What’s it like to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser?
December 2, 2013 10:36 AM   Subscribe

The AV Club interviews Nicole Michalik about her experience as a fourth season contestant on NBC's weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser

Behind-the-scenes interview with another Biggest Loser contestant previously
posted by figurant (30 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not easy to separate the ham from the serious. (well, it is, but maybe if it were live would play better than reading ..)
posted by k5.user at 10:43 AM on December 2, 2013


Glad she had a good experience, but it still does not make me like the show any more.

Full disclosure - as a big guy, the concept strikes me as a The Running Man-type "ha ha, look at the fat pepole" circus.
posted by mrbill at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Biggest Loser to me represents the absolute nadir of pretty much all forms of human cruelty. It's never about seeing people better themselves, it's about sating the latent thirst for humiliation that the target audience "normal" sized people seem to crave. The early episodes of every season are about watching overweight people pushed FAR beyond their physical/mental capacity until they vomit and break down emotionally. Then when the truly unworthy are weeded out, they run the rest ragged until they drop one by one to crown the "loser".

Not to mention the weight loss the occurs during the show is WILDLY UNHEALTHY AND UNREALISTIC.

Seriously, fuck this show.
posted by mediocre at 11:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [51 favorites]


I wonder if it would be possible to have a Health at Every Size (HAES) based reality TV show. Also one that is about collaborating rather than competition.
posted by larrybob at 11:12 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It should be noted that the 4th season occurred almost 7 years ago. Things are likely very different now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:12 AM on December 2, 2013


There is a great reality show to be made about how much of a struggle it is to be healthy for most people.

A show where people are locked in rooms with their favorite junk foods is not that show.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:12 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did anybody get bombed by several windows of weight loss ads and a doctor Oz video by clicking on the AV Club link?
posted by srboisvert at 11:20 AM on December 2, 2013


Things are likely very different now.

People still like to laugh at the misfortunes and failures of those deemed lesser.
posted by mrbill at 11:27 AM on December 2, 2013


Also one that is about collaborating rather than competition.

Do you want our poor, impressionable children to grow up to be socialists?

Seeing people shamed and degraded is an important part of children's moral development. It reminds them to stay in line.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


When I’m really having a bad day, I’ll think, “You know what? I have amazing hair, I have great parents, I love my job.”

She's my hero.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's never about seeing people better themselves

It's impossible to square this with the relief and happiness people evince on the show over losing their weight.

The early episodes of every season are about watching overweight people pushed FAR beyond their physical/mental capacity until they vomit and break down emotionally.

This is what weight loss is very often like. I've lost significant amounts of weight twice in my life - around 50lbs my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, and then 30lbs in 2013. I wasn't obese like many of the contestants are, and yet, the introduction to rigorous physical activity - as opposed to dicking around on a treadmill or elliptical - put significant physical, emotional, and mental strain on me. I know I vomited at least once from exertion. It was good strain, of course, and I'm glad I did it.

Whether television viewers should be peering into this process is another question entirely, but that ship has mostly sailed, and participants know exactly what they're getting into.
posted by downing street memo at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


What a great interview, and as a former watcher of The Biggest Loser I really appreciated her insight into the background happenings of the show. Particularly, the time scales of the season were a complete mystery to me. They never explain why there are some weeks contestants across the board lose smaller or larger amounts of weight, but knowing that the time between weigh-ins varies from 5 to 10 days that makes a little more sense.
Then for the next six weeks, every day was like, “Send pictures of when you were at the prom, send pictures of when you were 8. Do you know how to swim? Do you have any tattoos?” It was a million questions and a million phone interviews, and that went on for about six weeks. And this was before smart phones, so my poor mom and dad had to go to CVS to scan pictures and send them in. They really make you jump through a lot of hoops, because I think they want to see how bad you want it.
Heh, That's Entertainment!
It seems likelier to me that she was on the receiving end of a lot of Producers flipping through lots of pages of lots of files and telling lots and lots of Assistants to get this shot or that bio bit or find out the other thing before they could be sure and make a decision.

My old roommate was really inspired by the show. I think that even if the 'reality' show itself is a bit of a fix, it's done a lot in the real world to raise awareness and get people to actually eat healthier and exercise more.
posted by carsonb at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is what weight loss is very often like.

Yeah, I know.
posted by mediocre at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2013


That's what struck me immediately when the show debuted (even as a person blessed with a fast-enough metabolism, and before I saw how humiliating many of the episodes are for contestants): even if you win, you're still The Biggest Loser.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:04 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


lot of Producers flipping through lots of pages of lots of files and telling lots and lots of Assistants to get this shot or that bio bit or find out the other thing before they could be sure and make a decision

This. I went out for a semi-image-based reality show (really, what show isn't) that was said to be less reality deathmatch than other shows out there. The concept changed a bit between tryouts and follow up interviews and the final product to be more deathmatch (not a huge surprise), but that's what the callbacks were - background, what else is your story beyond your three minute tape we made in a hotel ballroom six months ago ... even without the thought of losing weight on TV or dating someone or living in a house with several someones or an island for months on end, it was somewhat daunting and frazzling.

But I made a really good friend at the tryouts, so it wasn't a total wash. :)
posted by tilde at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2013


To me, the biggest takeaway is that the people on Biggest Loser are already healthy prior to starting the show.
I think it’s a combination of things. We spent an entire day getting medical tests. A lot of people aren’t actually physically fit to be able to do it. We worked out six to seven hours a day. Even though we were fat, we still had to be healthy and there were some people that just weren’t healthy enough.
posted by muddgirl at 12:08 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Apart from the sizeist ideology the whole show is based on, and the fact that most contestants put their weight back on after it finishes, what bugs me about Biggest Loser is how it fetishizes scale readings -- when weight fluctuates by several kilograms each day. Even more, I guess, when you're purposefully fucking with your water retention.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:32 PM on December 2, 2013


The thing that bothers me most about this show is that the women wear just sports bras for the entirety of the weigh-ins while the men remove their shirts and have their midsection exposed only during their individual weigh-in.
posted by snarfles at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Exactly, to win at this show one would be big, but put on short term water retention, scale in high then just at the right time sweat off a bunch of pounds through heat and diuretics in addition to exercise.
posted by sammyo at 12:38 PM on December 2, 2013


One thing that I always questioned about that show is the focus on the number--the weight. As the contestants get toward the end when they have already lost a lot of weight, a person who is working out hard and building a lot of muscle under the remaining fat might have less weight loss and be kicked off the show like some kind of slacker or loser.

It seems like that other show about transformation (I forget what it is called but it is on regular non-cable TV) is a little better in that the person is not in competition with somebody else. It is just their own personal struggle and they always "win" by the end of the episode. Always a happy ending. I watched an episode over Thanksgiving in which the personal trainer dude who is the star of the show switched diets for one day with the "contestant". He literally puked by the end of the day after eating too many donuts, and soda, and lots of fast food. I wonder if that was real or totally scripted.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2013


She mentions something that I don't think gets enough attention: eating healthy is often very expensive.
Doing the show, I found out I really liked Chilean sea bass. After I got voted off, I came home and went to the grocery store and I'm like, “I’ll have eight pieces of Chilean sea bass.” And the guy was like, “Are you sure?” It was $84. I had no concept of how expensive the food was.
posted by tommasz at 1:38 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


There almost seems to be a set-up for failure in there. They're training them to eat stuff that's incredibly low-salt in order to keep water off, not fat, and then you reenter the world that's full of salt and you're never going to be able to maintain that, not happily. And the thing about the sea bass. They're not leaving with any idea how to eat in the real world.

I mean, I'm not big on the idea of dieting for weight loss to start with, but that just seems cruel, like you have to take all the shame and pile onto it that you aren't even sending people away with a serious idea how to do this when they get home. Or for that matter, what about participants who don't have permanent physical trainer sorts of budgets?

But yeah, I'd actually love to see more collaborative reality TV. I bet you could actually get a lot of hits with a webseries about people who're making big changes in their lives without making it cutthroat or shame-y at all. It's just that network TV can't just make good shows, they seem to all think they have to make the #1 show in America every single time, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this drive is going to end up alienating more viewers than it attracts. Eventually. The transition part is gonna suck, though.
posted by Sequence at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2013


It's impossible to square this with the relief and happiness people evince on the show over losing their weight.

There is a lot of relief involved when you manage to dispose of a hugely stigmatizing physical trait. That's not necessarily about objectively bettering yourself, but becoming less of a punching bag for the world at large.
posted by Ouisch at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is like anything else, in that I would never deny someone else their experience, particularly one I haven't had.

But JESUS, this show is guilty of playing into the "it really just comes down to whether you can sit in a room full of donuts and not eat them" outlook on all this stuff, which is so fucking reductive it makes me want to open a window and scream.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:07 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


She mentions something that I don't think gets enough attention: eating healthy is often very expensive.

I've mentioned this here before, but I gained a bunch of weight while recuperating from rotator cuff surgery on my dominant arm. I couldn't use my arm or hand for a couple of months, and while I'm lucky enough to have literally hundreds of dining and food shopping options right outside my front door, after a few weeks it became very clear that I could eat healthily or I could eat cheaply, but I could not do both. And that's not even choosing between the extremes of Whole Foods and McDonalds it just involves lots of empty carbs. Healthy protein is expensive.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:15 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


you're never going to be able to maintain that

Sustainability is literally the last thing they're concerned with.
posted by mikelieman at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2013


“I’ll have eight pieces of Chilean sea bass.”

Eight pieces of fish. Clearly they learn nothing.
posted by xmutex at 3:00 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eight pieces of fish. Clearly they learn nothing.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt and didn't assume she was going to eat all eight herself. Or at once.
posted by goshling at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2013


Great interview, but the addition of before and after photographs would have really made it more memorable. That's not her in the accompanying photograph I hope.
posted by Renoroc at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2013


I figured she didn't know that fish doesn't keep well after you buy it, and was trying to stock up.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


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