Pop Culture

Jillian Michaels: 'The Biggest Loser' is a 'life or death intervention'

Mitchell Haaseth / NBC / Today
Trainer Jillian Michaels returns to "The Biggest Loser" for season 14.

Some might see "The Biggest Loser" as simply a weight-loss program. Others might view it more as a tough reality TV competition. But according to returning trainer Jillian Michaels, the show is so much more than either of those things for the contestants on the ranch. She believes it's really a matter of life or death.

That's why Michaels, who was well-known for her no-nonsense ways before she took a two-season break from the show, sometimes gets a little intense in the "Loser" gym.

"I truly only use an intense and aggressive approach when I've exhausted all other options," she told reporters during a conference call on Thursday. "In addition, in looking at the show, you have to understand you have people that are killing themselves. This is a life or death intervention. They're essentially in rehab for a life-threatening food addiction. And they go home, so we have a ticking clock. They may have a week (on the show); they may have two."

That uncertain timetable motivates Michaels.

"I will do whatever I can to attempt to change their minds or get through to them or have a light-bulb, a-ha moment," she explained. "It's not as though they have three years, and they can be in therapy. Unfortunately, 'The Biggest Loser' is not that environment."

But the environment of "The Biggest Loser" is undergoing a big change for season 14. For the first time in the show's history, kids -- ages 13 to 16 -- will be part of the cast.

In an effort to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity, the series will feature the teens as participants and team members, but not true contestants. That means they'll focus on healthy living, rather than a number on a scale. Also, there's no risk of being voted out for the young ones.

And there's no risk of them facing the wrath of the game's toughest trainer. Michaels' approach is completely different where the kids are concerned.

"Of course, we're going to handle this in a completely different way," she assured. "First of all, they're children. They're not 100 percent responsible for their circumstance or their ability to get better. An adult is going to go home (on the show). Kids are not going to go home. Kids are far more fragile and vulnerable. …With the kids, we need to build. There is no break; it's all build. So, of course, we're going to be handling the kids in a 180-degree different way than the adults."

See for yourself when "The Biggest Loser" returns for a two-night season premiere that kicks of Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. on NBC

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