Friends cheer on 'Biggest Loser' finalist

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The final minutes of last night's three-hour live finale of NBC's "The Biggest Loser" were a nail-biter for fans and supporters of Bethpage's Tara Costa. The former plus-size model-turned-reality star shed a whopping 155 pounds during the popular weight-loss reality show, but in the end, she was edged out by a Michigan homemaker for the title and $250,000 cash prize.

About 30 or so of Costa's neighbors, friends, a former teacher and classmates at Bethpage High School gathered at a viewing party at B.K. Sweeney's Parkside Tavern in Bethpage, where a dinner special - tossed salad topped with Cajun salmon - was named in her honor and multiple TVs were tuned to NBC.

>> Photos: Tara Costa on "The Biggest Loser: Couples"

>> Photos: Celebrities who have gained and lost weight

"Tara went to Bethpage High School, and this is a pretty tight-knit community," said B.K. Sweeney's co-owner John Coumatos, who went to school with Costa's uncle, Michael Zolnick. "It's nice when someone from Bethpage does good."

Friends and fans clapped and cheered at every flash of Costa or her mother Cheryl, also of Bethpage, in the studio audience. They used words like "bubbly," "determined," "smart" and "sweet" to describe Costa, 24, who played lacrosse and soccer in high school and graduated from New York University with honors.

"Tara is very competitive, goal-driven. I'm not surprised that she made it this far," said Lisa Buonagura, 25. "I'm very proud of her, and I expected nothing less."

Buonagura and friend Susan Hickey, 26, went to middle school and high school with Costa. Both teachers, they watched the show each week with Costa's mother. Disappointed that they were unable to join her at the live finale in California, they gathered with other friends at B.K. Sweeney's.

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Donna Weikman, Costa's former health teacher at Bethpage High School, said she was thrilled for all the contestants' physical transformations, especially her former student's. "I have to tell you, it's so amazing to watch," she said. "Tara was always a determined young lady in high school, but she's far surpassed any obstacle that was in her way."

Throughout the season, Costa was a stand out in the field of 22 competitors, who endured grueling workouts and weekly weigh-ins in their public pursuit of shedding pounds. Costa was a formidable contender, winning a dozen challenges that helped keep her safe from elimination.

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"She's been amazing," says Christine Frost, 25, of Bethpage. "I played sports with her in high school. She was tough."

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But the hometown favorite had some stiff competition from the other two finalists - Helen Phillips of Sterling, Mich., and 18-year-old Mike Morelli, of South Lyon, Mich.

More Costa fans and supporters arrived at B.K. Sweeney's during the finale's last hour - the place erupted in cheers and applause around 10:30 p.m., when she finally broke through the life-size image of her former, heavier self to reveal a new slimmer and shapely figure in a satiny green dress.

As the first of the final three stepped up for the last weigh-in, customers who had been chatting, watching sports or eating dinner gathered around the bar and turned their attention to show. When Costa's turn came, they cheered and chanted her name.

Though Costa shed a whopping 155 pounds, it wasn't enough to beat Phillips, who was declared the "The Biggest Loser" and $250,000 winner. The news was met with a smattering of claps, but many of Costa's friends and supporters sat stunned and stone-faced.

Tara Costa, 24, of Bethpage, was in the running for a $250,000 prize on "The Biggest Loser" finale. Photo Credit: NBC Photos

"Of course you want her to win the whole thing, you know?" said Erin Dodge, 23, of Plainedge. Costa may not have won the money, she added, "But she got back what money can't give her. She changed her life. That's what she wanted."

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>> Photos: Tara Costa on "The Biggest Loser: Couples"

>> Photos: Celebrities who have gained and lost weight

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