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Tirade on The Biggest Loser

Another favorite from my MP3 workout list:

 

PREFACE:  To the question often posed to me, what do you think of The Biggest Loser, here is my reply, no holds barred. 

My brother, who also has had his struggles losing weight, once tried out for The Biggest Loser.  He flew from Phoenix to Cleveland to talk to the producers.  He stood in line for hours in the rainy cold, just to talk to someone for thirty seconds. 

That’s about as close as I want to get to The Biggest Loser.  I am not a fan of the show at all, and now that I’m losing my own weight, it outright pisses me off.  My girls like the show, they watch it and root for certain contestants, just like they do other “reality-based” shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and The Amazing Race.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole genre of reality TV, maybe that colors my view of the show, but the more I learn of it, the more it just irks me.

My irritation over the show comes from three basic premises:

 Obese contestants risk their health trying to win a prize.  Those who compete in the show are not necessarily doing so for the sake of their health.  They are in it for the quarter-million-dollar prize, and they prove, just as contestants in many other such shows, they are willing to lessen their dignity to do so.  Stories abound as to what participants have done to lose weight to win immunity or privileges or to just stay in the game; in one notable case, a contestant purposely dehydrated himself to the point of forcing himself to urinate blood.  Were this about the promotion of a healthier lifestyle, these contestants wouldn’t be taking the risks they take.  It’s obscene.  People are, of course, of free will and can make their own choices, but why would you be so willing to demean yourself to these levels before a national audience of millions?  The answer, of course, is that they’re selling out for the money, and that inherently corrupts the show.

“I will motivate you, Private Pyle, if it shortdicks every cannibal on the Congo!”

Obese contestants who do not lose weight fast enough are scolded, berated, criticized, and eventually asked to leave.  The trainers will tell you they’re hard on the contestants because they care too much.  Garbage.  Many of these participants are well over 400 pounds and haven’t exercised in years, yet the expectation is for them to live in a boot camp atmosphere, work out for six hours a day, have their caloric intakes drastically reduced, and to put up with egotistical trainers berating them constantly.  If I want to see a drill instructor demean his underlings, I’ll rent Full Metal Jacket and laugh my ass off at how Sgt. Hartman goads Pyle through basic (“If God wanted you up there, he would have miracled your ass up there.”  Pure Shakespeare. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OZS6wem7OQ).  Ultimately, for all the chastisement they go through, all their hard work, all their sweat and tears, almost all of them will leave a loser in the eyes of the show’s powers that be, scolded for not losing enough to satisfy them (although, in most cases, they will have lost well over the one-to-two pounds every doctor will tell you is more than adequate for a week’s worth of safe, controlled weight loss), and brokenhearted that their Herculean efforts were not enough to keep them on. 

Obese contestants who can lose weight quickly and remain on the show are setting a standard that is dangerous and unrealistic for average people with real lives.  The record for weight loss in one week is FORTY-ONE POUNDS!  You can look it up.  That’s insane.  Numbers like that are deranged.  Unfortunately, that’s what the show is all about.  It’s freakish, and you wonder how there hasn’t been a heart attack yet on the show.  I think I’ve lost six pounds one week, most weeks I lose two pounds.  I can’t even wrap my mind around 41 pounds.  Many contestants lose well over a hundred pounds over the course of a season, and while I commend them on their efforts, the fact they’re pushed to that level, whether it’s in the healthy spirit of competition or the sordid compulsion to win a challenge, should be criminal.  We send people to war crime tribunals for that level of torture.  It is inhuman, and if anyone thinks they too can lose that kind of weight with simple hard work and smart dieting, they need their heads examined.

The criticism concerning the show’s methodology is all over the Net, just Google “biggest loser criticism” and you’ll find plenty.  They’ll all say the same things, that it sets unrealistic expectations, that it pushes morbidly obese people too hard and too fast, that the trainers are suspect, and that it’s just a matter of time before someone drops from a heart attack.  From everything I’ve read, about half the contestants manage to keep their weight off, but the other half gain back either a good chunk or all their weight.  Yes, the show beats into the viewer the message that, with a good diet, a sane exercise plan, and a lot of determination, you too can lose your weight and become a new person; the message, however, doesn’t completely mesh with the product. 

The producers of the show try to have it both ways.  On one hand, it’s television, nothing is real, viewers should not expect to replicate what they see, ultimately it’s all about entertainment and ratings, and apparently the show gets both, which is all that matters.  On the other hand, they’ll say they’re pushing weight loss into the sphere of reality TV, primetime, inspiring people, and that can’t help but be a very good thing.  That’s disingenuous.  In both arguments, the producers are trying to validate questionable weight loss techniques with ratings.  The ends justify the means.  Worse, you can’t talk about the cynical nature of show business and the virtue of pimping a healthy lifestyle at the same time, because there’s a degree of contradiction; if it’s just another form of entertainment, there’s no virtue in and of itself, and vice versa, if this were about motivating viewers to get off their duffs and start their own weight loss regimens, it would be done in a more professional manner, without the anything-goes attitude the trainers and contestants employ, the very attitude that makes for popular reality TV shows. 

This is my opinion, you may and probably will disagree with this, but the show is an exercise in voyeurism, no better than that.  It’s a chance for people to watch morbidly obese people work their tails off, starve themselves, and break off little pieces of their souls, for the sake of winning challenges and, for just one, the grand prize.  Viewers never have to leave the couch.  Perhaps there’s a touch of schadenfreude thrown in there as well.  Gee, I’m glad I’m not obese like those poor fools, those workouts look hard, I think I’ll have another beer.  You can root for your favorites and become as emotionally involved as you care to be, without feeling an ounce of the strain and fatigue and inner struggle your contestant of choice feels on a minute-to-minute basis.  That’s the essence of voyeurism, to watch the travails of others without ever having to consider going through them yourself, to peek through the window while remaining anonymous, to be just involved enough to care until the next show comes on. 

I’m not saying no one has ever been motivated by the show, and I’m not saying the trainers haven’t helped people lose weight.  I just don’t find it entertaining on any level, and as someone who has been battling his own weight problems since he was a teenager, I find it insulting to my intelligence.  The show is not about losing weight; it is the same theme many reality TV shows employ:  What are you willing to do to sell out for a shitload of money?  How much dignity are you willing to sacrifice to be on national TV?  How much is your soul worth to you?  What is the silliest, most thoughtless and ridiculous thing the creators of the show can get you to do in front of an audience of millions?  That’s the crux of the entire genre.  The Biggest Loser is not only all too typical, it’s setting the standard.  It becomes all the more appalling by hiding behind the façade of healthy living and weight loss, and it’s in this where I get insulted. 

Everybody wants to lose weight fast, and most are willing to put in hard work to do so if the duration isn’t too long.  The Biggest Loser feeds on that core desire and has gained a sizable audience from it.  That’s the most cruel part of the show, that contestants are either so desperate to lose weight or so desperate for a big payday (I’m inclined to think the latter) that they’ll allow themselves to go through virtual medieval torture to keep themselves in the game.  It plays on the contestants’ fears, and it placates the viewers’ voyeuristic urges.  It might make for popular television in the early 21st century, but that doesn’t legitimize the product at all.  The ends do not justify the means. 

POSTSCRIPT:  ABC’s Extreme Makeover:  Weight Loss Edition may have gotten right what NBC’s The Biggest Loser got wrong in that it is not competitive (only one participant per episode), the training is over an entire year instead of crammed into 12 to 16 weeks, and the grand prize is a rejuvenated life, not just a big bag of cash.  The first season’s participants were apparently all rejects from The Biggest Loser in that they were too heavy, some over 600 pounds.  Like other editions of EM, it’s about transforming human beings, not the rivalries and personality conflicts that have become staples in the reality TV format.  It’s not criticism-free, it still has the foibles of the genre, and it’s still voyeurism, but it’s more honest and personal, or about as honest and personal as a TV show can get.  If you liked the other EM’s, you’ll like this one too, and I’m betting you’ll give up The Biggest Loser altogether. 

 

Tip #3:  Know how much water you have to drink.  Even if you’re not following a strict diet plan, it is imperative to drink your water.  Every cell in your body needs water.  Not only do you need to stay hydrated, but by drinking your water, you help move the bad stuff out of you more fluidly; the toxins in your skin come out in your sweat, the crap in your blood is thinned out, and your bodily waste moves through you so much more easily.  How much should you drink?  The rule of thumb I always go by is, take your weight, cut it in half, and that’s how many ounces you should drink.  32 ounces make a quart, 128 make a gallon.  If you’re 250 pounds or over, just assume you should drink at least a gallon a day. 

Alive Once Again!

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