Domenico Brugellis marked his daughter’s first day of kindergarten in September 2018 by posing in a photo with her outside Willow Road School. But when he saw how he looked in the picture, he knew he needed to make a change.
He weighed nearly 400 pounds at the time, and joined a kickboxing gym in East Meadow shortly afterward. By June, he had lost several pounds at the gym, when he saw that “The Biggest Loser” was returning to television after nine years, on the USA Network. The show, which originally aired on NBC, challenges a dozen contestants to lose weight, and the person who loses the highest percentage relative to his or her initial weight by the end of the season walks away with $100,000.
“I’ve always loved the show,” said Brugellis, who grew up and currently lives in Elmont.
He applied to be a contestant, and received a call from a casting director a day later, letting him know that he would have to undergo a series of medical exams before he would be allowed to compete. Brugellis agreed, and on Aug. 14, he learned he would be on the show.
“It was a long process,” said Brugellis, who is now 35, “but it was a good process.”
That wasn’t the first time he auditioned for the show, however. In 2011, he and his significant other at the time applied to be on the show, and the casting directors seemed interested in having him appear, he recounted, but his former partner, whom he identified only as the mother of his daughter, was a private person who did not want her life detailed on national television.
So, Brugellis said, when he found out “The Biggest Loser” was being rebooted, “I felt like this was the perfect time for me.”
He had struggled with obesity his entire life, he explained, describing how the Sunday feasts that his large Italian family prepared every Sunday were a cornerstone of his childhood. He tried various diets, he said, and even attended Camp Shane, an upstate weight-loss camp, when he was 15. “I lost a lot of weight, but then I put it back,” Brugellis said of his time at the camp, noting that he “just went back” to his old lifestyle of binge-eating once he returned home.
From there, he continued to struggle, as he went on to become a sous chef at Volpe in Westbury, and the owner and manager of George’s Place in Hicksville. Last spring, he accepted a job as a food manager with the New York City Department of Education, but decided to quit to pursue his dream of being on “The Biggest Loser.”
“I wanted this opportunity so badly,” he said, “so nothing was going to get in my way.”
The USA Network flew him and 11 other contestants to Santa Fe, N.M., in October, where they took part in strength-building and high-intensity cardio exercises, planned their meals and met with a therapist off-camera. “They really want you to be successful after the show,” Brugellis said of the producers and cast. “It’s really about making a lifestyle change.”
In the first episode, which aired on Jan. 28, Brugellis discovered that he was pre-diabetic, but host Bob Harper gave him hope by telling him that he could beat the diagnosis by working hard.
And he did. He ran a mile in 18 minutes and 53 seconds, and did several rotations on various exercise equipment. Brugellis seemed out of breath at times, telling coach Erica Lugo that he had a cramp and couldn’t breathe. Lugo shot back that he was just giving her excuses.
“I’m a little bit scared of Erica,” Brugellis said in a confessional on the show, “but I need her. I need somebody like that to push me.”
“I’ve quit everything I’ve ever done in my life,” he added, “except culinary school, but that’s because it involved food.”
By the end of the premiere episode, Brugellis had lost 14 pounds, or 4.3 percent of his body weight.
“That number is great,” he said, “but I want to do better.”
To follow Brugellis’s weight-loss journey, watch “The Biggest Loser” on Tuesdays on the USA Network.