The Biggest Dickweed —
Trigger warning: This post thoroughly discusses the first episode of The Biggest Loser, including the abusive bullshit as well as the weigh-ins.
I would rather shave off my nipples (a la The Wall) than watch an entire season of The Biggest Loser.
But I think that’s what I’m going to have to do.
Why am I subjecting myself to this sado-masochistic ritual? So you don’t have to.
The thing is, now, more than ever, we need to be aware of what the hell is going on with that show. Prior to season 14, TBL was just a thorn in our side. There are plenty of fat-hating outlets in the media, and TBL is among the most popular, but I honestly feel as though trying to force NBC to cancel their cash cow show would be like trying to force Gandhi to break his fast with foie gras.
But this season, the emphasis has been on childhood obesity, and all of the advertising that has led to Sunday night’s premiere has encouraged viewers to watch The Biggest Loser as a family so they can “tackle the childhood obesity epidemic” together.
To me, this is the greatest travesty of this season’s show. Yes, having three kids as contestants is a terrible, terrible idea and I’m concerned for their health and welfare, but the bigger threat is to all those kids who are watching the show with their parents. If anything, it’s the child viewers who exposed to verbal abuse and dehumanization more than those child contestants.
After all, the kids on the show have a nominal advocate in the guise of Dr. Splenda, but who is advocating for the kids at home?
For instance, just as families sat down to watch TBL, the intro shows Jillian Michaels returning to the ranch, interspersed with past clips of her screaming at contestants so we can all reminisce on how much we miss the bitter recriminations she hurls at treadmill-bound fatties.
“You’re acting like a fool!” she barks at one. “This is abuse,” she scowls, gesturing to the body of another. Ah, Jillian, we’ve missed your tireless abuse and tyranny.
In case you’re wondering, the graphic above replaces the measuring tape of the original TBL logo with a studded shock collar. Why? Because watching Bob Harper, Dolvett Quince and Jillian Michaels “motivate” the contestants reminds me of the way Windom Earle “motivates” Leo Johnson in Twin Peaks. Windom enslaves the great brute through screaming epithets and threatening Leo, then clasping a dog’s shock collar around his neck. Adequately restrained, Windom treats Leo like an insolent child who would be too stupid to care for himself in the real world.
On TBL ranch, contestants are voluntarily restrained and subjected to the tempestuous whims of a terrible trio who think health is best achieved through tactics usually applied by serial abusers. First, they scream at you and tell you that you’re worthless, then they hold you tight and tell you how special you are to them, and how only they can see your true potential.
It’s already a disturbing show in it’s own right, but when you wrap it all up in a mantle of family friendly television, you’ve got a real problem.
The Hunger Games
Of all the times I’ve written about The Biggest Loser, there was only one post where I wasn’t trapped in a room with it. Of course, given my ADD and morbid curiosity, I’ll watch.
To the best of my ability, I try to pretend that I’m an zoologist studying the symbiotic relationship between the species of dietus self-loathica and maximus dickweedicus. It simply amazes me that evolution has advanced to such a stage that there are both people who enjoy humiliating, degrading and pushing people past the point of physical health, as well as those who are giddy at the prospect of being treated as subhuman.
And yet, there they all are in one auditorium: hundreds of fat, hopeful applicants eager for Allison Sweeney to announce the new contestants who would get to go to “the Ranch,” and screaming like it’s Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. But it’s definitely not a ticket on the SS Wonkatania. In fact, it’s a fat camp where you’re guaranteed to get sprayed with Jillian’s spittle as she insults you for not being as awesome as she is from day one.
<sarcasm>Oooooh, sign me up for that!</sarcasm>
Before meeting the winners, we’re introduced to three fat kids, Sunny (16), Lindsay (13) and Noah, aka Biingo (13). Each child is allowed to say something to the audience, followed by brief biological sketches backed by sweet, tinkly music.
Sunny tells us that “Being overweight is something that I have battled with my entire life, and snacking and binge eating, and it’s really unhealthy. So I’m here to learn how I approach that.” This made me want to ask Sunny, how have you “battled” your weight? Through repeated weight loss attempts? Because weight cycling is surefire way to push your weight higher than it would naturally be.
Lindsay (whose sister signed her up for the show) wants to do gymnastics and cheerleading, but refuses to try out because she fears that the other girls will laugh at her weight. Biingo loves to play sports with his friends, but feels like his weight is holding him back. In fact, he blames his weight for the fact that he can’t throw the ball as far or run as fast as his friends. Running I can understand, but throwing? I’m pretty sure fatties can hurl a ball with the best of them.
Sweeney then explains that the child contestants will visit the ranch occasionally, but will spend the majority of their time working through the program at home. Most importantly, she says to the kids, “You cannot be eliminated,” which draws a wild response from the audience.
Then Sweeney introduces the trainers by saying, “Tonight, we’re bringing out some real life superheroes, people who fight every single day against one of the biggest villains in this country: obesity.”
And by “biggest villains in this country,” she’s referring, of course, to our old pal Mervin O’Besity, the Villainous Glutton.
After the trainers hug the kids and each other, Sweeney proceeds to announce the 15 newest contestants. As each name is called, a brief biography airs, such as Brendan, who tells us that he wants to lose weight because so he can marry his girlfriend, who deserves a thin fiance.
TC is married and has three kids. A few years back he was driving in the car with his oldest son, who was just a toddler, in the carseat behind him when they got in a car accident. The back of TC’s car seat broke and smashed his son’s head, causing brain damage that required surgery.
His son made a full recovery, but TC has not. Obviously, he blames the broken seat on his weight and is wracked with guilt over this horrible tragedy. In the intro video, we see TC tell his son, “I’m going to get skinny for you, okay bud?”
The story serves a dual purpose. First, it establishes an emotionally wrought storyline for viewers to follow. But perhaps more importantly, it revives the meme that fat isn’t just dangerous to your health, it’s a danger to those around you. If you want a great example of the fatty danger meme, just watch Anthony Bourdain tell Keith Olbermann all about his irrational fear of being burned alive in the fiery inferno of a highrise or a downed airplane thanks to some hypothetical fatty blocking his egress.
So TC is desperate to get on The Biggest Loser, and we get to watch him sweat bullets as contestant after contestant is picked. Finally, the last slot goes to (SPOILER ALERT!) TC.
This emotionally packed moment ends with a glimpse of the next segment, which includes Jillian screaming “Take your sorry ass out of my gym!” and Jeff projectile vomiting through his hands.
Stay tuned for more family fun entertainment!
The gym sequences are easily the worst thing about Biggest Loser. I can think of no worse example of how fitness beginners should be introduced to exercise.
For one, to make fitness a routine part of anyone’s life, they have to find a way to move their body that they can both enjoy and sustain. Biggest Loser workouts are the antithesis of this common sense approach to promoting fitness for the sedentary.
Instead, you get Jillian Michaels telling the White Team, “Every time you touch the treadmill I will add five minutes to this two hour workout.”
Is there any personal trainer out there with legitimate credentials who believes that the first day of a person’s introduction to fitness should be spent in a two hour workout? Because I’m pretty sure that most rational trainers would encourage their clients to ramp up their routines gradually over time, since it can be pretty damned dangerous to go from absolutely sedentary to gym rat in one afternoon.
Need proof? TBL’s got you covered.
In the first scene, Jillian yells, “Nikki, get your ass on the treadmill now,” followed by footage of Nathan falling on the treadmill and onto the floor. Then we see Jackson teetering dangerously on his treadmill, the contestants on either side looking concerned. Jackson is able to beg for water in a mumbling, incoherent voice
Finally he collapses in a heap.
Thankfully, the producers were kind enough to add a stylistic blackout effect to enhance the drama of his medical emergency.
Cut to commercial.
When they return, we see Nathan collapse on the treadmill for a second time. Being the empathetic person that she is, Jillian screams, “Take your sorry ass out of my gym and into the house!” while Jackson is still collapsed and mumbling as the paramedic tends to him.
When Nathan gets back on the treadmill, Jillian asks, “Nate, are you going to pass out?”
Nate says, “I think so.”
Jillian’s response? “No, not I think so.” Jillian’s right. I mean, when has she ever pushed contestants so hard that they passed ou — oh, that’s right…
In the midst of all these incredible examples of unhealthy overexertion, Bob reminds us of the true spirit of Biggest Loser: “We have a goal and the goal is to win on that scale.”
We then see Pam gasping for breath, as she tells Jillian, “I just don’t want to pass out.” I can’t tell if Jillian really can’t understand her or if she’s mocking her with a finger to her ear as she asks Pam to repeat herself. Pam tries, still struggling for breath, then gives up and says, “I’ll figure it out.” Because what you want the kids at home to learn is that you shouldn’t trust your body’s signs of exhaustion. Think you’re going to pass out? Just figure it out, kids, you’ll be fine.
But the chaos isn’t over yet. In one corner, Nikki’s hunched over a blue bucket when Jillian yells, “There’s no vomit in there, Nikki, get up.”
Meanwhile, after repeatedly being humiliated for not keeping up on the stair-climbing machine, TC collapses. Jillian screams, “Get out!” But TC does not get out. Instead, the paramedics are called in to treat him as well.
Jillian then turns her attention back to Nikki and asks the (I’m assuming) rhetorical question, “What are you going to show me, what a quitter you are?’
To cap this segment off, we hear from Danni, who explains her motivation for being on the show. “I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but at the weight and size I am now, it’s impossible.”
This is Danni.
Yes, at 239 pounds, Danni’s body would never be capable of bearing a child. It’s a feat never before attempted by anyone of her grotesque size. (In case you didn’t pick it up, that was sarcasm as well.)
All of these horrible, inhumane, unconscionable messages made their way into the first workout segment on TBL — all while families watched together, learning how to get “healthy” under the tutelage of Michaels the Merciless. As I’ve written previously, Michaels falsely explains that contestants don’t throw up because they’re pushed to hard, but because they are expelling “a lot of toxins stored up in their body.” In that same episode after a contestant puked, she told the film crew, “I’m proud that I made him vomit.”
If you watched the first episode of Biggest Loser with your family, you weren’t watching an inspiring story of reclaimed physical fitness, you were watching Jillian Michaels getting her kicks the only way she knows how: inflicting cruelty to the point of nausea.
Yesterday, Dr. Splenda wrote an important tweet:
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff astutely responded, “Show will provide plenty of opportunities.”
Indeed, the bullies that Dr. Splenda references are closer than she thinks. For instance, as the first exercise segments fades to commercial, a teaser shows Gina weeping as she tells Bob Harper, “You rip my ass to shreds every time I see your face.”
Bob responds dismissively, “Well, you need to handle it.”
Hear that kids? If those mean ol’ bullies have been ripping your ass to shreds until you’re an emotional wreck, you just need to handle your shit, got it?
Personally, I hope Gina takes Dr. Splenda’s advice and stomps Bob’s ass into the ground.
Meanwhile, Jillian talks to the three kids about bullying. While discussing how bullies prevent them from doing the things they want to do, Jillian says, “Tell me some of the bad things you say to yourself.”
Oh good, I didn’t think they’d give the kids any screentime for self-loathing. And since Dr. Splenda is so keen on how TBL helps kids stand up to bullies, surely there will be some great wisdom from this exchange.
Fighting back tears, Sunny says that she’s afraid to go on stage because everyone will think she’s “so huge.”
Jillian, that font of understanding, tells Sunny, “Next time you get on the stage, I want you to change that dialogue and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s that kid who worked her butt off. She’s an inspiration.’ Think that.”
Yes kids, remember: if you’re being bullied that it’s your responsibility to work your butt off so you’re an inspiration, and not a laughing stock.
During a break in the exercise it’s time for TBL to bring on the human connection.
Nathan is sitting in his room alone, obviously upset, when Cate comes in. She asks him what’s wrong and Nate says, “I don’t feel like I quit, but I know, like, Jillian feels that way. Even though my body gave out and I felt like I couldn’t push it any further, she’s still like ‘Get out of the gym.’”
Cate says, “It made you feel worthless.” Nathan nods. “I understand. I understand. We’ve been feeling worthless all our lives,” Cate tells him. “You don’t have to. Not here. This is where you change it.”
Um… didn’t Nathan just agree that Jillian made him feel worthless? That feeling of worthlessness isn’t region-specific. Being at the Ranch doesn’t magically transform worthlessness into some magical feeling of appreciation and value. Pushing yourself to your limit and being told that it’s not good enough makes you feel worthless, regardless of who’s saying it.
And, I’m sorry, but losing weight does not change a person’s feelings of worthlessness. It does, however, afford you escape from the stigma of being fat. And once you remove the stigma of being fat, it’s much easier to not feel worthless all the time. But the minute you regain the weight, you can be sure that your feelings of worthlessness will return as surely as the stigma.
Another interesting bit of inconsistency comes from Dr. Splenda’s repeated assurance that her program is designed so kids don’t have to worry about calories, as in this interview:
So, the gist of the problem that they don’t know how to count calories?
DR. JOANNA DOLGOFF: It’s not about calories.
DOLVETT QUINCE: It is not just that. It’s just not about calories.
JILLIAN MICHAELS: Right.
DR. JOANNA DOLGOFF: We don’t want kids counting calories. We really want them just to focus on the nutritional value of foods in general because it’s more than just calories. There’s fat, fiber. There’s a lot more to it, so we need to teach that.
Obsessing over calories is something grownups are supposed to do, silly, not kids. So, instead of making them count calories, Dr. Splenda simply teaches them paint-by-numbers caloric restriction.
And it works! The kids remain blissfully ignorant of the obsessive way adults monitor every single calorie going in or coming out. Like when Biingo is taking part in the challenge and he declares, “I feel like I’m burning more calories than ever. This is awesome.”
At the time, Biingo was suspended from a rope and telling the grownups what to do in order to win the challenge. TBL could have focused on how much fun Biingo was having, but instead, they chose to emphasize his awareness of the caloric benefits of being active.
And that brings us to the “Last Chance Workout,” which is a return to the gym to lose as much weight as possible before the big weigh-in. When we return to the gym, we see Jillian Michaels tell two of her team members, “Girls, I gotta be honest, you’re not gonna get it that bad today.” Why is she going easy on them? Because “I am going to beat the shit out of the three of them.”
Once again, we see Jackson struggling to keep up until he pukes. Afterward, he complains, “I can’t even keep water down.” Seems pretty serious, right? Especially since hydration is vital during a normal workout, let alone a multi-hour TBL workout. You’d think his team trainer would be concerned.
Instead, Dolvett tells him, “You throw up, you keep going, you throw up, you keep going. Eventually, you’re going to stop throwing up, but you always go brother.”
What a moron.
The guy who has already required medical attention should push through the exercise-induced vomiting? Brilliant. I hope you kids at home are taking notes.
Then we get to see another contestant fall off a treadmill, as Gina finishes her workout and gathers her things to go elsewhere. She steps wrong and immediately goes flying to the ground.
Unlike the previous falls, Gina wasn’t in the midst of working out and she wasn’t being made an example by Jillian. No, the producers just decided that the viewers at home, including all those children watching for inspiration, needed to see a fat woman bite the dust.
Time for Bob to put on his empathy hat. “Gina’s not focused at all today and I’m worried she’s going to hurt herself, so I’ve got to find out what’s on her mind.”
Bob, do me a favor and shut the fuck up.
Finally, Jillian verbally abuses Nikki, who has clearly been struggling emotionally. Does that worry Jillian? Nope, she just screams more and more until Nikki finally leaves the Ranch because she can’t take the abuse any more.
And this, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with The Biggest Loser: sedentary contestants weighing upwards of 300 pounds are pushed to do things that would be a struggle for sedentary thin contestants. Then, when their bodies are predictably overcome by the inhumane levels of exertion, they’re told to ignore their symptoms until physical collapse, then told to ignore that collapse. Anyone who dares to question the wisdom of such a regimen is verbally abused with such ferocity that anyone who is even remotely vulnerable will be driven out of the gym and left feeling like even more of a failure than when they began.
This is not how you teach fitness to children or adults!
This. Is. Bullshit.
Which brings us to the show’s big payoff: the weigh-in.
This is where contestants learn whether all their work has paid off or not (since the only reward of exercise worth mentioning is weight loss).
Nearly all of the contestants have lost around 20 pounds. One contestant loses close to 30. And then there’s Michael, who is the largest contestant at 444 pounds. Michael steps on the scale and the music they stole from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire builds the tension until we see his current weight: 423 pounds.
To put this in perspective, Michael lost 4.7% of his body weight in one week. Physicians and researchers defining “clinically significant weight loss” as between 5% and 10% of your starting weight. Few people lose more than 10% after one year, and even fewer keep it off.
But how does this weight loss make Michael feel? “I’m not happy with that number,” he says. “I don’t know if supposed to be happy with it, I don’t know if I’m not supposed to be happy with it.”
Michael doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel because The Biggest Loser is such an unrealistic, unhealthy and dangerous show that what should have been a personal victory for someone set on losing weight became a vague and potential failure.
Of course, Bob Harper wanted to set Michael straight. “You’re like the biggest guy in the house and you’ve got these guys that have lost close to 30 pounds.” Note: One person lost nearly 30 pounds. “That should have been you. So that’s why you’re not as happy with 21 pounds.”
No, Bob, that’s why you’re not happy with 21 pounds. You’re not happy because this is nothing but a game to you and the health and welfare of those contestants matter less than the points you put on the scoreboard. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, Michael was only a pawn in his game.
After all the contestants are weighed in, the person on the losing team who had the lowest about of weight loss was eliminated. And at 15 pounds, that was TC, the man who joined the show to ease his guilty soul. Watching TC respond to the news is absolutely heartbreaking, and I don’t recommend watching it. TC is a broken man and it shows.
“It just sucks to go home when you’ve been on a breakthrough,” he says. “The thing is I feel really good about myself, so it doesn’t feel right to go home when I feel this way. It feels like I’ve come so far. I just wanted to keep going.”
After his expulsion, we’re flashed forward to who-knows-how-far-in-the-future where TC has lost 40 pounds and can now run and play with his kids. All in all, a happy ending for TC, unless and until he gains the weight back, when he will be just as tormented as before.
Which brings us to the end of the first half of the season premiere. It also brings us to the point in this recap when we decide who was this week’s Biggest Dickweed.
When in comes to being an insufferable, inhumane, intolerant douchebag, there’s only one name you need to know: Jillian Michaels.
She returned this season with something to prove, and that something was that she’s a terrible, terrible person. And she succeeded admirably at reassuring us that she has not gained one ounce of humanity during her break. So, we have a whole season of beastliness ahead of us.