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Many are aware that the Reality TV industry contains only as much actual reality as audiences are willing to give it. So it’s never really a surprise when news breaks that shows like House Hunters and The Real World have more going on behind the scenes than producers saying, “Just be real.” The latest series to get thrown through the wringer is NBC’s weight-dropping competition The Biggest Loser, as a former contestant has come forward and revealed a slew of damning (alleged) details that should have future would-be contestants running for the hills.
Kai Hibbard, a Season 3 finalist, spoke with the New York Post about her time on the show – as did another contestant who chose to remain anonymous – and their stories portray The Biggest Loser as a miniature Hell on Earth, with very little positivity coming to light. Here are the 5 most outlandishly horrifying admissions that the former contestants made, putting the hit series in a completely different light.
Immediate Overwhelming ExerciseAccording to Hibbard, the 14 TV-ready contestants are taken to “the ranch,” where they are given a medical exam and are then shuffled off into workout sessions that even physically tip-top people probably wouldn’t just do on a whim. Hibbard said her very first workout, for which she weighed over 300 pounds, was four hours long and included rowing, working with giant tires, and a handful of other intense exercise routines. Saying that easing into things makes for boring TV, Hibbard claims her feet were bleeding through her shoes for the first three weeks.
Over the Line?: Well, duh. Assuming the producers want people to be able to walk and talk the next day, putting unfit people through such intense physical struggles is probably the worst thing they can do. I mean, there haven’t been mass amounts of hospitalized contestants after one day, but that doesn’t make it a positive way to go about introducing people into an exercise routine.
Verbal HumiliationIt’s no surprise that overweight people will often have to bear the brunt of people’s insults and bullying, but you might not expect that to be the case in the one place where everyone wants the same thing: weight loss. But Hibbard says taunting is a major part of how the trainers speak to the contestants, pointing how fat they are and saying they’re going to “die before your children grow up.” One production assistant allegedly advised a contestant to start smoking, due to the appetite-curbing benefits. This text message, though, is just evil.
We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin.”
Over the Line?: “What are you, some kind of a stupid fat idiot who’s about to die?” That’s possibly how the Biggest Loser trainers would answer this one. I do understand that verbal encouragement is a good motivator, and that shaming someone, though worse, is still a motivator. But there are a thousand better ways for inspiration to be conveyed. Fat-person coffin comments need not apply.
Lack of CommunicationHibbard and the anonymous contestant claim that the first major whittling-down process (from 50 to 14) requires everyone to stay pent up inside a hotel for five days, unable to freely leave their rooms. The unnamed contestant says her phone and computer were taken, and she became highly suspicious when her MacBook’s camera would come on randomly after that. (Yes, a Big Brother reference is made.) The final 14 are then barely allowed to talk to their families during this tumultuous ordeal, only getting a five-minute call after six weeks, under the show’s watchful eye. One contestant reportedly had an emergency with his child, and while he was allowed to talk to family, he didn’t want to leave, because he couldn’t come back. Also, Biggest Loser contestants sign a contract that denies them the ability to speak ill of the series. Oops.
Over the Line?: It’s understandable producers don’t want show secrets being passed along, but they could be far more lenient about ripping people’s lives away along with the weight. I guess they figured “bleeding feet” would come up too much in small talk. Not even going to touch the computer camera surveillance thing.
Physical and Mental InjuriesTake into account both rapid weight loss under Biggest Loser conditions - which put Rachel Frederickson in headlines last year - and strenuous exercise on untoned, overweight bodies, and this show is a haven for unnecessary pain both physically and mentally. Short-term memory loss, hair loss, bad knees, and thyroid problems are brought up. Hibbard had severe shin splints when she returned home that she shouldn’t have been walking on, and she says instead of doctor-approved rest, one woman was ordered to run with a torn calf muscle and bursitis in her knees, and was then edited to look “lazy and bitchy and combative.” Both also said contestants are somewhat “brainwashed” into going forward and pleasing the bullying trainers, and Hibbard claimed she was likely showing signs of Stockholm syndrome as it went on.
Over the Line?: If cock fighting is illegal, why is this kind of shit legal? Just because they’re beating themselves up instead of other people doesn’t make it any less dreadful. I’m sure there are some contestants who come away from the experience just fine, but I’d love to get some stats on everyone who's ever competed.
Awful FoodThose temptation challenges certainly make it look like good food is always floating around the Biggest Loser ranch, but Hibbard said the most of what she was given to eat was “provided by sponsors and had little to no nutritional value.” She names Kraft fat-free cheese, Rockstar energy drinks, Jell-O and other “Franken-foods.” And when the show’s doctor told everyone to start drinking electrolyte drinks, following some bloodwork, the trainer said that it would just add weight and “you’ll lose your last chance to save your life.” Would it be wrong to assume they couldn’t live up to the “ranch” name – and not in a salad dressing sense – by actually living sustainably, though probably with a vegetable-friendly diet over livestock butchering? Does Kraft sponsor televised farms?
Over the Line?: It’s stupid to think that a show with an NBC budget, even without all the other problems, can’t provide a decent food plan for people who will need to stick to one once they leave the show. Plus, these trainers seem fixated on death, don’t they?
In the end, I leave you with more of Hibbard’s words.
The whole fucking show is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in.”
Incidentally, the finale of the Biggest Loser is set for January 29, on NBC.