Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Biggest Loser Week 15: Taking it to the Streets

This week on "The Biggest Loser," contestants are told that they are headed to the fattest state in the U.S. to help inspire "some of the biggest people in the country." The show uses that phrase over and over again, but never seems to make the connection that if Texans are the fattest people in the U.S., and the U.S. is the fattest country in the world, then Texans are the fattest people in the world.

I was just happy to hear that the fattest state wasn't Ohio, though I doubt we are far behind.

Contestants go in teams to Texas radio stations to talk about their experiences on the show and to recruit participants for a Biggest Loser 5K run/walk. The Gray Team, the Yellow Team, and the Leftover Team of Daris, Michael, and Ashely, all recruit people for the event. Of course, since it's TBL, everyone who particpates has a shirt that matches one of the teams' colors, though I'm not sure how they decided who got what color shirt. Contestants have some time with their teams to psych them up for the 5K, and then the race starts.

Each contestant has a different strategy on how to approach the race. Ashley walks and runs with a group of people in pink shirts, talking about how she never thought she could do something like this and that they could do it too. I don't know if it was my imagination, but it looked like some of the people she was with, especially those who were thinner than her, were getting tired of her advice by the end of it. Michael seemed to be jogging/racewalking, and he had his own groupies. Koli ran up and down the course, walking and visiting with people along the way. He probably did much more than a 5K. Daris decides to race it to see how fast he can do a 5K. We learn he has done the distance in an incredible 21:40 on a treadmill, but has never tried to run one outside. For a guy over 200 pounds, 7-minute miles is lightning speed. He smashes his record and finishes just a few seconds over 21 flat, which means he did 6-something minute miles the entire way. (I race at 10-11 minutes per mile, just for reference. Daris could almost finish two 5Ks in the time it would take me to do one). I was really impressed with him. Sunshine seems to have also run her own race, then turned around to find her dad, O'Neal, who was way in back with some of the slower walkers, smiling through his knee pain. O'Neal's group finishes in about 1 hour, 12 minutes, and then everyone realizes that there are two people still out on the course. Koli and Sam run back to find them (luckily with camera crews and walkie-talkies, they know exactly where they are) and finish the race practically carrying C.J., whose 20-something daughter had been staying with her and trying to keep her from quitting. At the end, C.J., who looks to be in her early 40s, crossed the finish line in just over 2 hours and said, "I can't even walk in the Wal-Mart, I have to take a scooter, and I just finished a 5K." There was not a dry eye in the place -- even big, tough Sam wipes tears from his eyes. We learn that C.J. in her daughter have started working out every day and have each lost about 10 pounds since the episode aired.

I know the show has lots of faults, but it does seem to make a real difference in people's lives. I am struck, when we see old footage of Daris and O'Neal, not just by the physical changes but by the changes in how confident they look. In some of the earlier seasons, I don't think this always happened -- people figured out ways to game the system and then, when they got back to the real world, regained a lot of the weight. In recent seasons, I think the trainers have figured out how to use physical challenges and "head work" to prepare people for the reality of life after weight loss. It has become a cliché on the show that if you don't figure out why you gained the weight in the first place and address those issues, that you will just gain the weight back.

I've been there, done that, and am still trying to make that connection. I think I need a one-on-one with Jillian. If she didn't kill me, maybe she could help me figure out how to take off and keep off the last 20-30 pounds.

Bob goes to a health club and leads people through a modified Last Chance Workout. I don't see any life-changing stuff going on there, because the people involved were already at the gym, but they seemed excited to work out with him.

Jillian goes with one of the contestants from last season, the woman who had lost her whole family in a car accident, to a high school to talk to the kids about health and weight. I was struck by Jillian's choice to wear 6-inch stillettos to speak to a high-school assembly. At first it's the same boring stuff: Kids spend x amount of time with technology instead of playing outside, this generation may not live as long as their parents, being overweight is unhealthy. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This stuff didn't seem like it would really motivate high school kids or anyone else.

Then Jillian started taking questions from the crowd, and one girl talked about how she was told she'd never be thin, never be happy, never get to do the things she wanted to do. That really struck me. Sure, some of the other kids, the ones who picked on her already, probably laughed at her even more. But if this girl already believed she was worthless and doomed to unhappiness, what difference would that make? Jillian asked her to "give me one good reason why you can't have the things you want," and the girl just started repeating that this was what she had learned. Jillian spends some time with her trying to convince her that she doesn't have to helplessly accept what other people tell her about herself.

I think a lot of the emphasis of The Biggest Loser is to shift people from victim thinking to empowered thinking. I know that it might sound a little hokey to say this about a reality TV show which, after all, is primarily about making money for NBC. But this does seem to be the emphasis of the last few seasons: Working on building a new identity for the contestants by challenging their scripts of who they are allowed to be and what they are allowed to accomplish. It seems like a lot of the contestants' crisis moments come when they start to succeed, because they are afraid of losing the identity they had as "the funny fat guy" or "the best friend who won't get the guys" and are moving into dangerous territory. This week, Daris starts to have a tough time because he starts to focus on the "unfairness" of two teams still being intact and working and voting as a block. Jillian pulls his focus back to the things that he is in control of. "What is the primary goal here?" Daris might not be able to control the "game" of the show, but he is in control of his workouts, his food, and can ultimately succeed no matter what happens in the game.

After all of this drama, we have the usual elements of a Last Chance Workout (this time on the road in a pretty nice hotel gym) and a weigh-in (dramatically held outdoors in front of some big sports arena). This week, both members of the Yellow Team were out of town for a funeral during the Last Chance Workout, and not surprisingly, both end up below the dreaded Yellow Line. O'Neal, who has made a lot of friends on the show and has earned everyone's respect, asks to be sent home so his daughter Sunshine can continue, and the other contestants honor his wishes.

I liked O'Neal's "Where Are They Now" video, because they focused on all the things that he used to have trouble doing that he is now able to do. O'Neal is still an old guy, still overweight, but he can now put on and tie his own shoes with ease. He can be effective at his job in a way he couldn't before. He can get on his motorcycle and his wife can put her arms around him when she rides behind. I liked that they focused on this, because too many people believe that if you're not movie-star beautiful or didn't make it all the way to goal, you didn't succeed. O'Neal is a good role model for focusing on the positive changes.

Gray Team is the only intact team still left, and every week is potentially the week that Sam will get sent home. We found out in this episode that the remaining singles were starting to band together against the teams, so if it is Sam or one of the singles, Sam could definitely be the one sent home. The one person I see as potentially vulnerable against him is Ashley. She has voted against friends when they came up against Sam (Stephanie, Drea), so I don't think anyone would feel bad about sending her home. Still, though, I think that each of the individuals has to realize that a two-person voting block is too much of a threat to keep around at this point.

I really like everyone left, though, and the only question to me is who will win the big prize. My husband thinks Daris is going to win it all, but I'm still rooting for Sunshine.


  1. Something to think about: O'Neal is 51 years old. I will be 54 in less than a month. In many ways, he is much older than I am. Even though he has lost a ton of weight, he still wasn't moving with a real fluid motion. Evidence once again that we can have a big impact on our quality of life as we age, and the biggest thing we can do is stay active and keep our weight in check.

  2. I thought that O'Neal was older -- But I realized after I posted it that the "old guy" comment was probably out of line. I think that's sort of the way he presents himself as the older, father figure. Obviously he has some serious physical limitations that make him seem older too. He is a great personality and I've enjoyed watching him on the show.

  3. I also like him and his attitude is wonderful. I don't think your comment was out of line. He is an old guy. He's older than he should be (and not as old as he was), but still he physically presents himself as an old guy. I'm just saying that at an earlier point in life we all need to decide how we're going to age - and then do something about it.

  4. I wouldn't mind if Ashley was cut. I find her annoying and the least committed. She has lost a lot of weight, but I think she could be doing better. I like Daris. I think Ashley would put on weight when she goes home. We will see.


"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