TBD12-1: The Final Countdown —
Trigger warning: This post thoroughly discusses an episode The Biggest Loser, including the abusive bullshit as well as the weigh-ins.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, the final episode. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be nearly done with this project. I committed myself to analyzing an entire season of The Biggest Loser because I wanted to document what they were doing with the kids, first and foremost. There was a lot of concern that TBL would be putting these kids on diets and weighing them like the adults. As NBC wrote in its December 3 press release:
The focus for the kids will be on getting healthy rather than numbers on a scale, so they will not be eligible for elimination and will not weigh in on camera. They will work at both the ranch and at home, and their progress will be featured in every episode… Along with the trainers and the “Biggest Loser” medical staff, the kids will follow an age-appropriate program that will help them get healthy, achieve their personal goals and transform their lives during the course of the season.
This was meant to ease the concerns of people who worried that treating the kids like the adults might trigger and eating disorder, as covered in the LA Times.
Adding children to a show known for driving contestants to tears with punishing workouts and food temptations has been met with criticism. Won’t this open the children to ridicule? Is it putting too much pressure on the youngsters? Could it set them up for an eating disorder later in life?
But TBL claimed that criticism was premature:
“Biggest Loser” executive producer Lisa Hennessy asks that viewers reserve judgment until after the Sunday and Monday episodes that open a new season of a show that has seen ratings sag of late. She said “The Biggest Loser” decided to take the risky step of bringing children onboard in part because it felt hypocritical not to: Here was a prime-time TV show encouraging health and fitness among adults, and completely ignoring kids even as childhood obesity rates soared.
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.
Here are childhood obesity rates since 1999:
This is not soaring. This is not the out-of-control crisis we’ve been sold. Now, prior to 1999, that’s when the real “soaring” took place.
In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the people who write the annual “F as in Fat” panic report) were just boasting about declining childhood obesity rates in Philadelphia,New York City, Mississippi, and California (PDF). But a childhood obesity panic is a great way to justify putting fat kids on a prime time diet.
The network quietly held an “obesity summit” involving childhood obesity experts to decide how to move forward, she said. Among the ways the game is being changed to accommodate the teens, who are dubbed show “ambassadors”: They won’t step on a scale, they won’t face elimination, and they won’t be put on a drastic, low-calorie diet. Instead, they will be immersed in a food-and-fitness regimen overseen by a childhood obesity expert that puts the emphasis on functional fitness and making sound food choices, Hennessy said. [emphasis mine]
Basically, they asked some obesity experts (and I’m wondering who, personally) how they could pull this off without offending everyone and their mother. They come out of the summit with no weigh-ins, no contest, and no “drastic, low-calorie diet.” Instead, they get Dr. Dolgoff’s program, which promotes slow, moderate weight loss, as outlined in Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s assessment.
But look at the way the LA Times phrases the weighing part, compared to NBC’s claim that the kids “will not weigh in on camera.” Emphasis mine.
See that little loophole they gave themselves? They’re not going to show us the kids getting weighed, but they will most certainly be weighed by Biggest Loser. And during the Grand Finale, (SPOILER ALERT) they announce the weight loss achieved by all three kids. Because even though the kids aren’t in a weight loss competition, and even though they never explicitly talk about the weight loss goals of the children, the kids are most certainly on the show to lose weight. We got a peek into Sunny’s Seventeen weight loss journal, so we know what she’s doing.
And as we already saw in the last episode, Dr. Joanna Dolgoff (aka Dr. Splenda) couldn’t wait to announce that Biingo had lost 25% of his body weight so far, which is comparable to what the remaining adult contestants had lost. By necessity, Biingo would have to drastically restrict his calories to achieve a 25% weight loss within 100 days. And I would love to ask the participants of that secret obesity summit if they would agree or disagree with that.
Hennessy’s final comment is the most galling. “We’re not exploiting the kids, we are helping the kids,” she said. “The fans will not be disappointed.”
And to their credit, Biggest Loser did it’s best to convince their fans and critics alike that they weren’t exploiting kids, but the ultimate judgement lies with time. Sunny, Biingo and Lindsay are still developing, and they still have a lifetime of struggles to overcome. Will they be able to maintain whatever lifestyle changes they’ve been taught to make as they confront the stress of growing up, or are they being set up for long-term failure.
Recently I’ve heard from a lot of people that my approach to discussing the failure of dieting is depriving them of their right to feel hopeful about their prospects. While I understand the desperate need to have a real possibility of permanent change, of a “normal” body that doesn’t get treated like crap, of a future where you can be loved and accepted and treated with dignity. People believe that if long-term weight loss is nearly impossible to maintain, that they will forever lose their right to being treated like a decent human being or their ability to be happy.
Except it works just the opposite. As long as they rely on that illusion of permanent weight loss, they won’t demand dignity for themselves whether they’re able to lose weight or not. As long as the hope is alive, there’s something they can do about the problem of stigma.
Sunny, Biingo and Lindsay have no idea that sites like this even exist. They have just put in a crapload of work to lose a crapload of weight and they have no idea that there is research suggesting that at least two of them will regain the weight within five years. My words will not affect their hope, so over time, we will see if this exhibitionist childhood dieting actually works or not. My hope is that if they aren’t able to maintain their weight loss, that they will find a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle that does not perpetuate the cycle.
The best part of live television is that anything can happen. Once you put an editor between you and the initial shots, you’ve got room to manipulate the product to look better than it ordinarily would. What has caught me off guard about TBL is how slick the production value is. Everyone is edited within a day of his or her life. Based on the wardrobe, you can see Bob rambling on about something that happened five weeks ago, and get shit completely wrong, but it shapes the narrative TBL wants to push.
On the show, there could be injuries that look bad, but not too bad. For instance, we never do see how David got his stress fracture during the first episode, which was like a blooper reel of injuries. Considering he was on crutches the entire show, it must have been a pretty nasty incident.
There’s been plenty to make fun of in the regular, edited show, but live TV has given me a weird, alternate angle to mock TBL and it’s in the way that live television works. Everything is timed, down to the minute, and any deviation from that schedule means you risk overshooting your time slot. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if they spent so much time talking to former contestants that they didn’t have time for the final weigh-in?
So the best part of this episode is hands down Allison Sweeney, who is clearly desperate to keep the show moving on time, and having a difficult time managing it. Before I even saw the end of this episode, I read some complaints that the show ended abruptly after the winner was announced, and indeed it was. Which is what makes watching Sweeney sweat the delays hilarious to me for some reason.
There’s also the unvarnished quality of all the personalities you’ve seen presented to you in a very specific manner to emphasize or de-emphasize particular characteristics or traits. Personally, I think they played up Gina’s obnoxious qualities while dialing down Joe’s dickish qualities. Editing makes that possible.
So when the obnoxious announcers says, “Live from Hollywood it’s The Biggest Loser finale” you know you’re in for an interesting show.
For instance, people make signs with no point of reference.
Sweeney comes out and begins an introductory segment about how far the contestants have come complete with video montage.
“Not only did our contestants change their lives,” Sweeney tells us. “America, so did you.” On the screen behind her, we see footage from earlier in the season when the contestants worked out with their community. “We challenged you to join the fight and hundreds of thousands of you from every corner of the country answered the call, including some we’re going to meet later in the show.” Oh boy, I can’t wait. “But first, let’s look at the grueling journey our contestants endured to make it to tonight.”Now it’s time for the another of many, many montages. That’s what this episode mostly is: a bunch of fucking montages from the rest of the show, recut to the bone. What makes these montages interesting is that in the limited time they have to recap a certain contestant or an experience, they only get to pick a few clips to drive home the point. Which clips they pick are meaningful in that these are the moments that the editors and producers felt best reflected either the individual or the moment.
Editing is necessarily deliberate, which makes their ultimate choice quite revealing as to the underlying intent of the show. Most of these montages will be represented by a brief description and an animated gif. But most of this shit we’ve seen before, so we don’t need to revisit it.
In this first montage, we get a taste of the overall Biggest Loser experience. Sweeney’s voiceover says, “The one and only Jillian Michaels returned” followed by footage of her gesturing to all of Nathan’s body and saying “This is abuse and me kicking you out is stopping it!” Sweeney continued, “And she was tougher than ever. Joining Bob and Dolvett, the trainers made everyone experience the pain. And they learned that weakness can turn into strength.”
Of course, this is followed by shots of various contestants giving up, then being yelled at until they got up and did it again. After that, we naturally get the footage of contestants on the scale giving happy whoops. Then Sweeney says, “Tonight, four people are fighting for the grand prize and they’ve gone all out to prepare for the finale, including a one week stay at one of the award winning Biggest Loser resorts where they’ve trained and continued to lose weight.”
There’s some morphs of Danni and Jeff going from fat to thin. Of course, they describe Jeff as “a son hoping to honor his father’s memory.” After that is a bunch of sap and schmaltz and inspirational music. We’ve seen this shit. Don’t care. Great montage.
Referring to the trainers, Sweeney says, “They’ve helped us lead the charge against childhood obesity.”
You may recall that Sweeney introduced the trainers in a similar fashion during the live segment of the first episode. “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 in episode 2, were were told that “An obesity epidemic is attacking our nation.”
It all makes sense; this is the War on Fat. And these are three most popular Generals in that War.
Sweeney introduces them by saying, “None of this would have been possible without the help of three unbelievably, incredibly, very, very, very important people.” Pour it on, Sweeney.
Of course, the crowd goes wild because the trainers are the real stars of the show. And one of the reasons they’re so popular is their stylin’ threads. Case in point, Bob’s rubber shirt.
Sweeney asks Jillian how it feels to be back, and they giggle and joke. Then she asks, “What’s it like to fight childhood obesity?”
Bob’s got this one, “I’ve been on the show since season 1” he says, looking and gesturing to Jillian “and I really thought it was the responsibility of The Biggest Loser to really bring this issue to light because our children need our help and at The Biggest Loser we’re going to do everything that we can to help our future.” Yeah, that childhood obesity issue has been a total wash in the media, hasn’t it?
They ask more questions that I couldn’t be bothered to transcribe because, let’s face it, we don’t really care. We want to know whether Jackson or Joe was voted out of the final three by the viewers who voted online. Well, I mean, we know who was voted out. Jackson vs. Joe? Are you kidding? Jackson has a great personality, if a little on the hyperbolic side (Danni too), while Joe is a creepy dickweed. Him and his creepy twin brother.
To quote a certain curmudgeonly shopkeeper: “Creeper, creeper, creeper. YOU GIVE ME THE CREEPS!”
Anyway, with the trainers seated, it’s time to find out if it’s Jackson or Joe. WOOOOOOOOO!
Sweeney introduces Jackson as the first openly gay contestant, and we see a door with an Jackson’s fat, shirtless self as the camera scrolls up from feet to head, then the door (and the image) slides apart, and the new, not fat Jackson emerges.
Jackson descends the steps and walks toward the camera when suddenly — FAT HOLOGRAM JACKSON APPEARS!Sweeney and Jackson hug, and then she asks, “Let’s talk about all those young people you inspire. Now you’re doing it. You’re not just talking the talk, you’re walking the walk. What is that like for you?” Yeah, when he was fat, Jackson wasn’t really inspiring the kids at the LGBT resource center. Only when he’s lost the weight can he be a true inspiration. Nevermind the experience he lived through after coming out of the closet in 9th grade. Jackson continues with Sweeney’s assertion:
You know, it’s really easy to sit there and tell these kids “No soda at the youth center, no junk foods at the youth center.” And that went well for a little while, but after I left and starting doing this and started eating right and started taking control of my own health, they really started to get into it. After I left, they started an exercise plan. They’re helping cook healthier meals in the kitchen for themselves. So not only are they eating healthier foods, they’re learning how to make it.
That’s totally cool that they’re learning to cook healthier meals in the kitchen. But the idea that these changes happened because Jackson lost weight? What happens if he regains the weight? What is the message then?
After the inspirational talk, Sweeney talks about how popular Jackson is, and people in the audience scream.
“Seriously, your enthusiasm,” Sweeney gushes. “I just could not love you more right now. And I’m not the only one. I couldn’t even open up my twitter feed for, like, the people obsessed with you. I mean, you must have gotten such a huge response on every social networking things that’s out there. I mean, Twitter went insane for you. Did that keep you going? Did that motivate you?” As she’s going on and on about Jackson’s enormous following, the giant TV screen behind Jackson shows three examples of the insanity Jackson caused.“Yeah, it’s easy to forget what we’re doing while we’re doing it,” Jackson says. “When I’m bent over a puke bucket and this one’s yelling at me and that one’s like ‘Oh no, not again.'” The audience is cracking up at Jackson’s puke stories because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be puked on by Jackson, you know? It’s a huge honor! “I know it’s easy to forget that camera’s there… but uh… people started watching it and not only were they watching me throw up, they felt like they were throwing up, and they felt like my struggles were their struggles.” I can honestly say that at no point when Jackson was throwing up did I feel like I was throwing up. I felt nothing but pity and shame. Some anger, especially after the third, fourth, fifth, sixth time. Jackson puked from episode 1 to episode 11.
“They probably were,” Sweeney laughed.
“Yeah, probably,” Jackson joked. “Trying to eat their dinner, ‘Oh, I’m done,'” he says, pantomiming a push of the plate. The audience laughs because puking is hilarious.
Now it’s time to bring out Joe. Have I mentioned that I don’t like Joe? Even though Gina was the demonized character, Joe was the real dickweed IMO. When Gina fell and screamed in pain during the race on the sand hill, Joe dragged Gina to her feet without knowing the extent of her injuries. And in episode 9, after Danni falls onto the cinderblock, Joe gleefully gloats that he beat Danni because she fell.
Joe’s the biggest dickweed among contestants, for sure.
Sweeney introduces him as the contestant who lost 100 pounds the fastest. “Give a great big hello to Joe.”
Cut to Joe’s creepy twin brother.We then see Joe emerge from the fatty chrysalis.
And now that we know the schtick, it’s not a big deal when we see Joe’s holofatty rise up from a stick of margarine.
Joe shakes his head at the disgraceful holofatty. For shame, holofatty.
When Joe gets to Sweeney, you have to keep in mind that she has just finished the most exuberant, giddy, demonstratively enamored introduction for Jackson. You could not mistake Sweeney’s enthusiasm for Jackson, and as she’s talking about the fans overwhelming her Twitter account, they show three enormous tweets in support of Jackson.
I just could not love you more right now. And I’m not the only one. I couldn’t even open up my twitter feed for, like, the people obsessed with you. I mean, you must have gotten such a huge response on every social networking things that’s out there. I mean, Twitter went insane for you.
Now, with Joe beside her, she says tepidly, “Wow. That was quite a major reaction you just got and that’s gotta feel so good. So good.” Then they cut to Joe talking about it feeling so good. So good. And as he starts to talk, they show this tweet:
“It feels amazing, the reaction that I’m getting from where I’ve, where I’ve, what I’ve been through.” Crickets. “I mean, that reaction is like just coming in through social media and Jackson, I’m sure…” Did he just say that the reaction from fans is coming in through Jackson? “It’s just amazing that, you know, through our transition, our transformation that America gets to see” voice cracks “that. And it’s just beautiful. I mean, this is who we are.” Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying, brosephus. It’s just so beautiful and that is who you are. Yeah. Man, I’m voting for Joe.
“Joe, I feel like I know you,” Sweeney says in one of the most hilarious back-handed compliments I’ve ever heard on live television. “Joe, get over here,” Sweeney says, a bit frustrated. “First of all, come stand on your mark. I feel like I have known you for a while.” Weren’t we on a TV show together, or something? “We’ve all seen you on the scale. I have never seen you this emotional.”
“When you say emotions, it’s like, how many are there?” I don’t know, Joe. Happy. Sad. Flatulent. What, like seven? “There’s so many emotions that you feel, that you bring in.” From Mexico. “And Jackson, I mean, this guy’s been ’em from the beginning.” Jackson’s been emotions? I think something might be getting lost in translation here.”I mean, he’s… on my leg, on my leg.” WHAT?!?!? Oooooh, the puking thing. Okay, I was thinking something totally different. “It’s just, to see where everybody’s come” WHAT!!!!!!!! “and the emotions for everybody.” Emotions for everybody! “Just look at where everybody, the transition that every single one of us has made.” Right now, Sweeney is trying to figure out how to get Joe to shut up so they can cut to commercial. “It’s just a beautiful transition and to be able to bring that out to America and then to just feel that and know that people are doing that, and that I have a twin brother doing that.” Yeah, did you mention that you’re a twin yet, Joe? No? It’s not too late to say it again. Did you mention that you were born on the same day? “You know, it’s amazing.” No, Joe. It’s not.
FINALLY! Once Joe quits his yappin’, we can find out which of these two scintillating personalities America has chosen to be in the final three.
But first, a commercial break.
So, uh… who do ya think wins?
It’s not the dull, creepy guy.
When we return, Joe and Jackson announce their engagement.
Sweeney announces this winner, and this gif should tell you all you need to know about the outcome.
And then Joe’s attempt at a dignified concession, all the while Jackson’s positively frantic with delight.
I’m glad Jackson won because he seems like a good guy, but I’m even gladder that Joe lost because have I mentioned that I don’t like Joe very much?
I know I’ve mentioned my contempt for the inclusion of kids on the show, but I’m not sure which exploitative aspect I find most disturbing. Is it the fact that these kids were put on crash diets? Or is it the fact that they are mainlining the Fantasy of Being Thin straight into the minds of the adolescent audience?
If you’ve been following the recaps from the beginning, then you know that the show has been building up the anxieties of the three kids: Lindsay’s wish to get back on the cheerleading team she was bullied off of; Biingo’s wish to join a baseball team; Sunny’s wish to fit into a prom dress.
This entire season with the kids has been leading up to this episode: the fulfillment of their thin fantasies.
Introducing the first fantasy, Sweeney says, “This was a groundbreaking season for The Biggest Loser.” Yeah, they’ve finally managed to exploit fatties of all ages. “Three kids joined us, not only to change their lives, but to help lead the fight against childhood obesity.” They’re drafting kids into the War on Fat. “They have been true ambassadors for change and tonight you’ll see their inspiring results, starting with a young woman who’s dream is to make the cheerleading team.” Told ya so. “Well, she’s definitely made cheerleaders out of all of us. Take a look at Lindsay’s story.”
We see Lindsay say to the camera from before her diet, “My biggest obstacle in my life right now, would have to be my weight.” We see Dr. Splenda tell Lindsay that she has pre-diabetes. Then Lindsay says to the camera, “I just want to be healthy for once, you know, just make a change.” We see her watching the cheerleaders , “I’ve always loved the sport of gymnastics. I was always dreaming that I would one day do flips in the air.”
We then see Dolvett say to her, “Tell me about when you tried out for the cheerleading squad and when you used to be bullied.”
Lindsay talks about getting picked on and crying in class, then Dolvett says, “There is nothing you can’t do. Don’t stop believing in yourself.” Then Lindsay says, “I need to change this right now in this second.” Which means she’s about to lose some weight!
Begin the inspirational exercise montage, as we hear Dolvett say, “Lindsay quit her cheerleading team in middle school because kids were making fun of her.” So the answer is a diet! “I feel the best way to restore her confidence is for her to face these problems head on.” We then see Dolvett in Lindsay’s gym when he screamed “Come on out girls!” and the cheerleaders burst in! Then Lindsay’s awkward cheerleading attempt and Dolvett screaming “YES!!!” as though he’s thrilled she’s awkwardly cheering.
Then we see footage from Lindsay’s anti-bullying assembly when she said, “Everybody say ‘No more bullying.'” And everybody says “No more bullying.”
Dr. Splenda informs Lindsay that she doesn’t have pre-diabetes anymore with her obnoxious head shake, followed by Lindsay’s squeal and jump for joy. Then we see Lindsay taking gymnastics lessons and she does a graceful cartwheel now that she’s thin.
And it wouldn’t be a weight loss propaganda video she doesn’t mention that her old, fat body is gone forever. “I’m a new teenager and I just can’t wait for the future,” Lindsay smiles. Of all the weight loss lingo that gets under my skin, the “new body” thing strikes me as the most bizarre. Like you’re trading up to a thin body.
And now, with thinness achieved, Lindsay gets to live out her fantasy before a prime time audience of 7.4 million. Sweeney says, “Let’s hear a great big cheer for Lindsay!”And then, I swear, this is what I heard after rewinding and listening to the first part of their cheer over and over:
We are the blotches.
The mighty, mighty blue and white
Proud to be here on The Biggest Loser tonight.
Dedication, committment are what it’s all about
Pride and self-confidence without a doubt.
Never give up, never give in, fight to win.
My favorite part of the cheer, aside from the mighty, mighty blotches, is that when Lindsay stands on the legs of the other cheerleaders, she has another adorably awkward moment when you can clearly see she’s terrified of falling, as any of us would be during our national televised cheerleading debut.
But she did a great job and clearly has improved largely because she lost weight.
Wait, did I say “lost weight”? I meant “practiced.”
“Oh my gosh, that has to be the best feeling on the planet,” Sweeney greets her. “You worked the uniform.” Yeah, Lindsay. Just imagine how horrible you must have looked in it when the other cheerleaders bullied you off the team. “You were great out there. This is something you’ve talked about from day one, being a cheerleader and getting to just use your healthy body.” You do realize that you can still use your body when you’re fat, right? At the start of the show, Lindsay was not incapable of doing a cartwheel. She was told she should not be doing cartwheels because she’s fat. She didn’t quit the cheerleading team because her body stopped working properly. She was told she should not be cheerleading because she’s fat. See how that works? “What are you thinking right now?” Um… what utter bullshit just crossed the screen.
“I’m just like wow,” Lindsay says. “Like, there’s so many people here supporting all of us and it’s like it’s just amazing.” It is pretty amazing when people support you. That’s why it’s so tragic when people stop supporting you because you’re fat.
“Lindsay, you’ve worked so hard to be standing here today,” Sweeney says. “You’ve lost 47 pounds, you are no longer pre-diabetic.”
“This girl runs a mile in 9.5 minutes,” Sweeney continues. “I mean, what’s the best part?”
“I guess the running part is awesome. I never get tired running up stairs or anything like that, but hard work does pay off.” I hope Lindsay continues to run because it’s something that she loves, and not as the penance she must pay to maintain her body. Because penance doesn’t work in the long-term. And I also hope that if she loves running, she keeps doing it regardless of whether it keeps her this size or not. I hope Lindsay finds long-term health and real happiness that is rooted in true self-acceptance. The self-esteem you get from weight loss lasts only as long as your weight is low.
“Let’s hear it for Lindsay.” Yeah, let’s hear it for the beginning of a lifelong struggle with her body! Yeah!
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some health benefits associated with weight loss, so there’s no mistaking that the two things go together, but only so far as this: caloric restriction and/or exercise means improved insulin resistance. The problem is that most people can’t maintain a strict caloric restriction indefinitely and a less strict restriction wouldn’t lead to noticeable weight loss. But what also improves insulin resistance is improved diet and exercise regardless of weight loss. If she keeps it off, wonderful, but doing so will require a vigilance that most teenagers are not capable of sustaining for long. My fear is what will happen if she can’t sustain it.
After Lindsay, we begin the process of weighing in the 11 eliminated players. Starting with a fan favorite.
S”he danced her way into all of our hearts this season and now she is stepping out a whole new woman,” Sweeney says, beginning the first in a string of strained introductions. “Give it up for Pam!”
The 11 remaining contestants don’t get the cool divider doors or the holofatties. Instead, they stand next to a screen of their picture and get to pose. So, of course, Gina does her dancing thing.
Sweeney continues, “He was one of Jillian’s favorite players, I’m sure she’s not alone.” Oh yeah, remember when the nation went wild with Natemania? I still have my old faded Nate poster on my wall.
At this point, the camera catches Nate as he steps onto stage a bit to early and you can see that somebody is telling him to wait.
“Give it up for Nate,” Sweeney says, allowing Nate to proceed to his pose.
“It took her a while to figure out how to lose weight, but she did, and she has the figure to show it. Give it up for Alex.”
Before we proceed, we have to stop here. I want to remind everyone that for six out of the nine weeks she was on the show, Alex lost 6 pounds or less, which is considered a disappointing result. After Alex lost four pounds on episode 4, she said, “I try to do everything I’m told. I eat the way I’m supposed to eat. I work out when I’m supposed to work out.” Bob reassured her that it wasn’t “because of her effort.”
This girl is putting in week after week, and Jillian and I were just standing her going she deserves a good number this week…. There’s something going on with this girl, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this because four pounds is not going to help her team and it’s definitely not going to help her.
Alex had her breakdown in episode 5, when she told Jillian, “I’m working my ass off for nothing. But I don’t know what’s going on with my body. I don’t know anything.” Jillian reassures Alex by telling her, “Look, in 18 days you’ve lost 8 pounds. In any other world you’d be over the moon. You’re losing your perspective.” Bear in mind, those 18 days were supposed to be two “weeks,” or episodes, of the show. “Week” 5 is also the week that Bob chose to twist the knife in Alex’s self-esteem to “motivate” her to lose weight.
You are 24 years old. You stood on that scale day one saying that you were disgusting and that you don’t want to feel this way any more. Are you going to let this place defeat you? Because this is the week — look at me — this week, your team needs you.
That week she lost 10 pounds and it was a triumph of the human spirit. Oh, you wouldn’t believe the glorious rapture awaiting Alex as she finally, finally had a week like the other contestants. Her tide was turning. Bob had exorcised all those demons from Alex and now nothing could stop her from losing all the weight she wanted.
Except, like Jackson’s repeated assurance that his puking days were over, the results were short-lived. In episode 6, Alex loses just three pounds. She seemed more confident, though, saying, “It’s a process. One week will be good, the next week will be bad, so hopefully next week will be good.” It helps that she just had the 10 pound loss too.
In episode 7, Alex did the temptation challenge and ate some cake and brownies in the dark room. In that episode, Gina said in reference to the 1,000 calories Alex ate, “I’ll be shocked if makes a difference for Alex. I don’t think she works hard.” At the end, Alex loses six pounds, which is a lot for her, obviously, but Jillian says, ““Alex and Francelina both weigh in and they didn’t have great numbers.” In episode 8, we learned from Jillian that Alex had been “phoning it in throughout the entire season.” This is completely at odds with what she told Alex during episode 5. “Look, in 18 days you’ve lost 8 pounds. In any other world you’d be over the moon. You’re losing your perspective.”
But in episode 8, Jillian confront Alex as to why she’s half-assing it, and Alex starts to cry.
When you go in there and think that you’re doing something positive and then someone comes in there and shows you all the negative that you’re doing, that drives me insane because it’s always been “Alex, your best is not good enough.”
So when she loses three pounds again, she’s devastated but not surprised. And because it has to be all her fault, Bob lectures Alex on her attitude. “Look, your whole demeanor, your whole, the way you’re standing up there, it’s like you’re defeated.”
“And Alex, you shouldn’t be a defeated woman,” Bob says.
Yeah, why shouldn’t you feel defeated when everyone else is consistently losing more weight than you? It’s not like it’s a contest or something and you’re losing despite following the rules and recommendations. And for the sake of tying this all together, I’m going to just tell you Alex’s final weight because it’s fascinating. There’s an estimated 28-day delay from filming to release. Alex wasn’t on the final two weeks of the show either, so it’s safe to guess that she has been home for approximately six weeks.
If you look at the weight loss difference history (spoiler alert there, if you don’t want to know who the winner is yet), you’ll see that there are four six-day periods while Alex was on the ranch. If you add them up (starting with the first day to the sixth day), you get a six-day loss of 36 pounds, 33 pounds, 30 pounds, and 34 pounds. And in the six weeks that she has been home, Alex has lost an additional 31 pounds. Keep this in minds when you hear Allison say, “It took her a while to figure out how to lose weight, but she did, and she has the figure to show it.”
Alex went from 240 to 156, losing 84 pounds.
At 5’4″, she looked heavy, but her weight was low enough that by the end of the show the 84 pounds made a dramatic enough difference and Alex looks considerably slimmer. What’s interesting is that all the women’s weights start off with a weight ranging from 237 to 267, while the men range from 328 to 444. It’s as if they want the women to weigh less starting off so that in the end they get closer the traditional ideal body type. All the women made it to “One-derland” (what they call it when contestants drop to under 200 pounds), but only Jackson got there for the guys.
Pam gets most of Sweeney’s attention. She mentions the fact that Pam said she wanted to be that “Damn” Girl. You know, the one who men look at and say “Damn girl!” And then Sweeney mentions the dance again. “That was a defining moment of the season.” Wow, really? “It’s better than the Harlem shake as far as I’m concerned.” Now she can tick that off her cultural reference checklist. “What has been your reaction from the fans you meet?
“People dance up to me in Costco no matter where I am.” I have spent quite a bit of time wrapping my mind around this turn of phrase, which is really just nervous stage chatter more than anything. But do you think it would mean that people only dance up to her at Costco, no matter which aisle? “I do get the dance a lot. It’s been great, the fans have been absolutely fantastic.”
“The fans help inspire everybody,” Sweeney says.
Remember, if you’re going to be successful at dieting, you need to have a fanbase to draw from, including strangers who recognize you and your antics as you document your weight loss progress. Great, more YouTube diet videos.
Sweeney moves on to Nate, who talks about how inspiring his family is. We also learn that Nate’s mom lost 70 pounds.
Then Sweeney says to Alex, “I know you started off rough. I know you proved that it doesn’t matter, you can overcome it. What do you say to everyone who’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that happens to me and I couldn’t get going.'”
Alex didn’t overcome it. She lost at a slow, but stead rate. from beginning to end. In fact, there’s only one six-day of the five groupings where Alex lost one pound less than she did during the six weeks at home.
LITERALLY NOTHING CHANGED!!!
It is solely by virtue of Alex’s relatively low starting weight that Biggest Loser has created the illusion that Alex went from disappointing results to a new and improved fat-burning state by persevering. But the fact is, her results have been entirely consistent the entire time she has been following “the process.” And yet here they are, making Alex an expert on overcoming disappointing weight loss results. The lesson isn’t that there’s something Alex did to speed up the rate at which she lost weight. The lesson is that even on one the most difficult and restrictive weight loss regimen’s recommended by a “respected” medical professional (I’m referring, of course, to Dr. Hozonga), there are some people who won’t lose weight at the rate they would expect.
But what is it, Alex? What switch did you flip that made weight loss suddenly change so drastically?
“It’s all about confidence,” she said. “Having 100% confidence in yourself. And that’s what I lacked from the beginning, but I have it now.” Yup. Be confident and you’ll lose weight like Alex.
“I think that says it all,” Sweeney says, seeming a bit flustered. “I’m going to put you all back stage and get into your weigh in clothes and I’ll see you in a bit, okay?” And as she says this, she gestures at them to get off the stage, shooing them like they’re wayward geese.“Later Biingo will be joining us right here on this very stage.” NO WAY!!! How did they book him on such early notice? “And all of you are going to have to help me not squeeze him because he’s so cute.” Finally, she flashes a strained smile.
When we return from commercial break, something interesting happens. Sweeney addresses the camera.
Joining us in the audience is someone who decided that being on the show just wasn’t right for her, she’s with us here tonight. We couldn’t be happier to have you. Thank you, Nikki for coming. Everyone give Nikki a round of applause. We are so happy to have you here with us to celebrate.
The thing that’s interesting about this (aside from the fact that we only see Nikki from the chest up) is that Nikki was Biggest Loser‘s first contestant who admitted to an eating disorder: bulimia. She’s also the contestant who quit halfway through the first episode because Jillian’s tantrums were too much for her to handle. She did return for an update on her weight loss during another episode, which means she was actively losing weight, but why would she opt out of the on-stage, weigh-in portion of the show? It’s not something I have an answer for, I just found this incredibly intriguing. And it also made me wonder if Nikki had made it to the final three, would they be holding her up as the first recovering bulimic contestant on Biggest Loser, similar to how Jackson was the first openly gay contestant? We’ll never know, but it’s an interesting thought.
“Now, let’s get to the weigh-ins,” Sweeney continues. “Of course, there’s one thing missing, The Biggest Loser scale.” When Sweeney says “The Biggest Loser scale,” this is hard to capture or explain, but Sweeney says it with this saucy, naughty, teasing voice that suggests she’s introducing something delightfully forbidden or something. It’s like she’s introducing Goliath before his battle with David and she wants the audience to know that there’s some delightful trouble about to ensue.
And after she says it, the camera pans past her toward the opening doors where the scale waits on a platform. And for the first time since watching this show, I realize that the Scale itself is a character on this show. I hadn’t really thought about it this way before, but the way Sweeney (and others) treats the scale is like Judge Judy, handing down verdicts to defendants. Where you innocent or guilty of being a slacker this week? The Scale knows all!
You’ll also see an amusing live television glitch where the camera pans too far to the left and you see a stage hand prepping the three contestants for their weigh-in. The camera quickly zooms in, as if to take them out of the shot, but then it cuts away because the damage is done.
“Remember, it is not just about the weight,” Sweeney says, “the pounds that they have lost.” Aaaaw, that’s right, Sweeney. It’s about the quality of life, the improvements in health, the happiness that their weight loss has finally brought them. “It is the person with the highest percentage of weight loss who will win the hundred grand.” Oh.
“Pam lightened the mood on the ranch and she lightened herself in the process,” Sweeney says in her first of 11 clever synopses of the contestants she delivers just before a flashback clip reminds us of how far they’ve come.
We see Jillian kneeling beside Pam during an early episode when she had her biggest rageboner ever. ” What do you do? Do you give up? Are you apathetic? Because clearly it seems like you quit a lot.” As she says this, Jillian gestures to Pam’s body.
Pam takes a deep breath, then says in this melodramatic tone, “I’m afraid of having to face everything.”
“What?” Jillian asks.
You can see Pam didn’t have a followup answer as she scrambles for a quick response. “Face the fact that I’ve been a failure all this time.”
“Then fight.” Jillian says. Begin inspirational exercise montage.
“At the beginning Jillian and I had friction,” Pam says to the camera.
Then we see Jillian scream at Pam as she does the crab walk, “I don’t give a crap what you can and can’t do.”
“I am grateful that she pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Pam says to the camera, defending Jillian’s dickishness. “I’m grateful that she didn’t give up on me. You need it to be that hard to make this transformation this quickly and to get it.”
We then see Pam on the scale when she defied Jillian’s expectations and lost nine pounds. She gloated, “Who loves me now, Jillian?” as she did the Truffle Shuffle on stage.
And now that we’re all caught up on Pam’s time on the show, she stands on the scale. And as we begin these weigh-ins, it’s worth bearing in mind the minimum threshold these at-home contestants must meet to win. At week 10 when she lost the weigh-in, Gina had lost a total of 34% of her body weight. She has no doubt lost more since then. But any contestant who hopes to compete with Gina, who was the biggest loser on the ranch week after week after week, will have to top that, at the very least.
Pam’s starting weight was 237 and after a bunch of dramatic beeps from the Scale, we learn she lost 71 pounds and now weighs 166 pounds, for a total loss of 29.96%. Of course, Pam does her dance again, then she stands next to Sweeney.
Nate’s the next player in the wings and he looks incredibly serious.
“He was one of the first players eliminated,” Sweeney says, “but he made a lasting impression on all of us.” Yeah, I still have these really vivid Nate dreams that I just can’t shake. He’s burrowed so deep into my psyche.
Of course, we start with the footage of Nate falling over and over and over on the treadmill.
We see Jillian watching him intensely in that first fall. The look on her face isn’t concern or fear or empathy or anything. It’s anticipation. She knew she could push him until he fell and now it’s paying off.
“Nate, stand up,” Jillian barks at him.
We see Nate crying, “I kept falling down, and it’s just a metaphor for my whole life.” Follow this pathetic admission with more footage of him falling.
“I get up and I fall right back down,” Nate sobs. “I just want to be able to stay up for once.” Cut to a shot of Nate standing up after falling off the treadmill.
As Nate stands up we hear this primal grunt and then they cut to him bench pressing with Jillian spotting him. “Good, nice,” Jillian says to him. Then we see doing that one ladder exercise and see Jillian tell him, “Good good good.”
Nate says, “I came here to see what I’m made of.” And whether it’s breakable too, I imagine.
Then Jillian, in a tender moment, says, “You’re really athletic, honey.” You can see the desperation for positive feedback in his face.
“So I want to push that as far as I can go,” Nate finally says, before we return to Nate on the Scale.
Nate has to lose 107 pounds to beat Pam, and she does a hilarious double-take and you hear her say, “Whoa.”
Nate loses 99 pounds, going from 359 to 260, which is 27.58% of his body weight. Pam screams, “Yes! Yes!” because Nate is a failure.
“Up next is Alex,” Sweeney continues. “She had a rough beginning on the ranch, but she is proof that it is not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Yeah, who cares what sadistic rituals you have to endure to disappointing, consistent results, so long as you’re skinny in the end, right?
First on the flashback, we see FBI agent Bob Harper says, “Alex, go!”
We see Alex stepping onto and off of a tired and she says, “I’m going.”
“No you’re not. You’re standing there looking at it,” Bob tells her.
Then we see the episode where Jillian accused Alex and Gina of slacking off as an excuse to throw a huge tantrum. “That’s unacceptable dude,” Jillian tells Alex.
“Jillian, I really am trying my best,” Alex says.
“No, you’re not.”
We then see Jillian tell the camera, “I have seen her phoning it in throughout the season.” That’s bullshit, as we’ve seen.
Then Alex is at the table weeping and saying, “Like, I am so sick of my best not being good enough.” As in, she’s been busting her ass and starving herself for weeks, yet she keeps getting disappointing results.
“Finally,” Jillian says to the camera, “I got the answer that I’ve been looking for.” Because Jillian is a psycho-analytic powerhouse!
Begin the inspirational exercise montage with Dolvett saying, “That’s it, show me!”
Then she’s doing the trust exercise on the wire with Jillian, and Jillian says, “Yeah, there it is.”
Cut to Alex on the scale losing 10 pounds, and Bob saying “Yes!”
Alex weeps, “Finally.”
“Let it out baby, you deserve it,” Bob assures her.
“My best was finally good enough,” Alex sobs.
“That’s right,” Bob says. Of course, that’s only until the next week when her best stops being good enough and she loses just three pounds again.
Now on the scale, Alex has to lose more than 71 pounds to beat Pam. As previously mentioned, she manages to lose 84, going from 240 to 156 for a total of 35%. That puts her just above Gina’s 34% at week 10. But do you really think that’s going to be enough?
This final episode is a fascinating glimpse at how Biggest Loser can take an already-pared-down version of what happened on the ranch and manipulate it again to strengthen their claims even further. While Alex’s entire experience on the show was one long, sad disappointment after another, and while she never increased the rate with which she lost weight, the editors have transformed Alex’s journey into one of overcoming obstacles and blowing past “plateaus.”
This is just one of a MILLION examples of why TBL is such a ridiculous illusion.
There’s more recaps to come next week, so hold tight. We’re soon going to discover who the Biggest Dickweed is, and you aren’t going to want to miss the crowning.
- Prequel — Paging Dr. Dolgoff
- Episode 1 — The Biggest Dickweed
- Episode 2 — Reclaiming Worth
- Episode 3 — Crossfire Hurricane
- Episode 4 — Cognitive Dissonance
- Episode 5 — Abracadabra
- Episode 6 — Mystery Tramp
- Episode 7 — Valentine’s Day Massacre
- Episode 8 — Queen Bee
- Episode 9 — Fear and Loathing
- Episode 10 — Half Baked
- Episode 11, Part 1 — Fresh Puke
- Episode 12, Part 2 — Desperate Times