Tuesday, August 14, 2007

could you walk 500 miles?

Apparently trying to duplicate the success of NBC's surprise hit "The Biggest Loser," ABC has launched its own dramatic weight-loss series, "Fat March," which like most U.S. television, is based on a British show.

If you want to see what you missed, you can watch the show on ABC's show site or read the recap at Television Without Pity. A sample of the latter:
It's 2007, and fat is the new black. By which I mean fatsploitation is all the rage these days. And now we have Fat March.
I thought the idea for the show was a good one when I first read about it. The twelve contestants would walk from Boston to Washington D.C. in ten weeks, hopefully losing weight and getting fit in the process. The interesting twist was that, unlike other reality shows, the goal was for as many of the contestants to finish as possible. Each marcher was eligible to win up to $100,000 for finishing the march. For every contestant who left the show, each finisher's potential payoff was reduced by $10,000.

I thought that the show would encourage teamwork and that the contestants would work together to get everyone across the finish line. Boy, was I wrong.

At every opportunity, the show highlights minor squabbles between the players, and the trainers seem to encourage the fights. "If someone isn't pulling their weight," chiseled trainer Steve says four or five times, "maybe it's better for everyone else if they go."

Unlike the coaches on "The Biggest Loser," (except for Kim), the trainers on "Fat March" seem to have been chosen for their looks and their success in modeling and body-building competitions, not for their talent at motivating the overweight. They seem to have no idea how the process of getting fit might be different for a 500-pound man than for someone trying to lose ten or twenty extra pounds. Note to all future fat-show producers: Looking hot in a bikini does not mean you know anything about how to help fat people get skinnier.

At one point in episode 2, the trainers tell Will, one of the largest contestants, that 2000 calories should be "more than adequate" to fuel him while walking ten to twelve miles a day. For a man who wants to get back into his size 34 jeans, that's probably enough, but those are probably starvation rations for someone weighing more than 400 pounds who is a competitive eating champion. Contestants apparently carry most of their food for the whole day in their own backpacks while they walk, and the trainers are surprised when Will eats all of his food early and then faints from hunger at the end of the day's walking.

It was pretty obvious that the trainers also hadn't anticipated how hard walking and sleeping on the ground was going to be for the contestants. One contestant shamefully admitted in the first show that he couldn't put his shoes on by himself. There were three ambulance rides in the first two episodes alone, and almost every contestant was complaining of knee, back, or foot problems after the first stage. Amazingly, there are no adjustments made to the marching schedule to account for injuries. Injured contestants who are taken out in an ambulance have the choice of making up the miles they missed, quitting, or getting themselves voted off. It will be surprising to me if they finish the march with more than two people, in which case no one will win any money.

The trainers and producers seemed to believe that the contestants just didn't know the mechanics of losing weight. They thought once they explained that fruit had less calories than bacon and that walking burns more calories than watching television, the contestants would be thrilled to march all day on a packet of instant oatmeal and a bunch of veggies. All the contestants are relatively young and some are even athletes, so the trainers and producers probably figured that 10-12 miles of walking each day would be a piece of cake. Sure the contestants would have to go slowly, but no big deal. It's obvious from watching even one episode of this show that fitness is exponentially harder as you gain weight. It's hard to get fit if your feet can't bear your weight, for example. Knees hurt. Backs ache.

They really also should have made Junonia a title sponsor in exchange for a pallet of sports bras. There is an unbelievable amount of bouncing going on. They seem to have budgeted for hair stylists but not for support garments.

The most frustrating thing for me so far was in episode two, when the producers set up a temptation buffet for the marchers at the end of one of their walks. After two or three weeks of bland but healthy food, the marchers were suddenly confronted with fried chicken wings, cheese sticks, and pizza. On the "virtuous" side of the table was the usual fare the marchers had been getting: poached salmon, brown rice, salad. Not even creatively prepared, interesting healthy food. Just boring vs. tempting. The trainers waited in the wings to see what would happen. This was supposed to show the marchers how to handle temptation in the real world.

Not surprisingly, some of the contestants chose to indulge in the forbidden fatty stuff. The other contestants were angry with them and so were the trainers, who waited until everyone had loaded their plates and then pounced. They seemed surprised that anyone ate fried cheese when there was still brown rice left. They even yelled at two contestants who had each had half a slice of pizza in addition to some of the healthy items. Instead of seeing it as a sensible compromise, Steve and Lorrie yelled at them for being a negative influence on each other.

I don't think I'll be watching episode three. I think I'll wait to get my "fatsploitation" fix until September with the new season of "The Biggest Loser." I can cheer on my new best friend, Jillian and throw things at the TV when Kim is on.


  1. Thanks for watching as far as you did, but I hope you'll keep watching...

  2. Oh and if you'd like more information on me, you can reach me at myspace.com/numberoneshaqfan

  3. That is just f*cked up on so many levels, I'm just speechless...

  4. Your review confirmed why I do NOT want to watch this. It feels more like a chance for thin, buff, cute trainers to make fun of seriously overweight people who are trying to do something to help them lose. And if the trainers and show producers aren't taking this seriously, the people watching certainly won't.

    I feel badly for the contestants. You were right that "trainers also hadn't anticipated how hard walking and sleeping on the ground was going to be for the contestants." I could no more do that and do it a second day than fly to the moon.

    Thanks for giving us your take on a show I'm gonna skip.

  5. I watched the tail end of the last show where they asked people who they would vote off. Not knowing the rules, I was impressed that they voted for nobody to be voted off.

    I thought they had gotten some of the idea from the man who was walking across the country to lose weight.

    I just wasn't too into the March show; I really loved Shaq's show because it did highlight the problems that kids (and ordinary overweight) people face in day to day living.

    William, I wish you well.

  6. I too was spending some time shouting at the TV's producers and trainers, asking, "what the hell are you thinking"?

    I can run 13 miles and feel great after, but to walk 10 miles (I had to walk 9 miles once) would be difficult for me and I don't come close to their weights. It's beyond me how they haven't had a serious injury (stress fractures, etc.)

    I agree that some good sports bras are surely needed. I also wonder if they are being supplied with Body Glide and things like that. It's obvious that their outfits are not technical fabrics which would help them be more comfortable than cotton sweats.

    I watched all 3 episodes but I confess that with a sense of shame. I think my draw to it is trying to figure out if anyone will ever make it to DC against those odds. But God Bless 'em for trying!

  7. What a terrible show! I definately will not be watching it!

  8. Let us not forget that this is a television show and they are really out for ratings and money. The body builders getting to feel better about themselves is just a personal perk for them.

    The more the trainers discourage and yell at the contestants the less money they have to pay out in the end. Since this feels like a lower-budget show it is no wonder they would want them to quit so, as you said, they won't have to pay any money.

    This is another example of why I don't watch TV let alone these kinds of shows.

  9. I liked biggest loser better. But i was happy to see people lose weight.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07