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Shannan Ponton. Picture: Supplied

Ararat used to be worth its weight in gold; now it has a reputation for being overweight. The former Victorian gold-mining town has the none-too-flattering reputation of being one of Australia's fattest - leading to the derogatory nickname "Fatarat" - with 68 per cent of its population overweight or obese.

It also leads the nation in heart disease, stroke and diabetes, no doubt a by-product of the town's annual expenditure on junk food - $19 million or $1700 per person.

These are some of the statistics contained in a town dossier read by trainers Shannan Ponton and Steve "The Commando" Willis as they travelled by train to Ararat last year for the opening episode of the new season.

Ponton, Willis and Michelle Bridges have changed the lives of overweight singles, couples, parents, children and whole families in previous seasons of The Biggest Loser Australia but, in a world first for the reality franchise, they are trying to help an entire town transform in season nine, The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia.

"Stevie and I rolled into Ararat and the main street and went, 'Here we are, how the hell do we do this'," Ponton said by phone from Sydney.

"To tell the truth it wasn't a universal nod of acceptance, there were a couple of people who were a little bit put off by us turning up trying to make a difference in their town.

"It was pretty confronting the first few days; in a town where 150kg is not that big a man, people get comfortable and I think us going there to start with was a really big shock."

The next shock came at the town meeting where 1200 people turned up to hear the bad news on obesity from Dr Norman Swan and see a dump truck offload eight tonnes of fat - the town's monthly fat consumption.

Then came more bad news after a town weigh in calculated the population tipped the scales at around 900,000kg and needed to lose 26,000kg to get below the national average.

For the first time the trainers were part of the contestant selection process.

"This time it was up to us; we were there and had to listen to, for want of a better word, their sob stories," Ponton said.

"For so many of them it is so real; the contributing factor for being obese is not simply sitting down and eating too much, that is just the physical side of it.

"To hear their emotional stories and hear them pouring their hearts out to us; hundreds and hundreds of people came through. It was absolutely exhausting.

"It breaks your heart to hear young girls saying, 'I have been abused and I know now if I am walking down the street and am with three girlfriends, I know if I am the heaviest and ugliest I have the least likelihood of being touched'.

"These are people who have learned from life experiences and have put these defence mechanisms in quite often as a safety blanket to wrap themselves up in and protect them from the unwanted dangers of life and unwanted attention."

What Ponton wasn't prepared for was the level of resistance they met from the 14 contestants selected to travel to the Biggest Loser house in Dural in NSW to become the town champions.

"The hardest thing with this bunch is they all know each other," said the show's most successful trainer, having mentored four winners, including the winning family in season six to Bridges' one, Willis' two and former trainer Tiffiny Hall's one (she had the biggest individual loser in families season six).

"It's a country town with 7000 people and 4000 in the surrounding area.

"For us, usually the best way to get results is to divide and conquer but for them there was a unified front against the trainers.

"We'd turn up with the best intentions to rip into it and were met with a unified front of belligerence almost, I guess, which we have never had before."

With contestants continuing to tip the scales at unhealthy weights, does it bother Ponton that perhaps The Biggest Loser message is not getting through?

"It's not disheartening," he said.

"Fitness is my baby; I don't judge other people. If they are happy overweight, good on them.

"But in almost 10 years on the show I have learned one thing; I don't believe there is such a thing as a happy fat chick or a happy fat bloke.

"I have seen the other side, I know people protest vehemently they are a happy fat chick or a happy fat bloke and I see them when their bodies are transformed and their lives are transformed and they are truly happy.

"That's when I get to see people truly happy in their souls."