The Biggest Loser
The Biggest Thing on Reality TV
Every Tuesday night Americans of all shapes and sizes gather around the television to watch a group of obese Americans compete to win $250,000 and more importantly the title of The Biggest Loser. Premiered in 2005, The Biggest Loser is in its tenth season and continues to be one of NBC’s most reliable rating successes despite its timeslot against the juggernaut of American Idol( Idesheim). As the camera crew catches these contestants struggle with sweat, tears and blood, Americans are captivated as they watch the fairytale stories unfold as the contestants transform from being low self-esteem individuals to people they thought they could only dream of becoming. By witnessing The Biggest Loser transform into the dreamier, new and improved version of themselves, a sense of hope is instilled in Americans– the belief that anything is possible and that it is never too late to make a positive change in their own lives.
The Biggest Loser is essentially a show about people losing weight. In this show, the one who loses the most also ends up gaining the most; the ability to save their lives and be an inspiration for others. Morbidly obese contestants travel for seven months to a far away ranch facility which features indoor and outdoor activities, a swimming pool and a full-service well equipped. The show also utilizes personal trainers and nutritionists to design healthy diets to compliment the strenuous workout programs. At the ranch Contestants are faced with challenges, temptations and gruelling workout routines and then put on a scale every week to see if they had reached their weekly goals. Those who do not lose enough weight are sent home and those who do are given another chance to compete for the $250,000 prize. Although not everyone comes out the biggest loser, everyone leaves the ranch as a new person who had all accomplished something that they never believed they had the power to do. Every week viewer’s watch as the contestant struggles to complete a challenge and every week Americans are blown away by what these contestants can do. The viewers are intrigued and amazed as they watch the contestants transform right before their eyes.
Reality TV had been around for some time but it was not until a decade ago it became so popular. The topics of reality television programs have expanded greatly in the last ten years for they all offer something different to its audience However, the main reasons people love watching reality TV is that it offers them pure entertainment as well as an escape from their daily lives. Reality TV allows viewers to be a little fly on the wall watching real people deal with real problems as they forget about their own. In addition, shows like The Biggest Loser help people and teach them how to attain goals. By witnessing things they normally would not see in their everyday life, viewers are enticed into becoming a part of the show themselves, thus helping them transcend the ordinariness of their daily lives (Umphlett et al, 26). However, most settings of reality TV shows are not accurate reflections of reality. In The Biggest Loser, contestants are far from their friends and family and are forced to spend countless hours at the gym with other contestants with the same goal. They have personal trainers, dieticians and workout facilities that would cost an arm, a leg and maybe more for the average American. Many individuals have faced the struggles of dieting and many know that weight loss is not easy to achieve. In addition, certain scenes are snipped out by producers and not revealed to its audience. Yet Americans are captivated by the shows because it often becomes hard to distinguish between fact or fiction, for television has the power to induce viewers into accepting fiction as reality (Umphlett et al, 258). The producers and editors plot and project the stories in order to govern the audience’s perception (Andersen et al, 176).
The reason for the success of The Biggest Loser is that it is a show with an enormous influence on the manner in which a massive part of American society constructs its identity—an overweight country. The show is a response to America’s battle with obesity. As the epidemic of obesity is becoming more evident to Americans, The Biggest Loser gains popularity with American culture. Television is a medium through which national imagination is created. It often portrays parts of society; guiding and setting the rules of what society is (Allen et al, 546). The subjects seen on television are the portrayals of society, the heroes of America. However the better shaped bodies are usually favoured on TV leaving out the big part of society and the one most true to it. Due to this the overweight community feel left out in the dark. The Biggest Loser allows overweight citizens to play the role of the hero for the average American. It allows the overweight community to be recognized and included as a part of the national imagery – The Biggest Loser provides overweight citizens with the positive publicity they rarely receive.
The show provides something for everyone; to the overweight community as well as the fit community. To the overweight viewers they recognize the contestants as a mirror of themselves, as subjects who are sacrificing and working hard to change their lives for the better. For the fit viewers, the show provides insight on life as an overweight person and their struggles to fit into society. Whichever side the audience views the show from both sides are equally intrigued because The Biggest Loser speaks to America as whole.
Throughout the show America is constantly referred to as a big brother entity (Zelevansky). “I want to inspire America,” says a young chubby contestant as he huffs and puffs wiping his tears and heads towards the 24hour gym (Zelevansky). America seems to be the prime character of the show. The show implies that America is overweight, America is struggling to fight obesity and America is in the need of guidance. As we watch from our couches the contestant’s confine their emotions to the camera, we as viewers feel as though they are really talking to us. We feel with them as they fight for their existence on the show and we cry with them when they express the guilt they feel and how much they pity themselves. As we witness the contestants’ battle and push through each challenge America too faces obstacles and the audience see that it is okay to cry because nothing worth fighting for is easy.
Despite the show’s success, the show has been publically criticized by many health professions of its unhealthy approaches to weight loss. In a recent interview, former contestant Kai Hibbard claimed the shows unhealthy practices lead her to develop an eating disorder (Hampp). The Biggest Loser program’s regime consists of severe caloric restriction and up to six hours of strenuous exercise. Critics of the series state that most of these contestants are severely overweight, inactive and out of shape. Obesity already puts a beating on the body and the show’s extreme weight loss program adds further stress (Is reality). Medically sound weight-loss programs permit a loss of no more than 2 pounds a week. A few of The Biggest Loser contestants have dropped more than 15 pounds a week. One contestant actually lost 100 points in seven weeks. Losing more than 2 pounds a week can weaken the heart muscles and lead to mineral deficiencies (Wolin et al, 82). Another happy ending turned that didn’t turn out so happy is when Ryan C. Benson, winner of season one was shunned by the show because he publicly admitted that he dropped some of the weight by fasting and dehydration himself to the point that he was urinating blood (Wyatt). One contestant regained almost 30 pounds after restoring her water intake. Another concern for critics is the effects of yo-yo dieting for the contestants. The extreme weight loss is dangerous and particularly ineffective at keeping off the pounds. The skills learned at the ranch often become much more difficult to apply at home in the real world where the forces of the personal trainers, camera crews and America’s support are not around. Although being crowned the biggest loser is a happy ending for the winner, maintaining the weight loss is another story. An example of this is the first season winner, Ryan C. Benson who went from 330 to 280 pounds and is now back to over 300 post show.
Regardless of the shows criticism, The Biggest Loser still continues to be favoured by millions of Americans. Every season the show introduces contestants that make achieving the goals seem impossible. Americans are intrigued by this and want to see if the impossible can be made possible. As they witness the individuals make the transformation Americans begin to feel the emotions they feel—as the contestants cry, Americans cry and as the contestants cheer, Americans cheer. By supporting the contestants and following The Biggest Loser, Americans feel that they too were a part of the show. They feel as though they helped save someone’s life by making their dreams come true and that gives them a good feeling about themselves. This show gives them an escape from their ordinary life. When they see a man who was once 427 pounds cross through the finish line of a 26 mile run they are left with the belief that they too can make a positive change in their lives. Every week someone on The Biggest Loser accomplishes something they thought they could only dream of doing. Every season Americans are amazed by what they see and are left with the hope that anything is possible and every season Americans tune in for more of that good feeling.
The Biggest Loser had just ended its tenth successful season. Every season the show gets bigger and better containing more touching stories that turn into inspiration fairytale endings. With its continual success each season captivates a bigger audience. The Biggest Loser is proof that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. In the end, the show helps saves lives and Americans feel a part of that miracle. As Americans tune in, hopes is instilled in them and are encouraged to never give up. With all the struggles America has been faced with in the last decade—economic ruins, terrorist attacks and the rise of obesity—hope and belief for a happy ending is what Americans need. The Biggest Loser is the all American show of people fighting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is visual evidence that dreams can come true and that the world is not as dark and bleak as it seems. Just like The Biggest Loser, American will come out on top because American is strong and will preserve. “America is watching,” proclaims Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper, indeed America is watching, so do it for America.
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