Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What the Biggest Loser Taught Me About Myself

Reality television is one of those genres that people seem to have a great divide over.  You either love watching it, or you hate it with a burning passion.

There are some shows that I can't stand watching.  For instance, I've never really been a fan of those talent shows like 'American Idol' or 'So You Think You Can Dance'.  I loathe the idea of the Bachelor, which treats its contestants more like eye candy and hunks of beef in the guise of 'finding true love'.  And don't even get me started on 'Jersey Shore'.

For the most part however, I can deal with reality television.  I love 'Kitchen Nightmares', I'm a self-confessed addict of 'Big Brother' (season premiere July 7, by the way), and I would absolutely love to get a chance to compete on either 'The Amazing Race' or 'Wipeout'.

Certainly, reality television has certainly been successful.  Look at Survivor for instance.  When it aired its first season back in the summer of 2000, nobody thought that it would last, and as of today, it has aired twenty-two seasons in eleven years.  The Amazing Race is filming season 19, Big Brother is on season 13, and Hell's Kitchen will be airing season nine this year.  Love it or hate it, reality television is here to stay for the long haul.

The show that I'm going to be talking about will be kicking off its 12th season this fall.  It also happens to be a show that I once loved, and once respected, but am finding it harder and harder to get into due to lots of things that I don't particularly enjoy about the show in recent seasons.  However, I do want to talk about it anyways because the show was an inspiration for me in recent years, and because it sort of relates to something that I would like to add at the bottom of this blog entry.  I guess you could say that like the entry before this one, today's blog entry was an inspired choice as well.

The Biggest Loser is a show that premiered back in the autumn of 2004.  Hosted by Alison Sweeney (and previously Caroline Rhea), the show has changed the lives of well over one hundred contestants who have appeared on the show over the course of eleven seasons.  You can see some of them in the video below, although I do apologize for the overall crappiness in quality.

The above image is from the fifth season of the show, which is probably the first full season that I watched, and is probably the season where most of the references will be from as a result.

It seems hard to believe now with so many reality shows focusing on weight loss on these days, but this show was really a revolutionary show at the time of its debut.  Without this show, we would have no 'Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition', 'Heavy', or 'Dance Your Ass Off'.

It seems to make sense though as to why we would have these types of shows on the air.  It's no secret that obesity is a problem in both Canada and the United States, and that many people are suffering from obesity-related health problems as a result. 

The Biggest Loser is probably known as the grandpappy of weight loss programming.  And the first few seasons focused on exactly that.

The show has trainers who appear on every episode of the series to give our contestants the training, the tools, and the emotional support they need to make it through the experience and to make themselves as healthy as possible.  Enter Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, the two trainers who christened the Biggest Loser.  While Jillian has decided to leave the show after this season, I believe Bob is still sticking around, and since then, three other trainers have featured on the show.  Kim Lyons (who only lasted two seasons), and Brett Hoebel and Cara Castronuova (who joined the show last season).  After all, you can't have a show without trainers.

And woe befall you if you ever talk back to a trainer or not do the work necessary.  Here's just a couple of examples from past seasons.

Like I said, you don't really want to get on their bad side.  And the last video was shocking because anyone who's watched the show before knows that Bob is the CALM one!

The whole premise of the show is that people from all over the United States come to the Biggest Loser ranch in California to begin a fitness regiment that includes extreme workouts, learning how to prepare and cook nutritious meals, and having pop challenges designed to teach contestants about calorie intake and exercise preparation.  Sometimes the seasons will be individuals competing against others, while other times, you'll have couples.  There can only be one person named 'The Biggest Loser' however, and the winner receives a quarter of a million dollars as well as bragging rights for losing the most weight.

Of course, the road to becoming the Biggest Loser is not an easy one.

The thought of stepping on a gigantic scale that shows your weight in big bold white numbers on a plasma television screen would probably make most of us shake in our workout clothing everywhere.  Yet on the Biggest Loser, that's exactly what contestants must do.  This example above shows the pink team of Bette-Sue and Ali from Season 5.  As you can see, their individual weights are shown, as well as the combined weight of the team. 

On any season of the show where couples are involved, the team scores are combined with each other to make one larger number.  Each week, after a couple of challenges and a last chance workout, teams have to weigh in and see how much of a percentage of weight loss they have accumulated in the week.  On the couples edition, the team scores are totalled, and if your team comes in last, one of the members will be voted off.

When the teams become individuals, or if the season is made up of individuals from the beginning, then the bottom two who have the lowest percentage of lost weight will be up for elimination.

You see that yellow line?  The ones below that line are in danger of going home, and in this case, either Jay or Brittany will be getting booted off the show.  Sometimes, they'll even add a red line, which if a contestant is unlucky enough to fall below it, will result in instant elimination from the show.

That doesn't mean that they're off the show for good though.  To motivate the contestants who have been kicked off the program, the show offers a $100,000 At-Home prize for the contestant that has the highest percentage of weight loss of all the previously eliminated contestants.  Most of the at-home contestants do really well, and have a better success rate at keeping the weight off from my experience watching the show, so I guess if that isn't proof that weight loss can be done anywhere, I don't know what is.

There's also a chance that eliminated players can come back to the show through one of the many challenges that are played on the show. 

What are these challenges?

Well, I already talked about there being Pop Challenges, where players answer trivia questions about calorie intake and exercise.  Sometimes they'll have to prepare healthy dishes where the team that has the lowest calorie count wins.  Temptation challenges are also a key challenge in this show, where teams are bribed with high-fat foods, or even cold hard cash, in an attempt to gain advantages in the weigh-ins.

Advantages like bonus time with Bob and Jillian, or taking a two-pound advantage, or phone calls from home.

(Though, considering that if I were on the show, and I ate two whole bags of peanut butter M&M's to win a temptation challenge, I'd need a two-pound advantage to break even.  Just one thing about the show that bugs me.)

Sometimes, contestants will be taken off the ranch and brought back home as a challenge to see if they are ready for weight loss away from the ranch.  Some contestants prove they are, while others didn't.

Oh, and did I mention that on almost every season of the show, the final four end up running a marathon as their final challenge?

I don't know about you, but I get tired just thinking about running 26.2 miles, but to the credit of the players, each one of them has finished the marathon.

At the end of each season is a finale, where all the contestants are reunited on live television, and the winners of the At-Home player and the Biggest Loser are announced.

Season 5's winner was Ali, who lost 112 pounds during the course of the show.  What makes her story unique is that she was eliminated fairly early in the season, and won a challenge that brought her back to the game.  Quite a bit of that weight was lost at home, so Ali definitely proved that you could lose weight anywhere at anytime.

I will say that the show (especially in the early seasons) was a great show to watch.  Seeing the determination of the contestants fighting their way through workouts and challenges to better themselves was inspiring, and seeing the rewards show right on our television screens made it entirely possible to change your whole life.  The trainers were tough, but caring, and in the early shows, I really did learn quite a bit about food intake and exercise techniques, which I thought was a nice touch.

So why have I lost some love for this show?

Because it seems like one gigantic infomercial some days.

During season five, yes, you did have the odd bit of product placement in the program, but to be fair, almost every reality show is sponsored by a brand-name company.  It wouldn't be unusual for the show to repay their sponsorships by creating built-in ads for the product in the show.  And I would be okay with it if the product was pitched in such a way that it becomes somewhat educational (like say, an ad for Brita water filters saying that they'll keep you hydrated while protecting the environment).  I'm down with that.

It's when you have entire segments devoted to turkey breasts, or a challenge that is more or less a gigantic commercial for Wheaties that I don't find attractive or appealing.  I watch the Biggest Loser to see the camaraderie between teammates or to see people's excitement over losing seven pounds in a week...not to hear about the benefits of Ziploc containers.

And, speaking of contestant camaraderie, in recent seasons, I ask myself where that disappeared to.

In early seasons, it seemed as though contestants were genuinely sad to see others go, and we saw teams encouraging each other to succeed.  Nowadays, you see contestants throwing others under the bus to survive in the game.  Like, say, someone who has only lost one pound a week the past three weeks forming an alliance in the game to vote out someone who still weighed 325 pounds.

I hear what you're saying here...forming alliances to get rid of players who may be a threat to you down the road are a part of reality television competitions, and if this were any other reality show, I would completely agree.  But when you have people fighting to stay alive (figuratively and literally) getting voted out by people who look like they have reached their weight loss goals, it makes one wonder.

Don't even get me started on those contestants who seem to care more about the cash prize at the end than getting healthier.  I would need a whole blog entry on that alone, and it would not be very polite.

Really, I feel that the show has really lost something along the way.  I know the whole message of positive thinking and making healthy choices is a message that is still being portrayed on the show, but it seems to be taking a backseat in focus of manipulated drama, product placements, and meaningless challenges that have nothing to do with the show.  (Seriously, one of the prizes on last season was a Hollywood premiere to the preview of the movie 'Hop', which is basically a movie that centres on Easter candy and the Easter bunny...yeah, great movie to show people trying to lose weight, producers).

At a direct result of this, the show has lost its lustre in my eyes.  Can the show possibly get it back again?  I sure hope so.  Especially for contestants who really could benefit from such a program.  I'm unfortunately not holding my breath for that to happen.

Now, I suppose that all of you are wondering why I would focus my attention on a show that I really am kind of lukewarm about these days.  As I mentioned before in this blog entry, there is a reason.

The above picture is me.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to post a picture of myself as a child, but feel it's important for the story.  I was in second grade when that picture was taken.  Couldn't have been much older than seven years old.  And, I didn't look too bad, aside from the bowl cut.

The thing is that this picture is only a headshot.  You couldn't tell it based on this picture, but I was a stocky kid.  By second grade, I was already well over five feet tall, and although I did weigh almost ninety pounds in second grade, I was built rock-hard.  Not doughy by any means.  Unfortunately, I was in a class filled with fifty-two pounders who thought I was fat, even though I really didn't think I was.  Sure, I was bigger than the other kids, as in, I was six inches taller, but I didn't think I was fat.

But almost the whole class made fat jokes at my expense, so I guess if the whole class felt that way, it must have been true.

Still, it wasn't a fun experience, and I tended to go home and chomp down on the Oreo cookies in order to make myself feel better.  By ninth grade, this is what I looked like.

Granted, this wasn't my best look.  My shirt was two sizes too big (I thought if I wore baggy clothes, I could hide the excess weight), and the reason I look like I have a black eye was due to a mishap involving a softball in gym class the previous day.  But as far as size goes, I pretty much stayed this way for the next twelve years of my life.  I knew that the way I was going was downhill.  I had little energy, I couldn't find anything to fit me, and I basically ate all the wrong foods.

It wasn't until January of 2009 that things started to change.  At my workplace, a group of people were starting up a competition based on the Biggest Loser television show, and at the last minute, I decided to sign up for it, thinking that it was worth a shot, and that if I had even lost so much as one pound that I would have considered it a success.

So from January to May 2009, the contest went on, and through the support and positive feelings given to me by my awesome co-workers, I ended up shedding pound after pound, and ended up feeling better about myself.

By early 2010, I had lost seventy pounds total, and I was the slimmest I had been in years.  It was fantastic.

Unfortunately in 2011, I ended up having surgery, and during the recovery process, I gained back a little bit of weight, but I'm not at the point where I'm stressing out over a few additional pounds.

This picture was taken in March of 2011.  Notice any difference?

(And, yes, I am quite aware that the DQ sign in the back makes me kind of hypocritical, but I add that in moderation, a treat is okay!)

So that's my story, and what the Biggest Loser taught me about myself.  It taught me that I am worth making myself feel and look better for myself and not anyone else. 

Now comes the additional fun.

I have a friend named Heidi who also happens to have her own blog.  You can read it in the link below!

It sort of relates to this entry because her whole blog currently details her own thoughts about weight loss, and her personal journey.  If you have a chance, read it, because she's quite the wordsmith herself.

Anyway, on her blog, she has a link to Friend-Making Mondays on another blog called (which for next week I will post ON a Monday), and from there, we post questions that the person on that blog posts as a way to link bloggers together and for people to read stuff from other bloggers.  So, I thought I would try this exercise, albeit a day late.

So, here's FM...T...LOL...entitled 'What's In Your Fridge?'.  You can answer the questions here, or if you've friended me on Facebook, you can post a reply there.

1.  List a few common items in your fridge.
I usually have some variety of fruit juice, ketchup, mustard, some form of poultry, some vegetables and fruits, yogurt, cheese...basi...cally everything from the food pyramid.
2.  What kind of milk do you drink?
I usually drink 1%, but can drink 2%. Whole milk makes me get cramps.
3.  Do you prefer fresh or frozen vegetables?
I prefer fresh of course, but like frozen peas better than fresh peas.
4.  What do you currently have to drink in the fridge?
 Lemon iced tea, water, milk, fruit punch...and although I shouldn't have it, Diet Pepsi...though I've cut back a lot on it.
5.  How often do you clean out your refrigerator?
I usually eat everything up before it gets to that point.
6.  What's the healthiest thing in it right now?
Healthiest thing is probably light yogurt. In cherry and lemon meringue flavours.
7.  What's the most unhealthy thing in it right now?
Unhealthiest thing is probably leftover vanilla ice cream from a dinner I went to on Saturday night.
8.  What do you wish you had in it that you don't have now?
Lea and Perrins barbecue sauce. It was discontinued 15 years ago and I still miss it.
9.  How often do you shop for groceries?
I'm usually buying groceries every day, but I'd say my big day is the first day off I have in the week. My work schedule is schizophrenic at best.
10.  What's the weirdest thing in your fridge right now?
Weirdest thing? Probably some eardrops from my last ear infection which I probably should toss by now...LOL...

I think this will be a fun activity to add onto this blog, so feel free to take part if you like.

As for me, I need to end this entry before it turns into a whole book!  Sometimes I get so carried away.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely post, Matthew. I'm so glad you shared it with us. And I'm so glad you'll be participating in FMM/T! Hee.