Tuesday night was the super-sized 90-minute premiere of NBC’s The Biggest Loser, in which a bevy of obesity competes to see who can lose the most weight without resorting to surgery and/or radical diets such as living on an island for 39 days. The first season, as NBC reminds us time and again, “changed lives and inspired a nation.” This season promises more of the same, as the contestants are constantly “being given a new lease on life,” “undergoing a life-changing event” or “suffering cardiac arrest.” I guess NBC is using feel-good platitudes to assuage their collective guilt over airing a show designed to appeal to America’s love of laughing at fatties. Speaking of which, B-Side and J-Unit have presented me a challenge I believe to be every bit as big as that facing the show’s contestants: recapping each episode without relying solely on fat jokes. Of course, as the contestants agreed to be on a reality show where the only requirement is being fat, the occasional fat joke will have to be made. To do less, I feel, would be an insult to the free-speech ideals put forth by our Founding Fathers. (BTW, I’ve heard this was one of Jefferson’s favorites: “Knock-knock. Who’s there? The King. The King who? The King is a fatty-fat-fat-fat.” Eh, I guess patriotic humor is an acquired taste.)
For those who missed the first season, here’s a quick rundown of how the show works. The contestants are divided into two teams, Red and Blue, each led by a professional trainer: Jillian the sadist and Bob the Zen master. Every week, the team that loses the biggest percentage of weight wins; the losing team then has to vote off one of their members. Personally, I think it’d make for better TV if they were forced to eat one of their own members, but that would be counter-productive. Eventually, the two teams will merge, at which point it’s big-dog-eat-bigger-dog-eat-biggest-dog-who’s-unable-to-move-because-his-tummy-drags-the-ground. At the end of the season, the person who’s lost the biggest percentage of weight is crowned the changer of lives. The inspirer of nations. In short, the Biggest Loser.
After an inspirational intro montage, in which we learn over 150,000 people applied to be publicly mocked on the TVgasm website, we get our first glance at the show’s opening credits. Each contestant is shown in an inspirational pose straight out of a Karate Kid montage, with their name written on a small animated scale. (Nice touch by the show’s graphics department.) Playing under the intro is an inspirational song straight out of the inspirational montage of any ’80s movie. The only thing missing is the scene where one person in the crowd begins to clap, and soon everyone is cheering the hero. The chorus is something like “What have you done today to make you feel proud…”. It was almost inspirational enough to make me feel guilty about my answer: make fun of fat people. Almost.
Next, we get our first look at this season’s contestants. I haven’t seen this many FUPAs, gunts, bitch-tits and front-butts crowding my TV screen since, well, any audience pan at a taping of Springer. Except unlike the typical Springer viewer, these people have gathered for more than a chance to call a complete stranger a whore on national TV. They’ve gathered for — say it with me — a chance to change lives. A chance to inspire a nation. A chance to become the Biggest Loser.
The contestants now face their first challenge: walking up the driveway to the group house. Seriously. As they walk up the drive, the producers give us a few insights into some of the characters. Either the walking or the insighting must have been very strenuous, as by the time they reach the front door, several of the people are already sweating and out of breath.
I guess now would be a good time to thank NBC for preemptively categorizing the contestants on The Biggest Loser website. Knowing ahead of time that Jen is The Med Student and Pete is The Devoted Husband saves me the trouble of having to come up with a descriptor on my own, such as Jen (The Fat Med Student) or Pete (The Fat Devoted Husband). That said, some of the contestant-types sound promising. Alongside such expected boilerplate entries as Ruben (The Single Guy), Andrea (The Soccer Mom) and Shannon (The Diva) we also meet Ryan (The Preacher’s Daughter), Suzanne (The Bride-To-Be) and Matt (The Ex-Athlete).
After giving each other high-fives and CPR for making it up the driveway, our contestants are greeted by The Biggest Loser hostess, Caroline Rhea, who looks familiar in a chubby-blonde sorority girl sort of way. I think it’s nice the producers picked Caroline to host the show, as she’s also undergone a public battle with her weight. Of course, it might’ve been interesting had they gone the other way and cast someone like Lara Flynn Boyle as the host, but in the end I think the contestants eventually would’ve killed and eaten her. It’s the same reason Mark Burnett used to pass on CBS’s original choice to host Survivor: Martha Stewart. (“You call that a shelter?! Bitches.”)
Say goodbye to your little friends.
Caroline leads the group into the house, and delivers her first speech: “I know it’s hard to say goodbye to friends and family. But now, you have to say goodbye to one more comforting friend.” Cool! Are we having an early eviction ceremony? If so, my money’s on the fat guy. Instead, Caroline opens the doors and leads the group into a room filled with…Junk Food! She tells them they have 30 minutes to eat as much of this “Farewell Feast” as they can. And did they. Unfortunately, I think the producers missed a shot at reality show history here by playing some forgettable piece of music under the feast instead of the “boom-chicka-bow-wow” porn-track it so deserved. I haven’t heard so much moaning and groaning over food since 9 1/2 Weeks. There was also a lot of lip smacking and licking, culminating with multiple shots of Suzanne tonguing the chocolate off the fondue tower. (Her fiance is a lucky man indeed.)
Chocolate-coated metal. Yum!
Jen tells us the feast “was just like when you take a friend out to dinner to say goodbye before a big trip. That’s what we did.” True, Jen, except in those instances you usually don’t eat the friend. Unless you just do things differently in medical school.
Next, the contestants are shown the gym. Ruben comments the gym has everything he needs to lose weight. Um, except maybe the willpower? Because this gym is the same as the 24-Hour Fitness located around the corner from your house, Ruben. Speaking of 24HF, we get a brief spiel from one of their corporate shills, and then Caroline introduces the official Biggest Loser scale, the Scale-O-Tronic 4025 (named in honor of the group’s combined weight). A hush falls over the group; if they’re this intimidated by a cold piece of heartless machinery, whatever will they do when they meet Jillian?
Don’t make eye contact.
Caroline relates some fluff about how the scale’s like your best friend, in that it always tells you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not. Screw my best friend. Why can’t Mommy be here to tell everyone I’m just big-boned?
She then reminds everyone how important teammates are, and tells the men and women to separate so they can pick teams. Each contestant is eyeing the other at this point, trying to figure out who they want, when suddenly, there’s a TWIST!!!! It’s the Men versus the Women. Screw Summer of Secrets; we have The Fall of Feints! And Flab!
If I were a gambling man (and outside of professional football, college football, March Madness and professional wrestling, I’m not), I’d put my money on the women. Not because I think their group has more willpower than the men, but because I know women are masters of trickery and cliquery. (Hey, I’ve seen Mean Girls.) The women put up a good facade of being confident and supportive, but it’s only a matter of time before the weaker ones begin following Colleen Brewster’s “Two Fingers to Thinner Thighs” program.
The men, on the other hand, are really cocky, telling us via voice-overs that everyone knows men lose weight faster than women. Unfortunately, they’re too busy giving each other tittie-twisters and looking for snacks hidden amidst their flab to be taken seriously.
The next day is the official Weigh-In. The men are shirtless, the women in tank-tops. Personally, I think this is a bit unfair, as some of the men are sporting better racks than their female counterparts. The scale must be a remnant from the Game Show Network, as it beeps and displays random numbers until it stops on the final weight. Pete is the heaviest, weighing in at 401 pounds. They’re also measured, and dunked in a tank to get their body fat number. Caroline reveals the Women/Blue team weighs a collective 1642 pounds, while the Men/Red team weighs 2383 pounds. The men obviously have a lot more pounds to lose, and you can see the women get a little downhearted. Fortunately for the ladies, Caroline reminds us the contest isn’t determined by the number of pounds lost, but rather by percentage of weight. It’s math, so I found the whole thing confusing, but the women seemed pleased, so I guess it must be fair. She also tells them the final winner, in addition to being a changer of lives, inspirer of nations and overall Biggest Loser, will also win $250,000. Not a lot of response to the prize money amount. Maybe they really are here just to lose weight. Or they’re just insulted at how cheap the show’s producers are.
As they’re walking back to the mansion, a harsh mechanical shriek fills the air. Is it a giant creampuff machine come to rescue our contestants? No, it’s just Jillian and Bob, the personal trainers, yelling through megaphones at the contestants to run up to the bell tower. As the contestants round the corner, the trainers get their first look at them and realize the women are all wearing blue, and the men are all wearing red. That means Jillian-The-Red will be training the men and Bob-The-Blue will be training the women, a fact at which they both feign total surprise. Another TWIST!!!
After brief pep talks with their teams, Bob and Jillian have their own competition to see who can make someone throw up first. Bob makes the women run up a hill, while Jillian punishes the men with a rigorous combination of weights and calisthenics. Jillian wins when Matt fertilizes the bushes.
So hungry…Mustn’t eat bushes.
The producers then try to make us feel guilty for laughing at that last segment by showing us the team’s pow-wow sessions. Matt even tears up when he remembers his days as a college wrestler. The way he’s crying, you’d think those days were actually decades in the past, and not just 1997. Regardless, I feel a little bad for the guy. I hope he doesn’t go home this week. We also get to listen in as Jillian and Bob explain the Biggest Loser Diet, which they say isn’t so much a diet as it is a lifestyle change. I guess calling it the Biggest Loser Lifestyle Change didn’t test as well, though.
In the upstairs gym, the contestants discover their “goal closets,” where each contestant gets to store one item of clothing they hope to fit into. Suzanne brought a wedding dress, while Mark (The Cop) brought a bullet-proof vest. I don’t think that’s an actual item of clothing, but whatever. Dude’s a cop; I’m not going to tell him no.
Finally, it’s time for our first challenge: A Zero-Gravity Atmosphere Task! In it, both teams will be taken up in an airplane high enough to achieve weightlessness. (Ooh, that’s just mean.) While weightless, they have to collect as many floating ping-pong balls as they can in 30 seconds. The winning team gets to add five pounds of fat to the losing team’s total in that week’s Weigh-In. The women are up first, but Suzanne doesn’t look too thrilled, admitting she gets motion sickness and has a severe fear of heights. Come on Suzanne, haven’t you ever watched The Discovery Channel? Even in zero-gravity, you’re never more than four or five feet off the floor. Don’t be such a wuss! Nevertheless, while her team picked up the ping-pong balls, she hugs the wall and refuses to move. If the women lose, that’s going to be a heavy burden to bear.
The men, meanwhile, take the time to strategize, and devise a foolproof plan to win: pick up more ping-pong balls than the women. Sure enough, the men win with 115 balls to the women’s 81.
Now comes some inspirational training footage, after which Jillian complains about Nick (The Comedian) because he doesn’t seem to take things seriously enough (maybe cuz he’s a comedian?) and worries about Ruben because he’s alienating himself from the team. And really, who can blame him. The guy’s named after a friggin’ sandwich! He’s probably afraid of being eaten. Thank goodness The Greatest American Hero isn’t on their team. He’d never make it out of the house alive.
Finally, it’s time for the Weigh-In. Whichever team loses the biggest percentage of body weight wins. The losing team then has to vote off one of its members, except for the person who lost the most weight that week, who wins immunity. The men appear to have it won, losing 6.59% of their total weight. That means little Suzy (The Single Girl) needs to lose at least 20 pounds, or the men win. But wait! Suzy loses exactly 20 pounds, which means the Blue Team lost 6.64% of their total weight. Blue Team Wins! Blue Team Wins! Now the men have to vote off a teammate. Who will they pick? Besides Matt, who won Immunity by losing 28 pounds.
The elimination ceremony takes place in a special room filled with a glass-faced cooler for each contestant, displaying their favorite foods. After an awkward ceremony, in which the team accuses Ruben of not being a team player (by which they mean he wouldn’t let them eat him), they vote him out.
So, did tonight’s episode leave you hungry for more? Was your life changed? Were you inspired? Will you be a big loser and watch again?