In a game of inches and (of course) pounds, Bethpage native and the surest of sure bets on this season's NBC hit reality show, " The Biggest Loser: Couples" didn't lose quite enough last night.

Tara Costa, 23, who spent the past eight months of her life sweating off 135 pounds -- a regular season record for a woman -- needed to shed a total of 160 pounds to win the $250,000.

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

>> Photos: Celebrities who have gained and lost weight

Instead: She lost 155 pounds off her original weight of 294. So the winner of the seventh season is Helen Phillips of Sterling Heights, Mich., who lost 140 pounds off her original weight of 257, meaning she had a higher weight loss percentage than Costa. In third place was Mike Morelli, the show's youngest competitor ever, who started at 388 and lost 207 pounds.

A disappointment for Costa? What else? An NYU grad and former plus-size model who's been employed as an analyst for L'Oreal in New York, she returned from the so-called "ranch" weeks ago to continue her weight loss regimen, which involved (among other things) endless hours on the treadmill, giving her time to develop her own karmic brand of what goes around-comes-around: "Sometimes," she said in one chat with Newsday a couple of months ago, "you [have] to allow yourself to be weak because you'll become stronger in those moments of weakness." Time to think about friends, too: "I know I have my friends," she said last night. "I love you all and thank you for being with me."

A couple of dozen friends gathered at B.K. Sweeney's Parkside Tavern on Broadway in Bethpage, including Lisa Buonagura, who couldn't leave work to attend the finale in California; she and a friend "watch with her mom every week."

Another pal, Christine Frost, said, "She's been amazing, and an inspiration to everyone."

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And still is.

Meanwhile, Jerry Hayes won the show's at-home prize of $100,000.


Staff writer Pat Burson contributed to this story.

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

>> Photos: Celebrities who have gained and lost weight