Welcome to another season of The Biggest Loser, where the routine contempt America has for fat people is combined with the ritual humiliation aspect of the reality show. Now that’s empowerment!
This recap is heavy on spoilers.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. My sister works with eating-disorder patients, and she says this is a show her clients actually like, because it does show real-world things you can do to lose weight. Plus, it doesn’t resort to the sort of casual mutilation of horrifying reality surgery-fests like The Swan or Extreme Makeover. So that’s something.
And these are all people who need to lose weight for health reasons, not so they can look more Olsen-esque. They have compelling reasons to be there — a kid who said I don’t want you to die, mommy; a woman whose doctor said her weight was sending her liver out of whack; a 25-year-old man who has the disease of a man twice his age. And they share stories of the habitual public disgrace that comes from being overweight in America — the woman who remembers the first time a boy called her a fat pig, the wife who can’t go to her husband’s Christmas party because she’s ashamed that she looks so different from her wedding picture; the guy who’s much-thinner wife has people thinking they must be brother and sister, because no way would a skinny chick be with a fat guy.
And you know what? It sucks, and they’re getting choked up sharing their stories, and I’m getting choked up listening to them, and sure, I guess this is effective television, but it just feels too much like NBC is inviting up to look at the freaks like it’s some sort of side show. And I can’t help but think that if weight in this country was treated more like a medical issue than evidence of personal failure, maybe some of these people on screen, and a lot of us people watching, wouldn’t be in such a crappy place right now. It’s great that the show is helping these people lose weight ,and is inspiring others to do the same, but there’s as much a cultural problem with the way this country looks at weight and body image and obesity as there is a problem with some folks who have "let themselves go."
Hoo boy, my soapbox is going to get some work as I cover this show. Well, at least climbing on and off that thing counts as step training.
Anyway, they metaphorically drop our competitors in the Mojave desert (the better for us to watch sweaty rolls of flesh) and then literally drop the trainers out of a plane, sending them sky-diving to the desert floor. Sure, why not. Then they have our competitors race through the desert to secure their spot on the program, because this year, they say, six people are being eliminated on the spot. Nice.
Much to everyone’s surprise, 62-year-old Jerry wins the race. He’s the oldest competitor who has ever been on the show. Congratulations, Jerry, that’s awesome, and now you’re leader of the Blue Team. Phil, a 27-year-old ex-football player, comes in second and will lead the Red Team. Everyone else gets over the line with varying degrees of struggle -running on loose sand is damn hard no matter how much you weigh.
It comes time to pick the teams, and I hate this. Why oh why are you lining a bunch of people up and making them wait to see who will be picked for the team? Because you know just about all of them are having sweaty flashbacks to grade school right now. It hurts to watch.
The teams assemble: Jerry picks Kai, Neil, Patty, Nicole and Ryan for the Blue Team, and they’ll be training with Bob. Phil picks Bryan, Amber, Amy, David and Lezlye for the Red Team — they’ll be training with Kim. That leaves Hollie, Julie, Isabeau, Jim, Jez and Bill, standing on the pavement, waving goodbye, feeling crushed — "like the fat kid at camp," one says. Well yeah.
But hark! Who’s this tearing through the desert on a wicked motorcycle? Who could this skinny savior be? Why, it’s Jillian, a trainer from the past, here to swoop in and take over the rejected six as the Black Team. She gloats that they’ll train in secret and come back to kick some ass, taking on the chosen ones in a battle to the bone. They’re saved!
Oh, I hated that. Hated it. Sure, I get that sometimes, spite is a powerful motivator. There’s something ever so satisfying about being able to return and show off to those who you think have wronged you — heck, that’s what the high school reunion is all about for a substantial portion of the world. But did these people really need to be more crushed, more disappointed, before they were built back up? Did they really need the additional heartbreak? Feh.
On the upside, the rogue black team apparently experienced enough public humiliation for one two-hour show — we don’t get to see their weigh-in. That’s something the Red and Blue Teams get to share with us, and everyone is duly chastened and vows to do well. Because it’s not fun if your shame isn’t public, right, America?
And now we get to the training montages, with each trainer putting their players through their paces. There’s treadmills and weights and running and pushups and dragging and throwing and all sorts of things that make my abs ache on principle, and I’m sitting on the couch. It’s brutal.
And then there’s the food bit — which is all pretty common sense. Bob tells his team to eat carbs in the morning and protein later in the day, and one of his team asks how to identify protein. "Anything that had a mother," Bob replies. Ah yes, how I love going to the petting zoo and watching those adorable shaky-legged blocks of tofu snuggle up to their mothers, and the flocks of beans waddling after their moms. It’s touching.
Oh, and don’t forget the spectacle of confronting contestants with their sins. Everyone is led out to a table covered with food. I hear people say "Disgusting!" and "Oh, gross!" but who are they kidding — it was all food everyone loves. We’re talking cheese curls and donuts and ice cream and hot dogs and chicken wings and basically everything yummy but bad for you that can be bought in this country. Granted, the quantities were daunting — no one should eat a gallon of ice cream in one sitting (although I firmly believe that the serving size of Ben and Jerry’s should be a pint) — but the food itself? Yummy. You can retrain your taste buds to prefer apples to sugar bombs. You can’t do it in a week. Oh, and I notice no brand names are used to identify these nasty, nasty things no one in their right mind should ever, ever let past their lips. Not like the product-placed gum that Bob touted earlier in the program. Funny, that.
Here’s where I run into the other problem I’m going to have recapping this show, besides my philosophical rants and my urge to form a movement for culture change that will storm the ramparts of skinny disdain: Every other sentence out of peoples’ mouths could be a weight pun. It’s all "going with your gut," and "weighing the options" and "revenge is sweet." Seriously, guys, stop it.
More exercising, more trainers trying to talk motivation. Amber, who was the last woman over the finish line in the desert, whimpers that she wants to go home. Kim tells her she really doesn’t, and Amber eventually finishes the challenges. But everyone on the team heard her, and I’m guessing Amber isn’t long for this show.
Now it’s time for the obligatory bizarre challenge — the two teams shipped out to an airport, where they are confronted with suitcases that add up to the weight they want to lose. Their challenge is to race these suitcases down the runway, load them on a plane — and then pull the plane to the finish line. (I must ask my sister if this qualifies as one of the "real things people can do to lose weight.") The winning team gets to read letters from home. The losing team gets to look at the letters, but not read them. Lezlye, a Katrina survivor who apparently lost her will to spell in the storm (seriously — what the hell is wrong with "Leslie"?) has a 15-year-old son at home, and she’s jonesin’ for news, so she wants her team to win the challenge. Lucky for her, they do, and she gets word from her boy. The Blue team looks longingly at the letters in their glass case. Nice.
Finally, we’ve got the weigh-in. Well, first, there’s the last-minute workout, and the only thing they’re doing right then is sweating a bucket to maybe reduce their water weight right before they jump on the scale. Oh, and Patty pukes, which makes Bob proud. She was "pukin’ like a man," he said. Because ladies don’t puke, they delicately expectorate pre-consumed comestibles.
Weigh-in time, and it is, as I would expect, drawn out for dramatic effect. (Thank god they don’t do this in Weight Watchers.) Everyone lost, unsurprisingly. The most weight lost was 31 pounds — that honor went to Jerry. The oldest competitor ever on the show lost the most weight in a single week ever on the show.
The Red Team loses a total of 87 pounds, or 4.43 percent of their total team weight. The Blue team loses a total of 109 pounds, or 5.81 percent of the total team weight.
That means it’s recrimination — oops, sorry, I meant "elimination" — time for the Red Team. As expected, Amber gets booted, pretty much unanimously (we didn’t even get to the last vote.) Bye, Amber. And yes, when voting her off, Lezlye really did say she thought Amber had a "great personality." That, my friend, is what’s called rubbing salt in the wounds.
Here’s the thing: Under no normal circumstances is it healthy to lose 31 pounds in a week. I hope to god no one watching this is disappointed if they don’t lose 31 pounds in a week. People were disappointed to lose "only" 10 pounds, 9 pounds, 8 pounds in a week. Amber, who was booted, lost a "mere" 7 pounds. Just for reference, the normal healthy way to lose weight is one to two pounds a week. I guess that doesn’t make good television.
Next week, the bad-ass Black Team comes back to wreak their revenge. Now if you’ll excuse me — for all my talk about wanting to change the culture, I have this strange urge to go do some sit-ups.