The Biggest Loser – Special Edition

NBC is currently casting for Season Three of The Biggest Loser, at a selection of the nation’s finest casual dining restaurants and mall food courts, no less. But there’s an irony-free, Hungry Man-sized hole in the network’s schedule right now, and since The Biggest Loser‘s second season grew its audience every week until its finale in late November, NBC’s programmers have clearly spotted an opportunity to kill two with one. Hence, The Biggest Loser – Special Edition, a confusingly named series of one-offs, designed to capitalize on the show’s recent popularity, and to build up a fresh momentum for Season Three.

You could call this The Biggest Loser Lite, and since I like nothing better than a cheap laugh, I will. Each episode is a complete three-month story in and of itself, and each comes with its own theme. Last week’s two-hour premiere was a Family Edition, and it set the Samuels family from Atlanta against the Muhas from Miami in a competition. Their goal was to win $50,000 by losing the most unsightly fat — as measured as a percentage of the family’s total body weight.

The three Samuels lost a combined 144 pounds, enough to build teen daughter Ravee a brand new, full-grown sister. This represented 23% of their total weight, and seemed enough to beat the bigger Muha family. But the three Muhas lost a staggering 219 pounds between them, a full 50 pounds more than they needed to, and so claimed both the prize and the spotlight. As the overly competitive Papa Muha had said beforehand, when he presumably expected to lose, they were all winners really.

It’s difficult to know where to stand on a show like this. On the one hand, my heart went out to all the competitors, especially teenager Erica Muha, clearly in agonies of humiliation throughout. I was proud of their achievements and sincerely hope they manage to maintain. On the other hand, I was left with a lingering sense of contempt for the network and for presenter Caroline Rhea. My… pardon me… gut (which is not inconsiderable) tells me these people could care less about helping people like Erica, provided their fatty freak show continues to crank out the ratings and pad their already super-sized bank accounts.

Then again, on my third hand (someone get me a reality show, stat!), I have absolutely no time for the whiny political arguments against The Biggest Loser either. Call me a cynic if you like, but I suspect that people who criticize this show for being harmful not just to its competitors, but to all “people of size”, for a variety of unfeasible reasons, are more interested in organizing support groups rather than entering into genuine debate on the issues of obesity.

I don’t believe for one minute that The Biggest Loser wants its viewers to be inspired by the supervised and expensive success of its contestants, or to buy into the show on that basis. NBC’s pointy-headed statisticians have simply noticed that obesity is continuing to rise, and they’ve done the demographic math. As viewers, we are often attracted to reality TV shows that feature people just like us or people we’d like to be. And who is most likely to be at home on the couch on a Wednesday evening with a big bag of chips and a tray of cakes? A fatty, that’s who. So let’s give them a show about fatties getting thin.

In the end, this isn’t about politics, or health, or cheap fat jokes, it’s about aesthetics and morality. And despite Erica Muha’s happy ending, The Biggest Loser Lite, like its parent program, is exploiting people with problems to make money for people who already have more than enough. And that’s ugly and immoral in my book. This week, on The Biggest Loser Lite, a pair of engaged couples will attempt to slim down before their wedding days in an attempt to win a $50,000 ceremony. I won’t be watching. I don’t think I could stomach it.