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Image: Mark on "The Biggest Loser"
Trae Patton  /  NBC Universal, Inc.
Just how long do the contestants of "The Biggest Loser," such as Mark on the current season, actually work out each day? A surprising four to six hours, definitely not something the average person can manage.
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/16/2008 2:56:27 PM ET 2008-04-16T18:56:27
Ask the Reality TV Expert

Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Apprentice,” “Real World” or another show, send in your questions. Andy Dehnart, msnbc.com's Television Editor and creator of Reality Blurred, will try to answer them.

Q: How many hours a day do the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" actually work out? It is hard to tell with the editing of the show.— Maryann, Pasadena, Calif.

Q: How come on "The Biggest Loser" they never show what the contestants eat during the week? We are motivated by the exercising they are completing but we aren't learning about good nutrition. Are they tempted in their kitchens with treats? Is that why some people lose more than others?— Carolyn M., Milford, CT

A: Lots of "Biggest Loser" questions this week. First, to answer the most common question, the contestants on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" exercise a lot: upwards of four to six hours a day. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.) Their workout schedule depends on various things, such as their own motivation (we've seen some contestants add time to their workouts), their trainers' plans, or participation in challenges for the show.

That intense schedule has led to criticism that the show is unrealistic. Certainly, many people don't have that much time to devote to exercise every day, but the show's point still stands: diet and exercise alone lead to weight loss. And it is possible to work out that much. Season five contestant Dan Evans has said in recent interviews that, since being voted off the show, he's working out for up to six hours a day on his own.

As to nutrition and eating, I can't think of a single episode where we haven't seen the contestants eating. Perhaps you're fast-forwarding through those segments?

Just last week, Rocco DiSpirito showed each of the four finalists how to prepare healthy, low-calorie versions of their favorite pre-weight loss foods, and this was his second appearance this season to demonstrate healthy cooking techniques. We also regularly see the contestants preparing their own meals and talking to the trainers about nutrition.

It's certainly possible for them to eat badly, however. In past seasons, we've seen contestants cheat and eat bad food. Second-season winner Matt Hoover, for example, binged one night to intentionally gain weight, taking advantage of his immunity at the weigh-in.

By the way, the show's fifth season concludes Tuesday night with a live two-hour finale. For the first time, viewer votes have determined the show's third finalist — either Mark or Roger will take that spot, competing against Kelly and Ali. That means the show has the best chance ever of having its first female winner, although the person with the most weight loss, Ali, may actually have stopped losing weight.

Talking to reporters a couple weeks ago, trainer Jillian Michaels said that Ali will stay at a certain weight, even if that means losing the game. "And as much as she wants to win this, we've decided that she will not come in below 120 pounds, under any circumstance," she said. "She cannot go below that weight. She can, but it would be unhealthy for her and she's about sending the right message."

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Q: Where do ("American Idol") contestants live when they are doing the show?— Kent W., San Diego, Calif.

Slideshow: New ‘Idol’ king A: In the first three seasons, "Idol" finalists lived together in a mansion, and some footage of their living arrangements were even included on the show. But starting with season five, they were housed in apartments, where they have roommates.

That "gives the finalists more privacy and space," according to executive producer Nigel Lythgoe's interview in the season four "American Idol" book. He also revealed that finalists "also get their laundry done, housekeeping services once per week, and a private chef several nights per week. They work very hard every day. We want the finalists to be comfortable during what little private time they have."

Before the final rounds, the show's top 24 semi-finalists live in a luxury hotel that's located in Beverly Hills, and those who make it to Hollywood live in a hotel during those earlier rounds.

Q:How can the people who are featured on TLC's "What Not To Wear" replace their entire wardrobe with only $5,000 when shopping in New York City? Many times, one purse or pair of boots costs $550 or an entire outfit costs $1,000. They can't get very many clothes to replace what has been thrown out. Do they get to keep the three outfits Stacy and Clinton show them as the styles they should look for along with the outfits they pick out once they go shopping?  — Liz, Madison, Wis.

A: That's a good question, and the answer is that they might not be able to replace all their old clothing with that money, at least not in terms of quantity. While the show does discard most of the subject's wardrobe, they do leave a few weeks worth of clothes behind, which is necessary because that segment and the New York segments aren't filmed consecutively, and are sometimes weeks apart. In addition, even after buying new clothes, the makeover subject can't wear them until the reveal at the end, and the mannequin outfits are just for demonstration purposes.

So how much can they buy? During the show's first season, TLC's Web site featured an episode guide that included prices for every item purchased so you could see exactly how far that $5,000 went. But the line-item accounting went away during season two, and the show's site no longer includes episode guides, for some reason.

However, Austin-American Statesman staff member Addie Broyles appeared on the show a few weeks ago, and she detailed how she spent the $5,000.

She also wrote that the budget — which is actually paid by a production assistant because the credit card shown on the show "was fake" — didn't offer a lot of possibilities. "$5,000 doesn't go as far as you think it would when you're hitting New York boutiques. It doesn't seem like much when it's on fancy wooden hangers, especially when you have an empty closet to go home to," she wrote. She also blogged that "one of the assistant producers admitted that it was unrealistic to think I would totally replace my old wardrobe."

Broyles also reveals another one of the show's big secrets: While shopping, she was accompanied by "a personal stylist, someone who gets paid to pull things off the racks and tell you what looks good. ... The high-profile hosts spent only a handful of hours helping me shop. I learned more about clothes from power-shopper Jess, my stylist, than (Stacy) London and (Clinton) Kelly combined."

Andy Dehnart is a writer who publishes reality blurred, a daily digest of reality TV news and analysis.

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