For reality TV fans, watching The Biggest Loser has never felt like bottom-feeding because the show seems to care about its participants. But the Season 9 premiere episode on January 5 may have signaled a change of heart.
The season’s new twist
After the obligatory shots of happy contestants screaming with excitement after receiving “the call” from trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, the two throw an unexpected curveball.
“We’re going to be doing something with you guys that we have never done here on The Biggest Loser” Bob intones. “You guys are going to weigh in in your hometown in front of your friends and family. It is going to be your first courageous thing that you do being a part of The Biggest Loser.”
Actually, it’s more like the first gratuitously cruel move of a season hell-bent on emphasizing pain and humiliation. Scenes of contestants sobbing, Bob and Jillian barking orders, and one Pink Team member falling from her treadmill hint at where the show is headed.
And it all begins with an out-in-the-open hometown weigh-in that promotes public humiliation more than it celebrates personal courage.
Reactions at home
We see contestants walk their respective gauntlets of family, friends, and the idle curious. Men sag as they take off their shirts and women bulge around sports bras and shorts. All are uncomfortable and embarrassed. The onlookers are silent, either appearing grim-faced or shocked.
When the starting weight of 30-year-old twins John and James pops up on the scale, their mother reacts with open-mouthed horror. The tight camera shots of the bulging bellies and sagging flesh of the two brothers — who together weigh close to 1,000 pounds — was stomach-turning.
Was the hometown weigh-in too much? Did the show cross a line? The majority of readers who took the Today at Newsvine.com survey thought so. One commented, “It was simply to humiliate these people… very poor choice NBC.”
For a show that’s consistently depicted obese people as reasonably attractive, the public weigh-ins and ugly camera angles make it clear that this season’s Biggest Loser isn’t about prettifying the poundage. Instead, it’s an all-out battle against obesity in which Jillian tells her teams, “I need warriors.”
What the ratings reveal
While some posters on blogs and forums say they’re turned off by this approach, the general public seems to have a taste for humiliation. Season 9’s premiere episode enjoyed the highest ratings of any Biggest Loser season debut, beating out NCIS and the Orange Bowl.