Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Losing It with Jillian Michaels: The Mastropietros

I had heard a little about this series, just enough to know that Jillian would be dropping in with families boot-camp style to help them make changes in a short amount of time. Where the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" might be with the trainers for weeks or even months, Jillian has a few days to change the direction a family is going and then stops by in six weeks for the big reveal.

It's no wonder they decided to make the Mastropietros the first episode to air in the series.  There was drama to spare in this situation: A domineering father, Jimbo, who had already been through gastric bypass surgery but was back up to almost 300 pounds.  A mother, Agnes, who doesn't feel like she can speak up about what's bothering her and buries her emotions in food.  Interestingly, after seeing her husband's failure with gastric bypass, she had still scheduled her own surgery. Their son Michael is a big guy and at 20, looks ready to follow in the family pattern of massive weight gain. Much of the show focuses on the daughter, Michelle, who has also had gastric bypass and is looking great and planning her wedding, but is still caught up in punishing negative thoughts about herself and her body.

The family is close, almost claustrophobic, but it doesn't take long to see that they aren't really able to talk to each other when something is bothering them.  They all are afraid of rocking the boat, and even though we don't see it, we're told that everyone tiptoes around Jimbo and his temper.  In what we see of the family, he just seems like a cartoonish character, who always has a neck pillow on even when he's standing up.

The show starts with a TBL-style workout, but this family obviously wasn't ready for it.  There is a lot of yelling.  At one point I was worried that the title was not about weight, but was a description of how Jillian was going to act all episode, like she was totally losing it.  Agnes really doesn't try very hard before she decides she wants to quit, and Jimbo does the same. The kids are obviously distraught -- this was their big chance to save their family, and their parents are ruining it.  They make their parents chase Jillian down and promise not to give up. I'm not sure I like the "OK, I'm going home" drama that Jillian creates here, but it did seem to get their attention.

After the workout, we see them cook and eat dinner, and even though they're an Italian family, the food is mostly Americanized garbage -- no vegetables, just chicken breaded and fried in a whole bottle of oil, and fake mashed potatoes with tons of fat that they add another stick of butter to.  The food revolves around Jimbo's tastes. He jokingly says when Jillian asks why there isn't a green vegetable in sight, that he wants "nothing green, unless it's from mold." They all have to know that this food is the reason that the gastric bypass didn't work for Jimbo.  Jillian asks how much he eats, and his wife says he eats all day.  "That's not true," he says, and then tries to refute it but has to admit that eventually he goes to bed and he doesn't eat then.  Jillian isn't impressed. "So that's when you don't eat, when you're unconscious?"

We find out that the family's problems really began 22 years ago when the parents lost their first child, a premature son, after he spent one month and a day on the respirator and died in his mother's arms.  Jim wouldn't talk about it with his wife, and Agnes was feeling terrible that they had never even gotten their baby a headstone. I really felt for them and saw how wrapped up they had gotten in this pain and in trying to hide from it.  I felt sorry for the two surviving children, whose parents weren't able to be there for them because they were still so caught up in this grief.  I do think that the conversations that Jillian helped to start here will make a big difference in the family's ability to communicate instead of burying their feelings in food. Besides the main storyline of the family's loss and grief, I also felt like the whole family had an attitude of learned helplessness -- they had no idea how to take on the problems they had, so they hoped for some magic intervention -- whether gastric bypass or Jillian Michaels -- to come fix everything for them, because they didn't feel equipped to do anything for themselves. The very fact that two members of the family had already done weight loss surgery and a third one was planning it was major evidence of this -- after seeing Jimbo's failure with the surgery, mother and daughter couldn't think of any better option than to hope it would work better for them, even though they were in the same environment as him?

I'm not sure I love this show yet -- I think the work that Jillian did with the families was great, and they obviously did a great job of casting and of finding the story, but we didn't get to know the family as well as I wanted to know them.  Why did we never get an explanation for the neck pillow? Why didn't we learn much of anything about Michael? Why were we expected to take Jillian's assessment of the parents' relationship instead of seeing them interact? It felt like the producers had cut a lot of that information out and left us with "They were fat but they got thinner and now they're happy. The End!"

I especially didn't like the part of the show where they went shopping for wedding clothes -- predictably, the larger members of the family didn't like the way anything looked on them, and the thin one looked great -- no real surprise.  The only insight this provided on the family was that the daughter, as good as she looked, was still focused on imaginary flaws. 

Jillian has some one-on-one time with Michelle. In a workout situation, Michelle is obviously not trying as hard as she could, and Jillian asks, "Why would you choose failure when success is a possibility?" and suggests that Michelle hasn't even allowed herself to hope for happiness because she's afraid something bad will happen to disappoint her. It's a scary thought to imagine someone getting married in that state of mind.

The big finale is a huge, elaborate wedding financed by NBC -- much more than we would have expected the Mastropietros to have been able to do on their own after seeing their very average lives and home.  It looked like the kind of wedding that would be featured in People as the celebrity wedding of the year. Everyone, of course, was feeling trim and fit and happy.

I am going to keep watching because I love the premise and I love Jillian, but I hope future episodes give us a little more insight on the real process they're going through to help the contestants.  Otherwise, it's just a super-compressed Biggest Loser season.


  1. i saw that episode last nite. I agree i wish it showed more info on what foods to buy and workout routines. However it was good that she try to get to the root of there problems of there weight gain.

  2. I haven't seen the show yet, but you have to keep in mind that they only have an hour to work with. Sadly, many people probably aren't tuning in because they want to know more about these people. They want to see people go from being unhealthy to fit, and they want to see Jillian scream at them along the way. To people like the producers at NBC, it's ratings that mater most, not people.

  3. I wasn't going to watch the show but glad that I did. I found that even though the daughter was skinny, she was still fat inside. That was a good example of how hard it is to truly accept your body for what it is and to love yourself. Good show though. I'll continue to watch it!

  4. It was really sad to see a family continuing to grieve at that level for so long. The placement of a headstone can be such an important thing.


"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