor. At the end of the day it's a friggin' game! I wasn't there to make sure that everybody else got to stay and lose weight and win money. I mean, I just wasn't, and if people were there for that reason -- to be really nice -- and make sure that everybody else got to win than that's crazy.
Everyone was there playing a game. We all played it differently and... (pauses) That "in the dark" temptation was hilarious. I feel like someone's telling 'em to eat doughnuts... This is a discussion we all had, like "Can you do it and put the teams up?" I [said I would do it], but I was like "Okay, but if I'm doing it then why are you doing it too?" Like, I don't need to do it if you're gonna put the teams up.
It just didn't make sense to me, but... [Phil's] a good guy.
Reality TV World: And when it came to switching the teams, did you really think that now the competition was switching to Black and Blue teams, Jillian's teams were all going to want to be part of an all-girl Black team and let you keep the both of the competition's remaining men?
Heba: I mean, at first that's what everybody said they wanted, and then Amy C. kinda freaked out and was like "No, that's not what I want, because we're gonna be the underdogs."
I was like "Okay, so do you care if I split you up from your mom?" And she was like "No." So that was an easy decision and we [brought] her over and [moved] Phil over. To be honest, Jillian thought it was stupid that I did that because I gave them an advantage.
I mean, I felt like I was fair. I ate the doughnuts, if you wanted to do it yourself you should have eaten 20 brownies or 10 Reese's cups. When people complained about it I [was like] "Well, you didn't do it yourself." You either take charge, or you let life pass you by, and I'm just a take-charge kinda girl.
Reality TV World: Can you understand why some of the other contestants may have not liked your attempt to say that what you did [at the "in the dark" challenge] by picking the teams [was a "sacrifice"]?
Heba: No. But I didn't see anybody else getting up and doing anything about it. I thought Phil was trying to, but he was being so wishy-washy and couldn't make his mind up.
If you resent me or you wish that it had gone differently... (Pauses) Like, that [challenge] was in everyone's hands, the power was right there.
Reality TV World: During that exchange, you told Phil and Amy P that they were "screwing you." Don't you think you would have been doing the same to all the women on Jillian's team if your original plan had gone through?
Heba: Well, Phil and Amy were on my team. Michelle and Amy [and] a husband and wife were on the same team, and my point to them was why are you doing this behind my back if you guys just made a deal for me to eat the doughnuts and keep the teams the same? Because they both wanted to stay with Bob. So it made no sense to me why Phil was sneaking around.
But that started so, so long ago and so many things happened after that and it's like... It's not like it caused anybody's demise in the end. It was like "Whatever."
Reality TV World: When that challenge was done, Amy C -- the person you ended up swapping Phil for -- ended up being the one that voted off [Brady Vilcan], who had been one of your closest allies at the time. Given the benefit of hindsight, do you think sending Phil to the other team kinda came back to bite you a little bit because of that?
Heba: No. I mean I don't because if Phil was in there I wouldn't have won $100,000. I wouldn't change anything. I mean I have really close friends form this experience and I hope that you print that because I had a blast after the finale. I took pictures with everybody, hung out with everyone, hugged everyone, and was congratulated by everyone.
I wouldn't change one bit of it. Amy did a good thing by voting Brady out for her. I mean, it didn't affect me. It was sad to see Brady go, but I was also very good friends with Amy. So, you know, she was playing the game the bet way she knew how.
Reality TV World: You arguably had the most significant physical change out of any of the contestants...
Heba: Thank you!
Reality TV World: How have you had to adjust your life and daily activities with 138 less pounds on you?
Heba: Oh man!. I'll tell you what, I got back and I put on a little water weight from the traveling and like freaked out and my trainer was like "It's not fat, it's water," and I was like "Oh thank God!"
But, I mean I'm up at the gym first thing in the morning and I'm paying attention to every little thing that goes in my mouth. I'm starting to lay off the alcohol since we hadn't had anything to drink in eight months. I'm trying to ease back into the whole Christmas scene and celebrating with friends.
But I've worked really hard for my change, and I really wanna see it last a long time. I did this for life, I didn't do it for a prize or a title or a game. I wanted America's jaw to hit the floor when I walked out of that paper [at the finale], and I think I did a really good job.
Reality TV World: You had said a few times that you had wanted to show that, being the heaviest girl there, that you could [still] take off the weight. How did you sue being the heaviest woman on the show as motivation throughout your time there?
Heba: I mean, Bob always told me that I'm at my best when I have a point to prove, and I felt like I had a point to prove. I felt like, if I was going to be portrayed as somewhat aggressive, that I was gonna go home and kick butt. I let that drive me every single day, I can't have been, like, this fighter.
I fought to stay on there and I couldn't have just done it in vain. I had to prove that when I got back there on December 16 that I fought to stay there and I deserved to stay there, and [that] I deserved every bit of that applause as I bust through that paper as a finalist.
Even if it was only for like 10 minutes I was a finalist, it was okay.
Reality TV World: Do you have any plans for the money yet?
Heba: Um, you know, I think we're gonna save a lot of it because the economy's kind of [iffy]. Ed and I both quit our jobs when we got home from the ranch so we could workout full-time.
I think we are [also] gonna take a really good vacation and I think that's it. I mean we're savers, I don't want the money to be gone in a year so we're gonna see if we can make it work for us for a while
Reality TV World: You cited your desire to start a family as your reason for going on the show. Now that the finale is over where's that fitting in? Is that still your plan?
Heba: (Laughs) Um, everyone asks us that and Ed's like "We're having a lot of fun practicing!" and I'm like "Oh my God."
I think that, like I said, I wanted to get through one summer with my new body before I go ahead and stick a basketball under my t-shirt. So, I'm gonna try to spend the spring and the summer toning up a little, because I need to tone up some more, and hopefully we'll start trying in the fall, but I guess that depends on where life takes us.
But that is why we went, and I'm so happy that I can do it now and do it healthy. So we're excited.
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