As reality TV competitions go, there’s something special about “The Biggest Loser.” It has the requisite components of all the big made-for-TV games, complete with grueling challenges, occasional meltdowns and voyeuristic fun for the audience.
But unlike in other old-school reality comps — such as “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race” — the rewards for “Loser” contestants go far beyond cash prizes and short-lived fame. Players have a real shot at changing their lives.
No matter the latest twist or newest theme on the NBC hit, each season starts off with a group of people with a common goal: seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lose weight and regain health with the help of top trainers, medical monitoring and time spent in an all-expenses-paid dedicated environment.
(TODAY.com is a part of msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
OK, sure, those sweet cash prizes for one on-ranch and one off-ranch player factor in, too, but for most of the participants, that new lease on life is the real grand prize.
Maybe that’s what makes it so frustrating for “Loser” fans when the on-screen action turns from losing-to-win to quitting, gaining and complaining, as it so often has this season.
Don’t get me wrong. Speaking as someone who could benefit from a well-structured weight-loss environment or a gym membership — or heck, even a little personal restraint at Starbucks — I’m not criticizing anyone for having a bad week, losing focus or gaining pounds because they just couldn’t cut it. But there’s a big difference between trying and failing, and trying to fail, which is exactly what a bunch of “Losers” have done lately.
The biggest self-sabotagers
It all began in the third week of the competition. That’s when identical twins Dan and Don, who had each shown an early desire to get back to the comforts of home, suddenly saw an identical set of plus-9s on the scales.
Now, just to be clear, the official word from both brothers is that there was nothing purposeful about that result. They maintain that somehow, in the midst of grueling workout routines and their continued dietary efforts, they accidentally gained more weight than most folks could pack on if they were trying.
So if they didn't mean to tip the scales, why include the first fellas who gained weight? Skipping over any doubts about the “didn’t mean to” part, there’s also the fact that their increased weight led to Dan’s desired exit and kicked off a new “Biggest Loser” quitter trend.
The following week saw brother Don follow in Dan’s footsteps after his new partner, Irene, gained 6 pounds and Dan sort-of-but-not-really gained again, too. Both players admitted the scale tip was intentional this time.
Four weeks later, the shenanigans were on again with a strategic gain-to-go plan launched by three parents bent on keeping their grown-up kids in the game. While logic dictates that Marci, Deni and Jesse could have simply continued their winning ways and helped their offspring that way, they instead decided to abandon that streak.
The best plan of attack during a double elimination week, according to the trio, was to throw the weigh-in, ensuring their team’s loss. Then the ‘rents could leave the game and the children wouldn’t have to go — not that any of them were at a particular risk to do so.
Marci gained 1 pound, Jesse, who briefly showed some sense and balked at the plan, gained 3. Not to be outdone, Deni added 8 pounds, thereby saving their 20- to 30-something-year-old “children” and a couple of other adult “kids” they weren’t even related to. Jesse and Deni happily left the game.
In week 12, another player plastered a smile on her face at the mere thought of quitting. Despite an accidental gain of 2 pounds the week before, Kaylee decided her journey was over. Ready to leave the ranch behind, she and her two teammates planned to throw the weigh-in to send her home. The only problem was that they failed at intentionally failing.
While Kaylee saw a 0 on the scales, Austin dropped 3 pounds and Ken actually had the nerve to lose 7 big ones. Normally, a number like the one Ken pulled would earn claps from the crowd, but everyone seemed so invested in the idea of helping Kaylee quit, only stunned silence greeted Ken. He looked as though he could cry over letting everyone down with his personal success.
Just quit quitting
Yay? Boo? How is an audience supposed to react? Presumably those of us who are less schadenfreude-inclined tune in to see the players’ commitment to change, the personal struggles that come with that change and the transformations that eventually take place. It’s hard to take any pleasure in seeing someone you’ve cheered for feel bad about succeeding, or even worse, just lie down and take a powder.
It’s not as though gainers and quitters are anything new in the game. Each season sees a few, although the gainers usually do so when they have immunity as a game play measure, and the quitters are usually weeded out in the first couple of weeks.
What makes this season stand out is the steady stream of quitters willing to pack on the pounds to earn an early ticket home. Which begs the question: Why did they sign up in the first place? Thousands of individuals applied for those coveted spots in the game. When one of the lucky few quits, it’s hard not to think of the ones who would have been only too happy to have their place.
As for a solution to the problem, there’s no easy answer. Perhaps new rules could be implemented to penalize intentional weight gainers, whether the pounds are a result of dietary additions or simple water-loading. Or maybe a standby list of at-home “Losers” could join the game and swap places with anyone guilty of even mentioning the q-word.
But really, the only foolproof fix is for players to simply quit quitting.
Ree Hines thinks more tough talk from could do the trick. Follow on Twitter and tell her what you think.