[15 March 2006]
It’s hard to fault The Biggest Loser when presented with the skimpy bodies and smiling faces of U.S. Season Two winner and runners-up. True, the program pits obese men and women against each other, competing for prizes including a massive check, but it also helps contestants alter their lives for the better. The winners are thin and comfortable. Suzy Preston, for one, is full of mad sass. When she appeared recently on Australia’s version of the show, she was positively bouncy, lovin’ up her new, svelte butt for the cameras. This makes the exploitation slightly less awful.
Preston, Seth Word, and first place holder matt Hoover appeared briefly on Australia’s Biggest Loser to inspire the Aussie contestants. And just as they were supposed to, the down under crew hit the gym hard that first week. Teammates worked together to achieve results: Wal the fireman’s first week weight loss, for instance, was a record-breaking 15.5 kilograms (34.1 lbs).
And then everything changed. In their fifth week at fat camp, the Aussie Losers are losing it. Not weight, but team spirit. Secluded at a mansion-come-fat-boot-camp headquarters, they seem unable to muster compassion for one another. “I’m not here to make friends,” said Wal early on, and Harry seconded the sentiment, on learning that the three remaining members of his Blue Team are plotting to get rid of him.
Bickering has overtaken the Blue Team to the point that team leader Bob asked them, “What am I even doing here?” Episodes turned Blue-focused as the fighting escalated, so that Red team trainer Jillian hardly appeared on screen. And why should she? Her team has it together. Rarely has reality TV seen such a generous, fun-loving, supportive group of folks.
On the other hand, Bob had to rail at Blue team members during Week Four, due to an alliance formed among Tracy, Fiona, and Artie. First, Bob chastised the threesome for eliminating Cat, the group’s largest member and therefore, the member with the most weight loss potential. He’s equally frustrated at their scheme to squash their next biggest teammate, Harry. To his credit, Bob treats his selfish team members like the adults they’ve forgotten they are. Cat’s elimination, Bob said, was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen”.
“I’m going to use this alliance to get each one of us as far as we can go,” Fiona admitted to both Bob and the hanging-by-a-thread Harry. Bob’s confusion upon hearing this mirrored our own: do these contestants understand how reality TV works? No effort to control the environment is going to work for any contestant, as all are at the whim of a network looking for ratings. If only Fiona knew how her words have become central to Ten’s advertising for the show: Come see the dissention! It’s getting dirty!
Weight loss has taken a back seat to Blue’s dreams of reaching the show’s finale. How did it happen to Blue? I’m starting to think Ten grouped the hard-asses together in the hopes that dissolution would occur. The network surely paid bucket-loads for Jillian and Bob and what better way to secure viewers than this sort of bitchiness?
Blue is not alone when it comes to pride. Red Team members Adro and Ruth channel their low self-esteem into winning tasks and challenges, openly admitting they don’t like to lose. Blue Team members, however, channel their admitted self-loathing into catcalls directed at their competition. “Red is Dead!” they shouted repeatedly during the first weeks, and now Blue member Tracy admits to hating a fellow contestant (Wal, who switched from the Blue team to the Red team in Week Three), her hatred driving her more than her desire to get healthy. When Red won the Week Four weigh-in, Blue teamers were visibly pissed.
The most ridiculous element of Blue’s ball-busting, though, has been their ferocity in the face of so little effort. Allied Fiona, Artie, and Tracy have each succumbed to food temptations recently, and Fiona was even caught drinking custard from a coffee mug (and she gained weight at Week Two’s weigh-in). The three aren’t trying as hard as the others to alter their eating habits, and Bob’s anger at their tactics is also ours, especially considering Week Two’s commotion when he had to travel to the U.S. for his mother’s funeral. On his return to the show, he cried as he described his inspiration to get his “Oh-ss-y mates” fit (his overweight mother died of a heart attack). They shared his tears and wrote him loving letters of support: “We’re doing this for Bob”, Artie said.
Such “positive” moments are typically lost amid reality TV theatrics. The Red Team might be inspiring, but the Blue Team’s bullshit, taking too much screen time, reminds us that this is a ratings-first program, no matter the good it eventually does.