February 16, 2004 12:00 PM

For Average Joe: Hawaii‘s Sean Pashley, the reality of his way-above-average size hit home during the third week of taping last summer. As he and his rivals for the affections of Larissa Meek prepped for a mini-triathlon, the producers cautioned the 320-lb. chef to drop out the moment he felt any chest pain. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m 25 years old and these people are wondering if I’m going to have a heart attack,'” says Pashley. In fact, he was awarded the date simply because he finished. But once he eased into a hot tub with her, he was so ashamed of his body that he didn’t try to kiss her. And while Meek won’t say that weight was a factor in eliminating him in episode 5, “you want someone who’s comfortable,” she says. “I felt he was holding back.”

That missed opportunity unleashed the dieter within. “I told myself, You’re an idiot if you don’t get in shape,” says Pashley, a former athlete who had let restaurant work ruin his eating habits. “When I got booted, I wasn’t mad. I was ready to go home to Philadelphia and become healthy.” Six months later he has dropped 70 lbs. and hopes to lose another 30. “I lost 12 in. off my waist,” says Pashley, who began running three miles a day, hired a trainer and reformed his diet (yes to skinless chicken, no to dessert). The only things he hungers for now are a girlfriend, of course, and more time in the limelight with his new physique: “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an Average Joe [sequel] and I came in as the spoiler?”

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