'The Biggest Loser' plays weight-loss game

By Laura Crowley

Arts & Life Editor

“The Biggest Loser” has gained immense popularity nationwide while raising awareness about the poor health of our nation. Now in its 11th season, trainers Bob Harper, Jillian Michaels, Brett Hoebel and Cara Castronuova are helping 24 more obese Americans shed hundreds of pounds with the hopes of inspiring the greater overweight American population.

Producers have designed the show such that these obese contestants compete for the $250,000 grand prize. As the show’s format fosters drama-laden episodes, it has raised controversy among health experts who question the intentions of the producers. One such expert, Dr. Charles Burant, finds the show “exploitative” as producers “are taking poor people who have severe weight problems” and shifting their focus towards “trying to win the quarter-million dollars.”

With the show’s competitive format comes painstaking game playing between contestants as they attempt to lose or gain weight to some competitive end. In episode 12 of this season, Kaylee “threw the weigh-in” by losing no weight because she felt it was her time to sacrifice her place on the show to protect heavier players, such as her father, who may have a better shot at winning the whole competition.

Such competitive strategy undoubtedly stokes drama between players and trainers. In week 12, Hoebel excited audiences by openly losing his temper as he reminded contestants that “game play” is not constructive toward achieving weight loss and long-term health.

While such actions make for exciting episodes, they paint over the heart and good intentions that try to shine through each episode. When Arthur was sent home at a life-threatening 390 pounds due to greedy game-playing in week nine, hopes of such “heart” were completely lost and a sense of injustice was left. Host Allison Sweeny expressed this injustice with her first tear shed in “Biggest Loser” history.

This sense of unfairness was expressed in the first contestant to be sent home. In week one, Ana was sent home when her nine-pound weight loss could not hold its ground next to the steep weight losses of her competitors. On the Today Show, Ana expressed that she felt her elimination was unfair as she left before she had any knowledge of diet and exercise. As a result of her elimination, she says has had very limited success at home.

Perhaps more frustrating than competitive game play is the advertisements that are forcibly interwoven into dialogue throughout the show. Any fan of the show knows well that Subway, Brita, Ziploc, Extra Gum and Gortons are all sponsors of the show from the several staged scenes that promote these brands. “Biggest Loser” fan Reilly Price ’13 says she knows advertisements are coming on “when the scene becomes brighter and cheesy music comes on.”

The promotion of health and well-being on “The Biggest Loser” is refreshing and relevant. In 2009, 63% of Americans were overweight or obese, and related health costs soared into the billions. In past seasons, Michaels and Harper have made this very clear with their catch phrase “Well America, you did it. You hit rock bottom.” It is my hope that this message is blunt enough to pierce through the show’s twisted design.

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