The most intriguing effort to mix “Survivor”-style competition with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”-style inspiration is NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET), where teams of contestants try to lose weight by changing their eating and exercise habits.
This is one of television’s most internally conflicted shows, teetering between empathy for its contestants’ struggles and donut-stuffing stereotypes.
Episodes are devoted to learning, working, supporting each other, and confronting psychological barriers, but then the ground shifts as the contestants head for the weigh-in, where whichever team loses a greater percentage of its weight takes home the victory.
Each week, the losing team, comprising people who have also lost a substantial amount of weight and are probably engaged in the most viciously difficult battle of their lives, hear that they’ve failed. Then, as with other voting-based shows, they get together and boot someone.
And there, the self-improvement and confidence-building concepts from the rest of the show give way to the judgmental, pass/fail dynamic that has probably been hanging these people up for years.
This season’s competition is men versus women, creating bafflement and discomfort for those who know that men and women do not lose weight at the same speed or with the same predictability. And why is it, again, that the women are weighed in bike shorts and sports bras while the men show up in T-shirts and baggy shorts?
This week’s episode saw the departure of Suzanne, sent home by the women despite dropping eight pounds in one week, solidly four times what conventional wisdom recommends.
Voting reflects both behavior and weight-loss efforts, but in the end, forcibly expelling someone from what amounts to a health-care program while that program is in the process of succeeding just doesn’t satisfy like bouncing an idiot from the Boardroom.
It turns out that combining backstabbing and sit-ups isn’t as easy as it looks.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.