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Behind the scenes with
June 24, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

In 2006, Kai Hibbard was a contestant on weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser", where she was a runner-up. Now she's speaking out about her experiences on the show in an interview with blogger Golda Poretsky. The interview is in three pieces: Part I, Part II, Part III.
posted by rmd1023 (89 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kai Hibbard sounds like an NPR name.
posted by empath at 11:40 AM on June 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


I have no reason to doubt any of this. Yet, I am convinced that the treatment of contestants could be doubly horrible, and there would still be throngs of people clamoring to get on this show, and other reality shows, in order to get on TV and thereby give meaning to their lives.
posted by Danf at 11:47 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dear god.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2010


The show is obviously dangerous because it encourages unrealistic goals (and they're obviously dehydrating themselves for weigh-ins) but this is a whole different level of evil:
On the meaning of a “week” on the Biggest Loser:

“It varied. It went from 14 days and I believe that near the end we had one week that was 5 days.”
That is unacceptable.
posted by callmejay at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Some stories are so miserable that they're actually difficult to read through. At about the point where I read this: And we were so brainwashed at that point that I remember saying out loud, ‘Well, at least we’re losing more water-weight by crying.’” I took a bit of a break before finishing the article.

Why do we call it "Reality TV" when it's so divorced from reality? I propose a change in our pop culture vocabulary to "exploitation TV". In this case, where they exploit fat people and sell it off as kindness, I feel like "subjugation" might almost be more appropriate.

P.S. is this something I would need to watch TV to understand? Get off my lawn, your favorite TV show sucks, etc.
posted by battlebison at 11:49 AM on June 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


Sheesh, did she think she booked a spa vacation or signed up for a membership at a full-service gym? She signed onto a reality show. She signed on to a reality show that sensationalizes extreme activities toward extreme weight loss. She wanted something for nothing, and she wanted to win a prize for it.

I get so sick of hearing reality show contestants talk about what a dehumanizing experience being on a reality show is. If you don't want to be reduced to carefully chosen soundbites and blurbs, and if you don't want to be treated like a prop by reality show producers whose goal is to manufacture a television show that will be compelling to people who watch reality shows, don't fucking send an audition video to your favorite reality show.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:50 AM on June 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


in order to get on TV and thereby give meaning to their lives.

In order to lose a ton of weight that they've never been able to drop, no matter what the cost.
posted by inigo2 at 11:52 AM on June 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


I don't know if i've ever posted this on mefi before, but I have had this idea for a reality show where its kind of like big brother, but it's all heroin addicts who compete in increasingly degrading competitions to get doses of methadone. You'd be helping people get clean, and who can argue against that.
posted by empath at 11:53 AM on June 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


So, let me get this straight.

A fat acceptance advocate is pointing to possibly the most extreme example from a crash-dieting-for-fame-and-money reality TV show.

And that's supposed to make me ... make me what?

Make me fully enjoy my cheesecake?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:53 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, was she the one with crazy eye from Season 3? *reads link*

Yup, crazy eye.

SO watches the show, disclaimer / disclaimer / disclaimer.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2010


empath: I don't know if i've ever posted this on mefi before, but I have had this idea for a reality show where its kind of like big brother, but it's all heroin addicts who compete in increasingly degrading competitions to get doses of methadone. You'd be helping people get clean, and who can argue against that.

As somebody who has been both fat and an addict (though not at the same time - duh), from what I know about The Biggest Loser, I think empath's idea would still be a better idea.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do we call it "Reality TV" when it's so divorced from reality?

I see a marked difference between UK reality television and US reality television. I look at shows like The Restaurant (Last Restaurant Standing), Mary Queen Of Shops, the UK version of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, or the outstanding looking (and soon to be on BBC America) The Choir, and I see shows which, even when they are competitions, are about learning and growing and improving more than they are about embarrassment and exploitation. The highly-shortened (and possibly better for it) Operatunity which showed in the US was outstanding. They're more about a journey than a cat fight for a final prize. With some of these shows, the prize IS the growth experience, albeit on camera, etc etc.

I've even stopped watching The Amazing Race as it's grown over time from being a race and more about alliances and drama. I think I just prefer the shows where people seem to gain from the experience something more than simply having their face on television.
posted by hippybear at 11:58 AM on June 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


man, i don't know...i was kinda hoping it wasn't all bad.

i wish i could hear from other people who didn't get an eating disorder and maybe liked the show.

i'm nowhere near 250 but one of the first times i worked out with a trainer, i almost threw up. i was freaking dizzy and made her walk back down to the locker with me. i was just freaking out of shape.

but it is a reality show...if all the crap that comes out Survivor and The Amazing Race tells us anything, it's DON"T BE ON A REALITY SHOW - they'll skew your words and make you look like an ass and possibly get you hurt.

still, it really sucks if the trainers were really disobeying doctor's orders and stuff. i want to say that doesn't sound right based on the trainers i know, but then again, those trainers weren't on a reality tv show.
posted by sio42 at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2010


I stopped watching the show because it is, basically, an uncomfortable freak show especially when they trended toward "Heaviest contestant ever" each subsequent season. Well, that and it's unwatchable without a DVR, since they are repetitive and poorly edited (how amazing that a show about weight loss is a horribly padded, bloated 2-hour show).

Kai might be the example of the unreliable narrator- in her season she was, or at least was edited as, a very whiny person- but she admits that at least and I've heard similar things on the TWoP forums about the variance of the "week" and the emotionally and physically unsafe practices they engage in with the contestants.

The first couple of seasons I watched, you at least think "Hey, it's showing that weight loss is possible and it's heart-warming and inspiring to watch these people combat a problem that affects so many Americans", but it became increasingly obvious they were amping up drama no one actually cared about (in-fighting between contestants, stupid alliances, 'immunity' that led to intentional weight gain, absurd challenges that were "Double Dare" levels of silly, etc) while increasingly ignoring the things people did care about, such as good exercise techniques, eating habits and cooking/shopping tips, and the general motivation of seeing people who were a little overweight successful slim down and feel healthy.

Plus, I never, ever understood this:
“A lot of people don’t know that once we were actually on the ranch, it was 6 weeks before we were allowed to get mail from home and our mail was opened and censored. And it was 8 weeks before we were allowed to speak to anybody on the phone and it was for 5 minutes at a time with a chaperone.”
What's the point of that?!? This isn't a recovery center for battered spouses, it's a weight-loss reality show. Why the isolation- except as some wouldn't-be-approved-by-a-psychological-review-board twisted attempt to keep the contestants in a perpetual state of stress both physically and emotionally so as to amp up the "drama" that no one cares about.

Also this:
On then-host Caroline Rhea’s reaction to the blown up “before” pictures located throughout the ranch:

“She walked and she saw the photos of us that were shot deliberately to make us look as poorly as possible hanging up around the house and she lost it. She lost it on the crew and she demanded that they take them down and that it was humiliating. [She said that] we were people and should be treated as people.”
was Caroline Rhea's last season, I believe before Alison Sweeney took over. Alison Sweeney is a very lovely woman, and looked radiant during her pregancy, but there was something nice about a more, um, curvy woman like Caroline Rhea being the host. I think that is symptomatic of the kind of change is what hurt the show and made it eventually unwatchable (for me).
posted by hincandenza at 12:00 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


A fat acceptance advocate is pointing to possibly the most extreme example from a crash-dieting-for-fame-and-money reality TV show.
Oh come off it. The Biggest Loser is a huge, massive, mainstream media phenomenon, with monster ratings and spin-off shows and tie-in cookbooks, exercise videos, and weight-loss resorts. This is not a case of an activist cherry-picking something extreme to suit her agenda. TBL is totally extreme, but that doesn't mean that it's marginal or unimportant.
posted by craichead at 12:00 PM on June 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oops. meant to include link for "The Choir".
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2010


How come this person hasn't made millions on the Motival Speaking circuit like everyone else from the show?
posted by Theta States at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, you know why those people on those competition shows seem so surly and mean to each other? It's not just they're told to act that way, they're also kept awake for hours on end and plyed with Wild Turkey and forbidden from doing anything other then talk to the camera. YOu know those "real Housewives"? They pay MONEY to be on that show, and then Bravo gets 10% of their earnings. Iy's the biggest, dirtiest, but amazingly lucrative scam ever and it will never, ever go away.
posted by The Whelk at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2010


Here's a blog a friend of mine recently put up about his weight loss experience, which is (in scope) similar to the amount lost on that program, without all the reality TV show crap. So, there's a way to do it that's healthy and right, too. You just won't find it on TV.
posted by davejay at 12:05 PM on June 24, 2010


Low ethical standards on network television? Rule #1 whenever I turn on the TV is, "Never believe anything you see on television". The impetus to exaggerate for profit or advantage is too great for anything real or true to pass through that filter, no matter how earnest or heartfelt. And I'm not even being cynical here. The fact that someone may have a specific grievance regarding a specific show is irrelevant because the entire process is corrupting. Not that there shouldn't be television at all, but that it's simply naive to imagine that it acts as a mirror of reality. It is rather a mirror of reality as we (or someone, a network, a producer, a personality) wishes it to be.
posted by gallois at 12:06 PM on June 24, 2010


I don't know how she "placed" in her season, but if she were seriously concerned with the conditions, why wouldn't she have just walked away? Because she wanted to be on TV that badly?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:07 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


This was very interesting to read. Are there other places where contestants on reality shows talk about what it's like to actually be on one? I know that what we see is an incredibly edited and scripted event, and this peak behind the scenes was (heart-breakingly) informative. I can't say I'm surprised, exactly. But it's also not what I expected. Does anyone know of blogs or other first person accounts?
posted by stoneweaver at 12:09 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sheesh, did she think she booked a spa vacation or signed up for a membership at a full-service gym? She signed onto a reality show.

Really? She should have assumed that she would be ordered to ignore doctors' orders and have her incoming mail censored? She's not just complaining about creative editing here. This is potentially criminal abuse and fraud.
posted by callmejay at 12:10 PM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


sio42: "still, it really sucks if the trainers were really disobeying doctor's orders and stuff. ."

They weren't just following orders (actually, this kinda sounds like the tagline to a movie about some sort of rebel faction in a nazi squad)
posted by symbioid at 12:11 PM on June 24, 2010


The UK program Supersize vs Superskinny is a much better weight reality show that has on a fat and skinny person everyweek. It doesn't dehumanize its guests, emphasizing eating right and exercising and every week the fat person gets a personalized, rather tragic, video message from an obese American to inspire them onward and downward. It also has segments about fad dieting stuff and a group of anorexics in rehab, which are ok.
posted by stavrogin at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2010


Kai Hibbard sounds like an NPR name.

I got all excited when I saw the name because I thought this would be a post about Gamma Ray and Helloween. But that's Kai Hansen. Sigh.
posted by jbickers at 12:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because she wanted to be on TV that badly?

because she wanted to be thin that badly.
posted by pinky at 12:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


mudpuppie: I get so sick of hearing reality show contestants talk about what a dehumanizing experience being on a reality show is. If you don't want to be reduced to carefully chosen soundbites and blurbs, and if you don't want to be treated like a prop by reality show producers whose goal is to manufacture a television show that will be compelling to people who watch reality shows, don't fucking send an audition video to your favorite reality show.
Well in this case it's more than the dehumanization, it sounds like the producers were encouraging physically dangerous activity and interfering with medical professionals who were trying to offer advice and assistance (such as the bit about the electrolytes, or working through injuries, or discounting the RD's diet advice).

I think this will come to a head at some point, and I don't know what the law is- I thought as a thumbnail rule you can't sign away certain rights- but I think for most reality show contestants there is a reasonable expectation that the producers are taking precautions- i.e., that when you walk across the outside of a skyscraper on The Amazing Race, that the producers have done due diligence to make sure the harness and equipment works, or that the item you eat on Fear Factor is not actually going to severely hurt you. Whereas if a contestant on Fear Factor died eating improperly prepared Fugu, I think their relatives would have a reasonable case, waivers be damned.

From the stories I've heard elsewhere and here, it sounds like the TBL producers are actively endangering their contestants, and a mere waiver shouldn't remove their responsibilities: most contestants would reasonably assume that the show has a vested interest in not hurting them, and that the teams of doctors, RDs, and trainers are actually trying to help them.
posted by hincandenza at 12:14 PM on June 24, 2010


Why do we call it "Reality TV" when it's so divorced from reality?

Because it mimics a version of reality a lot of people would like to see.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:18 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


And now that Jillian nutcake has her own show, which I find much, much worse because her mid-workout psycho-babble always struck me as counter-productive at best and unhinged at worst. I am glad to see that I am not the only person who thinks her bizarre attempts at lay psychiatry are dangerous. Because they are. Not everyone with a weight problem was insufficiently loved by Daddy or needs to grapple with long-held demons that only the spandax-clad shaman of the brain can address. The woman is insane. (See how easy lay psychiatry is?)
posted by joe lisboa at 12:20 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, what a shitty concept for a show. I get that it's hard to quantify healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle, but maybe that's more a sign you shouldn't make a show in the first place?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:22 PM on June 24, 2010


I'm sorry, but my vote is for the original...

in order to get on TV and thereby give meaning to their lives.

In order to lose a ton of weight that they've never been able to drop, no matter what the cost.

In order to get on TV.

Unless the rules clearly prohibit doing so, which, thankfully, I don't know, I'd be willing to bet there are people eating like mad in the attempt to get on this show. There are plenty of people who'd saw their leg off to get on "One-Legged Man!' so I don't know why this should be any different.
posted by umberto at 12:29 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


@hippybear: "The Choir" looks pretty neat.

Speaking on the general topic of reality shows and the reality distortion fields in which they operate, I'm reminded of an experience I had last year:

I saw a YouTube video of some hapless soul failing spectacularly on an American Idol episode. I've never been a fan of American Idol because it always felt like the television equivalent of "Let's Laugh at the Mentally Disabled Boy Break-dancing at Junior Prom."

This particular video clip was doing it's darnedest to make this guy look like a talentless half-wit psychopath.

Turns out he lives in my neighborhood. I saw him walking around a shopping center once or twice, and finally I stopped him in a computer store. We had a very interesting chat.

He was by no means a psychopath, though he did have a frankness of speech that often lacked subtlety or social grace, like a lot of geeks I know (this guy is a computer programmer). But he was not a weirdo.

We had a long chat about that video, and even though he really did sing terribly, it was also true the the clip had been carefully edited together to achieve greater embarrassment. The most glaring example was the fact that the video portrayed the judges laughing out loud while this gentleman sang his piece.

It simply didn't happen. The judges don't actually laugh while the contestant is auditioning. It would be disruptive and unprofessional. But of course, the judges don't have control over the editing, and all these American Idol "disaster clips" are cut up for for Maximum Laffs.

Whether or not Kai Hibbard is telling the full story, I think it's pretty plain that The Biggest Loser is an emotionally manipulative show, more intent on garnering big ratings than helping others. She may be whiny and a sore loser or whatever, but I'm far more willing to side with her than with unthinking, ratings-focused producers in Hollywood.

This is one of the reasons I sold my TV when I got married.
posted by jnrussell at 12:29 PM on June 24, 2010


This is one of the reasons I sold my TV when I got married.

Because of Kai Hibbard? *ducks*
posted by joe lisboa at 12:31 PM on June 24, 2010


Man, what a shitty concept for a show. I get that it's hard to quantify healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle, but maybe that's more a sign you shouldn't make a show in the first place?

I think when cultural historians look back on this decade, they'll see nothing but ten years of fat people who were mildly concerned about the environment. The fact that this shitty concept of a show gets good enough ratings to be renewed says more about modern, American values than it does about the creators and the network executives who made it happen.
posted by dubusadus at 12:35 PM on June 24, 2010


I don't know. I think there are at least as many people willing to do desperate, dangerous, miserable things to lose weight as there are people willing to do desperate, dangerous things to get on TV.
posted by craichead at 12:35 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a couple of friends who are married, and a few years ago the male was able to drop about 90lbs through fairly extreme dieting and excessive exercise. He has now not lost anything for over a year despite exercising his brain out every day. His wife lost maybe 10lbs, gained it all back, and is now trying Nutrasystem.

They follow the TBL book like it is a personal bible, and no matter how hard I tell them it's NOT SAFE for a 150lb person with an active lifestyle to consume only 900-1100 calories a day, she continues to starve herself for a week at a time, binge out, and then restart.

I'm sitting here debating on whether or not to share this link w/ them...
posted by TomMelee at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2010


I get so sick of hearing reality show contestants talk about what a dehumanizing experience being on a reality show is. If you don't want to be reduced to carefully chosen soundbites and blurbs, and if you don't want to be treated like a prop by reality show producers whose goal is to manufacture a television show that will be compelling to people who watch reality shows, don't fucking send an audition video to your favorite reality show.

This strikes me as more than a little victim-blamey. Insert blithe parallel to short-skirt-wearing-in-the-bad-part-of-town here.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have always wondered if treatment of contestants on TBL was especially cruel because there is such a huge amount of contempt in our society for obese people.

But I avoid reality shows of all sorts because I think they are generally disrespectful of and unkind toward participants. (I remember catching part of an American Idol episode in which contestants were auditioning to be on the show at all. Cowell raked an overweight woman with a fabulous voice over the coals for being unattractive. It made me feel sick to have watched that much.)
posted by bearwife at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2010


For the record, this show has been turned off in our house ever since it became pretty fucking obvious how exploitative it was. To be fair, that should have been after episode one, but again: I am trying to get better at relinquishing dictatorial remote control powers. Though my media-consumption dictatorship is largely benevolent, my SO has yet to fully internalize the teachings of my Little Red TV Guide. All in good time.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:41 PM on June 24, 2010


This strikes me as more than a little victim-blamey. Insert blithe parallel to short-skirt-wearing-in-the-bad-part-of-town here.

They're not in the same neighborhood. Signing up for a reality show is signing up for abuse. At what point does personal responsibility become a factor? She wasn't held against her will and could have said "enough of this shit, I'm done." But she didn't because she wanted money and she wanted to be on the TeeVee.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:48 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


victim-blamey

A contract entered into consensually by an adult, even if the resulting experience is shitty, is different than rape.
posted by everichon at 12:50 PM on June 24, 2010


I'm sure there are a few of them that want to be on TV, but this woman was told to try it out by her best friend after gaining 80lbs over the course of a few months on top of her already 200+lb weight. Kai has certifications in aerobics and has spent her life being both fat and thin, and just figured that because she had a few months until law school that she could use the adventure.

She believed that doctors and psychologists on the show wouldn't let anything horror story-esque happen, she really had no idea what she was getting into. No one knows what they're getting into, because the network threatens to sue anyone that says anything.

She was in the top 4 of her season, and had been the largest woman - going up head-to-head with the largest male of the season. Producers knew that fans were cheering both of them on, and egged them both to try harder for the fans and for themselves, but they were especially harsh on her because they had never had a female winner. Producers were likely salivating over the idea of a woman winning, no less the fattest female contestant of the season. I mean, imagine that - more and more of your primary demographic tuning in to watch this woman accomplish this goal. That means more book deals and contestants and yadda yadda yadda.

She sums it up pretty good here:
"If you’ve been overweight you’re whole life and conditioned to believe that you’re not worthwhile until you’re thin, and they bring you someplace that, no matter how bad they beat you, it makes you thin, and that’s all you ever wanted, then I guess that’s a positive experience.”
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:53 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would feel sorry for people who had rotten experiences in the very earliest reality shows, but they've been a part of the cultural landscape now for more than a decade. If you now sign up for a reality show, and have a negative experience, you can certainly feel aggrieved, but you cannot be surprised.
posted by everichon at 12:53 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, British reality TV doesn't seem to have the same level of "mean streak" as reality TV in the US does.

I used to watch the BBC version of "What Not To Wear". There was a lot of "here is what your shape is like, and here are things that will flatter you", which is good information for those of us who feel like we missed vital fashion lessons growing up.

I watched one episode of the US version and was repulsed -- lots of drama and crying and shaming/humiliation of the week's victim. Fuck that noise. I'll stick with Trinny and Susannah.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:56 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


This strikes me as more than a little victim-blamey. Insert blithe parallel to short-skirt-wearing-in-the-bad-part-of-town here.

Actually, I'm having a hard time drawing this comparison. The difference is that women should feel free to travel in ANY part of town and dress in ANY manner they choose without fear of harassment or rape. So people should have the right to audition for an exploitive reality show without fear of exploitation? This makes no sense to me.

Caveat emptor, folks. The way Kai was treated is terrible, but she had a lot of warning signs, including a pretty insane NDA that should have raised a red flag. I'm not defending the producers, but she signed the contract, she made the choice. Nobody put a gun to her head.*

Reality TV has been around long enough that you'd have to be living under a rock to not know what you're getting yourself into when you sign up.


*Unless we're going for the brainwashing argument; but if we're going to do that we might as well go whole-hog and argue that Reality TV shows are essentially mirco-cults. That might even be true.
posted by jnrussell at 12:59 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fact that the decision was made to name this show The Biggest Loser should be proof enough for anyone that it is exploitative trash. It's like it was named by eight year-olds:

"Why did you name it The Biggest Loser? Calling the contestants losers is insulting."
"Nuh-UH! It means all the weight they lose! YOU'RE the one calling them losers!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:00 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


A contract entered into consensually by an adult, even if the resulting experience is shitty, is different than rape.

I agree, but I think the sentiment of 'I'm so sick of hearing people on reality shows complain about dehumanization, because they volunteered to be on the show and should know better' is getting mad at exactly the wrong people.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:01 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


getting mad at exactly the wrong people

Just because I think someone is ill-advised in entering into a contract to be on a reality show doesn't mean I don't simultaneously think that the companies making the shows and buying ad time on the shows aren't exploitative piles of shit. Of course they are.
posted by everichon at 1:10 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was referring to mudpuppie's comment above.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2010


I don't know how she "placed" in her season, but if she were seriously concerned with the conditions, why wouldn't she have just walked away? Because she wanted to be on TV that badly?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:07 PM on June 24


I don't know if you've ever been in abusive situation and have experience with how hard it is to get out of those types of situations, but this is a classic example. They were sold a story that preyed on one of their deepest vulnerabilities, completely isolated from anyone who really cared about their well-being, and then emotionally and psychologically abused and bullied into thinking that they had to remain in that situation.

Were they naive to expect something else when they signed up for going on a reality show? Maybe. Does that make it any less of an abusive situation or any more of an acceptable way to treat human beings? Hell no.
posted by Kimberly at 1:22 PM on June 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


At what point does personal responsibility become a factor? She wasn't held against her will and could have said "enough of this shit, I'm done." But she didn't because she wanted money and she wanted to be on the TeeVee.

I love it when people want to talk about personal responsibility, but only care about the personal resposibility of the victim. What about the personal responsibility of the show's producers, the trainers, and the networks? This woman left the show with an eating disorder she didn't have before. an eating disorder is a potentially life-threatening illness. I think the people in charge of the show have a lot of responsibility for, you know, not making the contestants sick.

Here's how I see it: reality show contestants are low-paid contract employees with a small chance of receiving a big bonus at the end of their job. As the employer, the studio and the network have a responsibility to ensure that their employees do not get sick or hurt while under their employ. No different than any other employer. They're not absolved of this responsibility just because some people might think their employees are greedy or stupid or otherwise morally impure.
posted by lunasol at 1:26 PM on June 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


A fat acceptance advocate

Maybe what we need are more not-being-on-TV acceptance advocates.
posted by rocket88 at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love it when people want to talk about personal responsibility, but only care about the personal resposibility of the victim. What about the personal responsibility of the show's producers, the trainers, and the networks?

They're part of a corporation. They have a responsibility to make money, and that's pretty much it. That's why you shouldn't sign contracts with them. Expecting ethical treatment from a corporation despite all precedent isn't reasonable. And it's a rotten way to operate, but that's how it works and everyone knows it.

I reiterate-- she could have walked away. If the producers held her against her will she'd be involved in a lawsuit. She didn't walk away, because she wanted money and perhaps fame. She's not a victim.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:44 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this doesn't surprise me too much. I watched about three-quarters of a "Biggest Loser" season back-to-back on the recommendation of a friend whose advice I trust. I wish I could now find the e-mail I wrote them in which I calmly explained exactly what was so fucked up with the show.
posted by WCityMike at 1:45 PM on June 24, 2010


It sounds like she had a rough time and some of the stuff she mentioned sounds really terrible, but the sensationalism woven into this is just absurd.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:52 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if anybody has the time, listen to the audio. The tone is different, not to mention the little tidbits of info that fill in what some people are arguing about here.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:55 PM on June 24, 2010


One thing I've always wondered about on that show is how it's physically possible to lose the weight the contestants do in such a short period of time -- just from a mathematical standpoint. I'm no nutritionist, but a pound of fat is 3,500 calories, and most people need somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 calories per day just to exist, right?

Some of these people are losing 30-40 pounds in a "week" (I guess that's a TV week, not a real week.) Even if it takes 14 real days, (and lets say they lost 30 pounds) that's still 105,000 calorie deficit. Even if you ate no food during that time -- assuming a 2000-calorie-per-day requirement-- you'd still have to exercise enough to burn another 5,500 calories every day.

I don't care what kind of celebrity trainer you have -- how is that even possible? 10-hours a day of kickboxing? While they do log a lot of time on that treadmill, something doesn't add up here, even with the dehydration.

Could some of these fatties be not so fat after all?

I'll bet Cannon could solve this!
posted by silkyd at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2010


Brandon Blatcher: Why do we call it "Reality TV" when it's so divorced from reality?

Because it mimics a version of reality a lot of people would like to see.


The truth of this statement just made me shiver like someone was walking over my grave.

WCityMike: wish I could now find the e-mail I wrote them in which I calmly explained exactly what was so fucked up with the show.

I'm sure that your email was well-argued and reasoned and made tons of good observations and judgments that I couldn't make having just seen in for about five minutes.

But the five minutes of the show I saw showed a contest where the desperately-trying-to-lose weight people, after exercising and doing well enough to move on from previous rounds and other things I feel they should be rewarded positively for, were...

locked in a room with mounds and mounds of Twinkies non-branded snack cakes.

I truly doubted there was anything about this behind-the-scenes article that could make me despise this show more than I already did from what I saw on the screen.

(I was wrong.)

I was, of course, wrong.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


They're part of a corporation. They have a responsibility to make money, and that's pretty much it. That's why you shouldn't sign contracts with them.

I disagree. Corporations have a responsibility to make money, sure. But individuals are not relieved of their moral responsibility to treat others with respect because they happen to work for a corporation.

And seriously, the fact that this contestant made a mistake by choosing to be employed by the show does not make it ok that they treated her so poorly and, I'll repeat, created conditions that gave her a life-threatening illness.

posted by lunasol at 2:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bah. You have to break a few eggs to get an omelet with good ratings, eh? And it's not like it's hard to lead these lambs to slaughter.

Call us direct! Call us collect! But call us today!
posted by umberto at 2:29 PM on June 24, 2010


They're part of a corporation. They have a responsibility to make money, and that's pretty much it.

Bullshit. No person is relieved of ethical obligations merely by being in the employ of a corporation. Where do you get these crazy ideas from?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


and most people need somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 calories per day just to exist, right?

No, not at all. It is different for every person to maintian a current weight. But to just exist you don't need much at all.

Some of these people are losing 30-40 pounds in a "week"

What week was that and who lost that amount? Also if you've watched the show for more than a couple of episodes some people intentionally gain (water) weight to strategically knock other contestants off.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2010


Bullshit. No person is relieved of ethical obligations merely by being in the employ of a corporation. Where do you get these crazy ideas from?

Thank you! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here!
posted by lunasol at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2010


They have a responsibility to make money, and that's pretty much it.

No; like the poster said, as employers, they have the responsibility not to hurt their employees. Even short-term, fame-seeking employees with personal issues you find unsavory. Employees whose willingness to go through various televised ordeals sell lots of advertising space.

What they're doing is not yet against the law, but it is unethical. And this writer did a good job of exposing it.

I don't get the "what does she think she was owed, anyway?" take on it. If she'd said "I get a million bucks for showing up" then yeah, but "I have the right not to be physically abused and endangered and given an eating disorder just because I agreed to go on TV" should not be a controversial statement no matter who you are.
posted by emjaybee at 2:52 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Bullshit. No person is relieved of ethical obligations merely by being in the employ of a corporation.

They're not relieved of ethical obligations, but only a fool would believe that someone acting on behalf of a corporation has their best interest in mind. If large, for-profit companies were people, they'd be psychopaths. And they're composed of people of working to those ends.

Signing up for reality TV is like finding the zoo's polar bear enclosure open and going inside for a swim-- sad if you get eaten, but what do you expect? And she could have left the cage when she was merely being nibbled on.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:55 PM on June 24, 2010


Thank you! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here!

Yes, but just wait until you try the Biggest Loser (tm) brand Crazy Pills product placed ever-so-obviously in each episode. They will drive ya really nuts!
posted by joe lisboa at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think your definition of fool is overly expansive, Mayor Curley.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:00 PM on June 24, 2010


Regarding hippybear's comment above about UK reality shows, all the shows hippybear names are either produced by the BBC or Channel 4 in the UK. The BBC and Channel 4 are public broadcasters, which are required by the UK government to uphold certain standards of educational value and seemliness in their programming (moreso in the BBC's case as the funding model is more directly tied to the government). So BBC and Channel 4 make reality shows (because they're economical to make and the public likes them - part of the public service remit (to avoid paternal elitism) is to sometimes give what large numbers of the public might enjoy to a reasonable degree) but they generally have to be based on some kind of educational, informational, pro-community or otherwise improving-society rationale. This rationale can be broad and even vague at times, but if its highly diluted or non-existent, this opens up the BBC or Channel 4 to a scolding from the government and the press. The major commercial broadcasters in the UK, ITV and Sky and Channel 5, of course aren't restricted by the same level of considerations about the suitability of their reality TV shows
posted by Bwithh at 3:02 PM on June 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Bullshit. No person is relieved of ethical obligations merely by being in the employ of a corporation.
Mayor Curley: They're not relieved of ethical obligations, but only a fool would believe that someone acting on behalf of a corporation has their best interest in mind. If large, for-profit companies were people, they'd be psychopaths. And they're composed of people of working to those ends.

Signing up for reality TV is like finding the zoo's polar bear enclosure open and going inside for a swim-- sad if you get eaten, but what do you expect? And she could have left the cage when she was merely being nibbled on.
The fuck are you talking about?

Corporations are increasingly becoming people, much to your delight I'm sure, so the "They are sociopaths so deal with it" is a pretty lame defense of poor behavior. Really, any defense of poor behavior that starts with "Well, that's just how they are, can't help it really" is defeatist and ignorant. It'd be like not prosecuting Gacy or Bundy or the Green River Killer because, well, that's just who they are and you should have expected it and hey if you get in the oceans with sharks, man, well hey knowwhatI'msayingman?

The people involved are not polar bears, so you'll forgive us if we expect more agency and self-control than a friggin' bear in a zoo. That it is potentially not illegal for them to engage in that dangerous behavior is itself questionable; the doctors involved might still be liable since I think their own liability transcends that of Hack TV Producer and Network Lawyerbot 3000. That reality TV's ubiquitousness has outpaced the law's ability to handle liability and waivers in these kinds of case may simply be something that gets corrected in time, with a few sufficiently notable cases.

But your stance that the state of things is an immutable fact of life is, quite frankly, pathetic.
posted by hincandenza at 3:05 PM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sorry, P.o.B. -- I was wrong. The contestant I was thinking of didn't lose 30 pounds. He actually lost 32 pounds. My bad.
posted by silkyd at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mitchell and Webb are on the case.
posted by Evilspork at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


That reality TV's ubiquitousness has outpaced the law's ability to handle liability and waivers in these kinds of case may simply be something that gets corrected in time, with a few sufficiently notable cases.

Oh Jesus Christ. The CEO of NBC Universal could stab you in the eye on the 50 yard line of the Superbowl and then deliver a dead fish to your relatives via signed receipt, and no one would do a thing about it.

Everyone seems to be going on the assumption that I think corporations SHOULD be given free reign to do what they want. (I should have made that clearer, sorry). That is ABSOLUTELY not my position. I am merely stating that it is a fact that they CAN, and everyone must be aware of the dire situation by now.

Lastly, I, like every decent person, am outraged when an innocent person is rolled by a corporation. Take someone's land by imminent domain to build a mall? I'm incensed. But this is not a situation of someone minding their own business and getting jumped:

"The Biggest Loser" is pornography in the classic definition of the word-- it has no socially redeeming value. Everyone who's seen three minutes of it knows it's a "hey lookit them there fatties" side-show that has no place in decent society. Yet, it had aired for TWO SEASONS when this woman elected to become part of that disgusting sideshow. She watched fat people get debased on television and said "I'd do that!" She was absolutely working for the clampdown. Then she was selected to do it, and she endured very poor treatment. As I've stated twice previously, she could have said "fuck this" and left. But she didn't.

So she decided to set herself up for being gawked at by millions, and then she found the conditions under which she had to do it intolerable. And she didn't try to preserve her health or dignity by leaving.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:43 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh Jesus Christ. The CEO of NBC Universal could stab you in the eye on the 50 yard line of the Superbowl and then deliver a dead fish to your relatives via signed receipt, and no one would do a thing about it.
Wait- do you believe that's true? You might be right, but I think that the CEO would in fact be prosecuted... heck, he or she'd probably be prosecuted even if you'd signed a waiver beforehand!

You're being blithely ignorant of what she's describing. One would reasonably assuming that the TV shows doing this have "people" who make sure they don't get sued when someone dies or is seriously hurt on one of these shows. Further, in this case the producers are taking people who are in states of desperation (admittedly, they don't have to be on the show) and it sounds like they aren't just exploiting them, but willfully obstructing their access to good medical care, or misrepresenting the medical staff that is around, and creating a locked down environment to further that stress and malleability.

What people are saying is that might not be technically illegal, but it's ludicrously unethical and further that the average person who isn't the brilliant jurist Mayor Curley may not realize until later that the environment of that show, the constant emotional abuse and belittlement, the deprivation of any contact with the outside world or family, and unsound or dangerous medical advice from people you and the viewing audience are assured are competent professionals all adds up to something more like a cult brainwashing culpable victims than a television show. Yes, like Big Brother, a contestant is always free to walk off the set- but in the case of BB, they aren't implying that everyone in the BB house has a serious or life threatening medical condition that has to be treated by these esteemed degree-holding professionals and world-famous trainers. A fame-whore knowingly accepting the pop-culture mockery of their appearance is one thing; someone with legitimate medical issues that goes onto TBL to get help accepts some pop-culture exposure and even humiliation, but shouldn't expect that they will be endangering their lives.

You're right, they don't have to appear on the show, and caveat contestant about editing and the like, but the show very deliberately presents the view that they have highly trained medical staff and a 24-7 facility taking care of these people, and you can certainly understand why someone who went on this show might accept all the silly competition, the goofball immunity challenges, and the spectacle of a camera in your face and still think that behind the scenes you wouldn't have doctors willfully endangering your life or health. If a doctor- employed by NBC or not- said "You're okay to work out even though you're puking and you feel like your knee is torn up" why would Kai or anyone else think "Well, no, I can't trust them". Which is the issue here: creating a Stanford Prison Experiment environment where they break down these people under the guise that the people are broken, and exploit their very real medical need to keep them there. The drumbeat of the show is that if you quit, if you walk out, you might as well sign your own death warrant because you're going to be alone, unloved, and probably die of a heart attack in a year or two (the "You have the physical age of a 90-year-old" schtick is actually part of the show, you understand).

Like I said, their behavior sounds more like that of a cult than a reality show, which goes beyond the pale of shows like Survivor or The Amazing Race where the only thing up for grabs is the face time and the monetary prize.
posted by hincandenza at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


watched some of the second season of The Biggest Loser and stopped watching because I KNEW there was no way these people could be losing weight like that unless something extremely unhealthy was going on. And also because the personal trainers and the show in general just seemed mean to me.

The message I got from the show is that for fat people, torture and humiliation is too good a fate. And that message is not limited to The Biggest Loser or "reality tv". That's a strong message sent to fat people. Torture, torture, torture and death.
posted by Danila at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


You're just missing an enormous thing here, Mayor Curley. And that enormous thing is that fat people get treated like shit in our society. This show promises participants that if they work really hard and endure a lot of suffering and abuse, it will release them from the social stigma of being fat. It tells them that they're miserable, disgusting, horrible people and that their fatness is hurting them and everyone who loves them, and then it gives them a way out, if they just debase and humiliate themselves enough. And that's terribly powerful and seductive, not because the people in question are desperate for fame, but because they're desperate for relief from the shame and stigma that our society heaps on fat people.
posted by craichead at 4:04 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you don't want to be reduced to carefully chosen soundbites and blurbs, and if you don't want to be treated like a prop by reality show producers whose goal is to manufacture a television show that will be compelling to people who watch reality shows, don't fucking send an audition video to your favorite reality show.

People also get scouted, too; here in L.A. I know a number of folks who've been approached by casting directors for shows. My sister and her kids were approached last year for one of the nanny shows (SuperNanny or Nanny 911... though maybe Wife Swap?) when a casting agent saw them getting their Halloween pumpkins at the pumpkin patch. She briefly thought it might be a good idea along the lines of "hey, maybe they'll actually give us some practical tips for managing the boys, plus we'll earn some money for their college funds" but I was all NO NO NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO, THEY'LL EDIT YOU TO BE CRAZY AND HORRIBLE AND THE KIDS TO BE MONSTERS, NO!

Not only that, you know how much they offered for the honor of having their lives taken over by a film crew for a week, then to have her whole family humiliated on national TV?

Five thousand dollars. And that's not five thousand bucks each; five grand for the entire family of five.

Going on any reality show is basically making a deal with the devil. (Unless it's Project Runway, because all good things flow from Tim Gunn, but OTHER THAN THAT.)
posted by scody at 4:27 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


TBL isn't the only show out there that crosses the line in terms of ignoring danger signs while exploiting pain. I watched an episode of one of those "Nanny" shows once, where the two parents were clearly neglecting/abusing their teenage daughters by using them as caretakers for the younger kids 24/7--to the point that one of them was so exhausted she passed out on camera, and neither of them were ever able to leave the house except to go to school. Neither of them were getting enough sleep to keep up their grades. Nor did they have time to have or see outside friends.

At that point (and probably earlier) it was time to call in real counselors and possibly CPS. But no, they trot out the little British woman with a posterboard schedule that is supposed to fix what is an obviously dysfunctional situation. And yeah the parents straightened up for the cameras, but I would bet you a million dollars things went back to the way they were five minutes later.

You could see the despair on those girl's faces; they weren't whiny teenagers, they were prisoners.
posted by emjaybee at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2010


To all these people saying, "she signed a contract, she had it coming:"

Contrary to what economists might tell you, contracts aren't created or signed by rational actors with perfect information in some idealistic vacuum. I'm sure it was filled with legalese, and that she was in the company of a lot of very powerful people putting pressure on her to sign, and, most importantly, that social pressures had caused her to be desperate to be thin, as she said herself ("If you’ve been overweight you’re whole life and conditioned to believe that you’re not worthwhile until you’re thin, and they bring you someplace that, no matter how bad they beat you, it makes you thin, and that’s all you ever wanted...")... now you try rationally evaluating a contract for abusive language in such a state, when all the internal and external pressures surrounding you in the moment are just begging you to take the chance, that maybe somehow all the alarm bells going off in your head are just overreactions, because the reward would be so, so sweet...

I don't know, it's not socially acceptable for the MeFite demographic to approve of reality TV, but like everything in life the truth is more complicated than people imagine it to be, and a little empathy will demonstrate that very quickly, if you're just receptive to thinking about things that way rather than making sure everyone damn well knows that YOU are too sophisticated to see anything of value or poignancy in reality shows.
posted by notswedish at 4:31 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Others here have put forth some points that I would have made, and I'm finding the discussion really fascinating.

One question I have: The isolation mentioned in the thread, with no contact from family members for weeks, really reminds me of brainwashing techniques used by abusers and cults to keep victims in their thrall. So, say someone did decide to "just walk away" from the Dehumanizing Reality Show (whichever one it was, I think they all do this to some extent).

Are there legal consequences to this action?

I personally feel that many of these contracts would fall under "signed under duress" and so should be null and void, but could contestants have a valid fear that if they walked away they would be held financially responsible for the weeks they did not participate? I assume there are stipulations that if they were not voted off or sent away or whatever the show usually does to whittle down the competition, they are required to finish out the season. Are they really free to just walk away?

(And yes, I do think it is insane that people sign up for these Reality Shows to begin with, but that doesn't mean they deserve to be treated inhumanely.)
posted by misha at 5:48 PM on June 24, 2010


He actually lost 32 pounds. My bad.

GET IT RIGHT NEXT TIME!
posted by P.o.B. at 6:45 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get hostility now, now that I tell the truth about what happened on the show. I get told I’m ungrateful or I must be lying because everyone else says it was so positive. . . . I actually had one person friend me just to send me a hate letter. . . . The worst ones are the rabid fans of the show who desperately want a magic cure-all, and when you tell them that it’s not they get upset.

It sounds like a horrible conglomeration of team sports, self-help books, and religion-- what a toxic cocktail. Not to mention the underlying disgust of fat drilled into every American-- the fattest people in the world. I blame myself. I was a devoted watcher the first few seasons of Amazing race and Survivor and now the airwaves have become a festering, stinking cesspool of reality TV turds. I have long since given up on American TV and I shudder to think what the future brings.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:46 PM on June 24, 2010


> I have long since given up on American TV and I shudder to think what the future brings.

Ow My Balls!
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:24 PM on June 24, 2010


notswedish: "...Contrary to what economists might tell you... "

Wait wait wait... Now I know you're full of shit. Economists are obviously NEVER wrong.
posted by symbioid at 9:27 PM on June 24, 2010


I have long since given up on American TV

Yes, all American TV is garbage, that is the logical conclusion to all this.
posted by inigo2 at 9:54 PM on June 24, 2010


She signed onto a reality show. She signed on to a reality show that sensationalizes extreme activities toward extreme weight loss. She wanted something for nothing, and she wanted to win a prize for it.

I felt this way as well when I was reading the interview. By the mid 2000s, it was pretty well known that reality shows are dehumanizing to their contestants. However, the part about ignoring physicians' advice and the dehydrating before weigh-ins changed my mind; that's hugely unethical, and should be criminal (can you prevent someone from getting medical treatment?).

I actually watched most of the season that Kai was on because I had a roommate who was really into it. I watched in disbelief most weeks because some of them some seemed to lose a lot per week, and I figured there was something shady going on -- either more than a week would pass or they were engaging in unhealthy practices. But my roommate very earnestly told me that the contestants were under a doctor's supervision and were losing the healthy way (roommate was in med school at the time, which I think says more about her than the show -- Dr. House, she was not). So there's definitely a lot of marketing and press that goes into reinforcing the idea that the show is somewhat healthy, i.e. someone might expect the usual reality show shenanigans, but not to this extent.
posted by bluefly at 2:51 AM on June 25, 2010


"all the shows hippybear names are either produced by the BBC or Channel 4 in the UK"

Pedant point: a lot of shows broadcast on both channels are produced by independent production companies, albeit to the same standard. As with Europe, a lot of our reality shows come from Endemol, and more recently, 19 Entertainment.

I have been struck before by the big difference between UK and US Wife Swap, or UK and US Apprentice. I don't doubt there's as much mediation on the UK versions but they seem less 'staged', somehow. I suppose because before the current wave of reality gameshows we were fascinated with docusoaps where realism was the order of the day.
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2010


sorry, by 'standard' I meant 'guidelines'.

/though Zeppotron are ace
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2010


So, not only do I not watch tv, but now I have to give up reading about tv? wtf?
posted by sneebler at 9:16 AM on June 25, 2010


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