The beginning of the year is kind of a quiet time in reality TV. (And I can hear the chorus of "It's about time!" from here.)
"The Bachelorette" has returned, and some new shows, including "The Will" and "Wickedly Perfect," have ventured onto the screen. But for the most part, the big-name shows are taking a breather.
It's the calm before the storm: Next week sees two nights of the new season of "American Idol" as well as the premiere of the street smart vs. book smart edition of "The Apprentice." And right on the heels of those shows, we're hearing that "Survivor Palau" will premiere in February. New shows, new year, new questions and answers. Let's get to your questions.
Q: I was an avid watcher of the TV show "Biggest Loser". The last two shows didn't tell who won the contest, just recaps. … Who did win, if there was an ultimate winner? —SM, Tacoma, Wash.
A: Andy says: It's not over yet! NBC's "The Biggest Loser" was the network's surprise reality success story this fall. Watching 12 people collectively lose more than 500 pounds while competing in team challenges proved to be compelling television, and the show took off. With 11.3 million viewers, last week's episode was the most-watched yet.
In addition to casting for a second series, NBC extended the first season's run by three episodes. NBC also scheduled a live, 90-minute finale, which will air tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET. And next week, there's a "bonus" episode; NBC says it "follows up on some of the surprises announced in the season finale the week before."
Tonight, in addition to a new body and life, either Gary, Ryan, or Kelly M. will get a quarter of a million dollars. West Coasters, want to see it in person? Tickets to the Los Angeles finale (3:30 p.m. PT) were at press time. Hopefully, Regis Philbin won't show up and take over as he did during the live "Apprentice 2" finale.
Gael says: People Magazine ran before-and-after photos of the final four finalists (the final three named above plus Maurice) in the Jan. 10 issue, which also featured a story about non-famous folks who've lost a great deal of weight.
While the story doesn't give away the winner, the photos do show that both Ryan and Gary look like they've lost entire people, especially Ryan. Both look much younger — Gary looks like he's transformed from a man in his 60s (he's really 40) to one of 35. But if I had to put money on it, I'd say Ryan will win. His "after" photo looks like a thin man, while Gary and Kelly still look average-sized.
Then again, it's not clear to me how exactly the final winner will be determined. The Web site for the show says "whoever loses the most weight wins," but if the decision were on sheer poundage dropped, wouldn't those who came in with less to lose already be at a disadvantage? So I'm assuming they'll judge on percentage of weight lost. It's also interesting that, as I understand it, the final numbers aren't taken until the contestants have gone back to their real lives, meaning if they can only lose weight under the show's strict controls, they could have blown it.
Q: Does Bill Rancic have to give up his job now that his year is over? —Patty, Bakersfield, Calif.
A: According to NBC, his year isn't up yet. Rancic won the first season of "The Apprentice" in . So his yearlong job, working on the former Chicago Sun-Times building that is being demolished to build a 90-story condominium and hotel tower, continues until April 15, 2005.
NBC spokesman Jim Dowd says "Bill is hard at work on the project in Chicago and will be up until the very last minute at which point he will either decide to go out on his own or approach Mr Trump with a proposal for a second year." Rancic that he intends to stay in the real-estate development arena, saying "For me, the way I'd like this story to end would be to do a deal with Donald Trump where we build a building together as partners. But we'll see what happens.”
The year didn't end calmly at Rancic's Chicago project, however. On Dec. 29, in the building's ventilation system and burned for 90 minutes before being extinguished. —G.F.C.
Q: What ever happened to Richard Hatch's adoptive son and the controversy surrounding alleged child-abuse charges after his return from that seemingly oh-so long ago original “Survivor”? —Paul
A: Richard Hatch, who won the first "Survivor" and forever affected the show by introducing alliances to the game, also appeared on "Survivor All-Stars" and hosted an Internet-based talk show during "Survivor Vanuatu." But outside of the show, his life has been filled with drama. A month before the original "Survivor" debuted and two days after he'd returned from taping the show, Richard's adopted son, who's now 14, was removed from his home by the Department of Children, Youth and Families in Rhode Island.
because his son complained about an early-morning jog during which Rich allegedly forced his son to do push ups, pushed him into the ground, and grabbed him by the ear and neck. The charges were eventually dropped and his son was returned to Richard's care. Richard later sued the police department and the DCYF, although a court later dismissed the part of his suit that claimed he was falsely arrested. A year later, in August of 2001, Richard was arrested for domestic assault after a confrontation with his former boyfriend; although he was convicted and sentenced to a year of probation, that conviction was later overturned by a higher court.
Most recently, Rich went on Dr. Phil to discuss Last summer he discovered, via taped phone calls, that his son had been having phone sex with a 28-year-old man. Richard called the police and the man was arrested and "pleaded no contest to enticement. He received one year of probation and was ordered to attend mental health counseling and to have no contact with his victim," (free registration required). —A.D.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.