Body of Work, The Rest of the Cast
Used Corvettes, Spandex, and Strippers
by Bryan Krahn
In the first part of this article, Bryan began interviewing the original Body for Life winners from 10 years ago, all of whom appeared in the much applauded, much reviled quasi-documentary, Body of Work.
In part two, Bryan tracks down three more of the original ten, plus the much-featured "co-star" of the production, Ami Cusack.
At age 47, Porter Freeman, an affable and charming Southern gentleman, went from a 240-pound mess, with 27 percent body fat, to an athletic 187-pounder with 13 percent body fat. He became a spokesperson for EAS, and continued in that role after Phillips sold his company to Abbott Laboratories.
He's the author of Finally Fit at 50, which came out in 2005, and has another book in the works.
Testosterone: What do you do for Abbott?
Freeman: I'm what they call a "Body for Life Ambassador." I travel to different corporations and encourage a healthy lifestyle. The program is called "Changes that Last a Lifetime."
Testosterone: Speaking of which, have you been able to maintain your physique transformation?
Freeman: I was 187 pounds in my "after" shots. This morning I weighed in at 207. I feel like I'm in pretty doggone good shape for a guy pushing 60.
Testosterone: I understand you followed a bodybuilding-type program to get into shape?
Freeman: I did. I tell people that 75 percent of the credit for what I did should go to my trainer, Eric Shrieves.
Testosterone: Are you still following that kind of routine?
Freeman: I've slipped up a bit lately, as I'm overseas so much with my job. I also had a heck of a car accident a few years ago that really messed up my back.
Testosterone: Are you still leading a healthy life?
Freeman: I'm still active. At 49, I got through the police academy, and then at 55 I completed the sheriff's bike course in Jefferson County, Colorado. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. As for health, I just had a complete physical and all my numbers were excellent. I'm also real proud to say that I've been sober for 11 years.
Testosterone: Do you have any tips for someone who travels a lot but wants to get in shape?
Freeman: If you want something bad enough, you'll find a way. For example, I was in downtown Da Nang. Let me tell you, there are not a lot of gyms where a tourist can go train in Da Nang. So I ran the hotel stairs. I went to a park and did push ups and sit-ups and chin-ups on a tree. People started yelling at me to stop, [saying] I would get arrested. But you make do. You just get it done.
What I did at 47 years old, anybody can do it. Anybody can do better than what I did. Thanks to magazines like Testosterone [editor's note: yeah, he really did say that] and Men's Health, there's no reason people can't get and stay in shape.
It's decision and choice. Decide to get healthy, and then make the right choices.
When you watch Body of Work, it's really hard not to like New Yorker Anthony Ellis. His friendly, appealingly unaffected personality made him a hands-down fan favorite, and he was able to channel his 15 minutes of fame into a successful online training website. (At one point, he had more than 80,000 paid members.)
Anthony had also made a wicked transformation, going from 135 pounds and looking like J.J. Walker's little brother to a lean and solid 167 pounds. No surprise, then, that he was one of the three called out in the movie for suspicion of steroid use.
We reached Anthony in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
Testosterone: You gained 32 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks...
Ellis: I was actually up to 170 pounds, and I did it in 11 weeks.
Testosterone: You were accused of using steroids...
Ellis: That whole polygraph thing was messed up. I was freaking out the entire time they were testing me. They kept asking me my name over and over, to get a baseline read, and I was failing. I was even failing that question, my own name!
Bill told me a few months later that they had written that polygraph-failure scene into the script before any of us were even cast.
Testosterone: That's just so wrong. But you were clean?
Ellis: Totally. Man, I was paying huge rent for my apartment in the Village. Anybody from NYC knows what that's like. Plus, I was paying 100 bucks a box for Myoplex and eating like crazy. Even if I wanted stuff, there's no way I could've afforded it.
Plus, after I won, Bill had me tested a few more times.
Testosterone: Really? More polygraphs?
Ellis: No, urine tests. I had to travel across town to do them. I always came back clean.
Testosterone: Even if you had been using drugs, that was an impressive transformation. You were the classic ectomorph. How did you gain all that weight?
Ellis: First of all, I was far below my genetic limits. I was nowhere near a normal body weight. I was never a big eater, I was inconsistent, and when I did train, I overtrained. Once I started to force myself to eat every two hours and to train hard and brief, I grew.
Things slowed right down after that. The closer you get to your genetic limits, the slower it is. I mean, I'm 178 right now.
Testosterone: That's only a pound a year since your transformation.
Ellis: Right. I did get up to 190 at one point, but I felt too blocky. I find that the older you get, the easier it is to gain fat, not muscle.
Testosterone: Did you think any of your fellow competitors were on steroids?
Ellis: I don't know. Ralph [Zangara] was huge and veiny, and had the back acne and everything. I remember when he and Jeff were lifting I was like, "What am I doing here?" I felt like I was a mistake. [Zangara was one of three 1997 finalists I was unable to track down for this story.]
Testosterone: Speaking of mistakes, one of the weirdest scenes in Body of Work was when you and Bill went running through Manhattan. Bill was wearing...
Ellis: Tights and a fanny pack. In Midtown Manhattan. I remember people looking at him as he ran by. It was crazy.
Testosterone: But weren't you sporting some spandex in that workout scene? [In Body of Work, Phillips had the nine male contestants work out with him in the EAS gym.]
Ellis: There was a lot of spandex in that photo shoot. The stylist dressed us up for that — it wasn't my outfit. Bill actually had an entire closet of spandex and underwear.
Testosterone: He's a different kind of guy, isn't he?
Ellis: I sure wouldn't want to work for him. I remember he fired a lot of people. One day you were his right-hand man, the next day you're gone. He fired his assistant, David, like right out of the blue. One day I was like, "Hey, where's Dave?" He used to be the guy who handled all of our appointments and stuff. He was Bill's best friend, I thought. But Bill fired him. People were like, "Shhh, don't say his name. Bill fired him."
He used to fire people who walked by his office. You weren't allowed to walk by. And you never called him, you faxed him.
Testosterone: I know of a certain editor-in-chief who was relieved of his duties via the EAS fax machine.
Ellis: Yeah, but at the same time he was generous. Incredibly generous. And the way he was at the strip clubs, all the strippers knew him. They'd swarm him. He'd get all the girls into the back room, so there'd be none left dancing on the poles.
Testosterone: You still have that Corvette you won in the contest?
Ellis: No. Did I tell you it was a used Corvette? We all got used Corvettes as prizes. I don't think it was Bill's call, it just worked out that way. And I still had to pay title and taxes on mine, then find a place to park it... in Manhattan!
Testosterone: So, what have you learned about training or diet since then?
Ellis: I'm a big believer in what I call standing lifts — squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses. Big lifts that you do standing up. These are the most effective mass builders. I start [clients] off with just two or three standing lifts, three times a week, before moving into a basic upper/lower split.
Testosterone: What about body-part specialization routines?
Ellis: No! After the contest I tried a bunch of specialization routines to bring up my weak points, like calves. The bottom line is, your genetics are your genetics. An African-American like me can do calf raises forever and he's never going to get large calves. Increasing the work for an individual body part will not cause it to grow. The only way to grow is to gain more total body weight.
Testosterone: So a guy who wants bigger arms would be better off ditching the curls and just eating more?
Ellis: And doing a basic, heavy routine. Get in and get out. Thirty minutes, max.
Ellis: Overrated. People ask me, "If you don't do cardio, what do you do for your heart?" My answer is always, "Hello! Weight training works your heart! Besides, runners have heart attacks and high cholesterol too!"
I really like Alwyn Cosgrove's stuff on cardio. He's very smart. He tells it like it is, that it's all bullshit.
Testosterone: Any diet advice?
Ellis: Eat six, even seven meals a day, protein with every meal, but don't forget about sufficient carbs and fats as well. For really skinny guys, I start at their lean body weight times 18 for calories. Someone a little heavier, I might go lean weight times 15. From there it's all about making adjustments every two or three weeks. The important thing is to set a baseline and to step it up gradually.
But the best advice I have is just freaking do it and quit worrying about the small things. I had a kid the other day busting my chops about eating fructose. He was like, "But Anthony, I'm worried about eating fructose as it is most easily converted to fat ... " The dude was 110 pounds!
Another was concerned about whether the protein he was using had enough casein to have it at night. He hadn't even started training yet! I was like, "You don't need to freaking know everything. Just start!"
Bottom line for your readers: Everybody knows the basics, but not everybody does the basics. It's like climbing a mountain. You can study graphs and wind speeds and weather conditions all you want, but at some point you have to just start climbing.
Meredith Brown was the lone female finalist in the competition, having made an impressive transformation after the tragedy of losing a baby. She also lost her husband sometime after the challenge. He's ubiquitous in Meredith's early scenes in Body of Work, then disappears.
We reached Meredith at her home in California.
Testosterone: You lost 27 pounds in 12 weeks. Have you kept it off?
Brown: For the most part, yes. I've remarried, and my husband, Richard Longwith, is a bodybuilder. He's actually Shawn Ray's training partner. So I still follow the lifestyle to a degree.
Testosterone: So you're still in shape?
Brown: I think so. I mean, we still visit the Playboy mansion regularly, so I have to stay fit.
Testosterone: Is it hard to maintain your winning physique 10 years later?
Brown: No, once you're in shape and have the know-how, maintaining is relatively easy.
Testosterone: Do you train clients?
Brown: I was a trainer with my own studio for a while, but I got out of it to spend more time with my four kids and my horses. But with the economy the way it is lately, I may get back into training people again.
Testosterone: With your marriage to a bodybuilder, has your approach evolved at all?
Brown: It's much more bodybuilder-like now, especially the diet. I train four days a week. Chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and abs, and legs. Diet is five to six small meals a day, with protein at every meal. Chicken and rice, ground beef and rice. That kind of thing.
Testosterone: What else have you learned since your transformation?
Brown: When I was a trainer, I quickly realized that women who wanted to get in shape always made the same mistakes. First is not eating enough, especially not enough protein. They also eat way too much fruit.
Testosterone: What about exercise?
Brown: Women need to train heavier, and do a lot less cardio. For a woman looking to lose fat, I recommend just 20 minutes of cardio, three days a week, and only increase it if the body adapts.
Testosterone: Any other tips?
Brown: They need to have patience. It takes a good three months to make a lasting change. When I was a trainer, I wouldn't even take on a client unless they agreed to sign up for at least 12 weeks.
Testosterone: Ever hear from Bill Phillips?
Testosterone: Any stories you'd care to share?
Brown: (pauses) No. I'm not going there. What magazine is this for again?
Testosterone: Testosterone Muscle.
Brown: What photographers work for you guys?
Testosterone: I don't know. I don't think we have any.
Testosterone: Well, thanks.
Brown: Sure, no problem.
We could've left it right there, having tracked down seven of the original 10 Grand Champions, most of whom were happy to chat with me about their experiences at the front end of the physique-transformation craze.
There's a lot to learn from this group. Although their training methods differ — high volume, low volume, and everything in between — they all make the case for training with a clear purpose, serious intensity, and carefully monitored progression.
The diet advice is similarly diverse — from low-fat to low-carb — but there's a common thread: clean food, small meals including protein, lots of water. Even the ones who suffered setbacks to their training were able to stay lean by paying careful attention to what they ate, and how they ate it.
But it still feels incomplete without an update on Ami Cusack, the EAS employee whom the camera loves but the viewers of Body of Work never actually get to know.
Ami, the young Bill Phillips' even younger girlfriend (she was 19 when she started working for him), was a mainstay in the pages of Muscle Media 2000 in the 1990s. At the time of Body of Work, her official title was "charitable director." Just two years later, when Phillips sold the company, her official title was "unemployed."
Since then, she did two stints on CBS' Survivor (where she was identified as a lesbian) and a spread in Playboy, and for the past six years has manned the morning rush at a downtown Denver coffee shop called Common Ground. She's also a nanny to a seven-year-old she says she adores.
I caught up with Ami, who's now 35, on her lunch break, and chatted with her about Body of Work, reality TV, sexuality, and the man (yes, man) of her dreams.
Ami Cusack now.
Ami Cusack, then.
Testosterone: How did you meet Bill Phillips?
Cusack: I met him when I was 16. I was working at a pack-and-ship company, and Bill used to come in and send out packages for a clothing business he had. I knew his mother before I met him, and one day she introduced us.
Testosterone: Because you know TC, I have to ask this, and please don't get offended: Is it true you were an exotic dancer when you met Bill?
Cusack: Yes, I was a stripper for like five months when I was 19. It figures TC would remember that.
Testosterone: He never forgets the really important stuff. Back to EAS. In Body of Work, you seem like an integral part of the operation.
Cusack: I started out just answering the phones and taking orders, and by the time Bill sold the company I was the company's charitable director.
Testosterone: Looking back at Body of Work, it seemed to be the beginning of the reality-TV phenomenon. Did making that movie help prepare you for Survivor?
Cusack: In a way, it did. When we were making Body of Work, there were cameras following us all the time. It taught me to always be "on," and to be comfortable in front of the camera. But with Survivor, your first priority is finding food and water. So it's much, much harder.
Testosterone: You come across as very sweet and sincere in Body of Work, which isn't how most would describe your persona in Survivor. Were you just playing the role of "nice young woman" in Body of Work?
Cusack: No, it's just that I was so young back then.
Testosterone: Speaking of role-playing, several of the 1997 finalists told me they suspect the whole "failed polygraph graph" subplot was part of a script. Was it?
Cusack: I don't think so. I remember when we were filming that part, Billy used to come home at night really frustrated. He was like, "I don't know what to do about this."
Testosterone: So you and Bill were still together during the filming? The movie doesn't mention that.
Cusack: We had broken up by then. I still worked for Bill for a few years after we broke up.
Testosterone: One of the competitors I interviewed mentioned a possible fling between you and another competitor. He said it really ticked Bill off. True?
Cusack: (laughing) Not true!
Testosterone: When did you do the shots for Playboy?
Cusack: After I left EAS. I was 25 at the time, I think. We shot in St. Thomas, in the Caribbean. I'm moving there in January, by the way, with my boyfriend. I'm studying to become a midwife at the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. It's a two-year program.
Testosterone: You did say "boyfriend," right?
Cusack: What can I say? I met the man of my dreams. His name is Colin, he's from Colorado, and I fell in love with him the very first day I met him.
Testosterone: But in Survivor, CBS always made such a big deal about you being gay.
Cusack: I'm not gay. I never was gay. I'm just very openhearted. I was very much in love with Crissy [her girlfriend at the time she shot Survivor: Vanatu], but things just didn't work out between us. I still love her, and she's my closest friend today.
Testosterone: Did you ever think that Bill Phillips was the man of your dreams?
Cusack: I think so. Again, I was so young. I guess I thought we were closer than we actually were. Bill was with other women while we were together and, well, that's just not me. I'm a one-on-one kind of girl.
Testosterone: Do you blame him for your breakup?
Cusack: No, because I realize that he never had any role models for a successful, loving relationship. My parents have been together for 42 years. They still kiss under the mistletoe.
Testosterone: Any final thoughts on Body of Work?
Cusack: I have a lot of respect for Billy, for what he tried to accomplish with that movie. He really wanted people to unlock their potential and take control of their lives.
Now it feels complete.
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