Trae Patton/NBC(2)
Jessica Herndon
October 05, 2010 02:05 PM

What began as two buddies encouraging one another to drop excess pounds has blossomed into a budding romance.

“Koli and I are dating now,” says Biggest Loser season 9 runner-up Ashley Johnston, 29, of her beau Koli Palu, 30. “Being on the show together you see the good, the bad and the ugly. We saw each other at our worse. I think it made us even closer.”

As the season came to an end Johnston slimmed down from 347 lbs. to 191 lbs., losing 183 lbs. in the process. And Palu dropped from 403 lbs. to 188 lbs.

And just like their weight loss, keeping their long-distance relationship alive takes work. (The Biggest Loser airs Tuesday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.)

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She lives in Tennessee, while he’s in California, and Johnston admits the space between them makes things hard, “but we get to see each other all the time. We’re constantly talking on the phone,” she says. “We Skype and we always book stuff together, like expos.”

Having already discussed relocating to be together, Johnston says she’ll probably be the one to make the move. “I don’t think he has a desire to move to Tennessee,” she says. “But I’ve been to San Francisco and I love it.”

No matter the area code the couple have vowed to stay fit.

“I’m still doing Jillian’s DVDs,” says Johnston. “My advice to the new contestants is take this one opportunity and only focus on you. It’s the only chance you will get because once you get home it’s back to real life again.”

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