LOS ANGELES – When “The Biggest Loser” debuted in 2004, it appeared to be one of the more nutritional entrees in a genre stuffed with lovesick bachelorettes, over-caffeinated pop singers and someone called Snooki.
But USA Network’s revival of the reality competition series has reheated complaints that the show is as unhealthy as a Big Mac wrapped in bacon.
At the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month, producers were attacked by press members gorging from an endless buffet of free snacks.
They cited reports that former contestants, pushed by their trainers and hungry for cash prizes, took street drugs and wrapped themselves in garbage bags to sweat off-screen. It didn’t help that days before the show’s session, standout trainer Jillian Michaels, who is no longer with the show, was accused of fat shaming Lizzo.
“Why are we celebrating her body?” Michaels tweeted. “Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? Because it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes?”
Host Bob Harper was quick to point out that the new version, debuting Tuesday, has made significant changes aimed at better guiding its participants long after they’ve been booted off the show.
“The one thing that I have learned being in this business for as long as I have is that the losing weight is the easiest part,” he said. “It’s keeping it off, because you have to divorce yourself of everything that you ever did in your past that got you to that place.
“And what is really exciting for me being a part of this reboot and new season is that we’re trying to approach it from every level,” he added. “We want to give them everything that they can use to succeed. We want you to succeed, because it’s very difficult.”
The show now offers on-site nutritionists, Dr. Phil-like support sessions and a free gym membership for dieters after they leave the program. The new trainers, Erica Lugo and Steve Cook, don’t hit the same decibel levels as Michaels did.
“We were very big on this really being about self-love,” Cook said. “If you don’t have that, you might lose weight on the show, but what’s going to happen when you go home and you haven’t dealt with those issues? They knew it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And when we were training people, it was really hammering that home to them, like, ‘Yes, there’s prize money at the end, but the real victory is that lifelong being here for your kids in 20-plus years.’ ”
That may all be true, but reality competition shows live or die on drama, which means the action still depends heavily on capturing cast members when they break down, both emotionally and physically. Tear ducts get just as much of a workout as sweat glands do.
In the premiere, cameras zoom in twice on a woman dashing across the gym to dry heave into a garbage can.
It’s one thing to watch a spoiled socialite toss her cookies after a night of tequila shots. It’s quite another to take advantage of a woman facing life-threatening obstacles during a vulnerable moment.
Producers may want you to believe that their program is the noblest crusade in battling obesity since the creation of Weight Watchers. But ultimately, their primary goal is creating a soap opera — no matter the costs.
That makes them the biggest losers of them all.