Last episode, we learned that the players who didn't make it to the ranch and weren't "saved" by Bob and Jillian were finally going to get their chance to win a spot in the game. Unlike previous years where they did a physical challenge to compete for a spot, this time the scale made the decision. There was a lot of variation among the players -- the lowest weight loss was something like 15 pounds in 5 weeks (still pretty fantastic -- let me start losing at that rate!) and the highest was Anna, with 39 pounds. That means she lost almost 8 pounds each week on her own. My husband was extremely glad the blond guy with dreadlocks didn't make it on because he didn't want to look at that crazy hair.
Initially, Rick and Patrick are excited that Anna was the one who came back, because it seemed to mean that the green team would have three members. But I knew what was coming -- Black and Blue. In a twist, Anna got to choose the teams, and also got to choose one player to have immunity. She said she was going to pick the teams in a way that would "make everyone happy" and I knew she was in trouble.
When Anna weighed in, we were shown a leaderboard that compared her total weight loss to the contestants on the ranch. She was 8th in overall weight loss. A smart thing for Anna to do would have been to divide the two teams as fairly as possible (maybe taking those leaderboard figures and putting the first place loser on Black, second place on Blue, etc., being careful to bust up the Patrick-Brendan-Frado alliance) and then to give herself immunity. The person who won immunity would be put on the team who lost a player, so if that team eliminated one of its weakest players and added her, she would be on a fairly strong team.
Anna wanted to be on Jillian's team, so she made Patrick immune. She managed to make at least one person mad at her because she didn't put him with the trainer he wanted. Because Patrick is such a good player and didn't need immunity, this seemed fair, but instead of creating a team that had loyalty for her, she managed to create a team that seemed to think that if they threw they weigh-in so they could have Patrick on their team, they could get rid of her and have a really strong team. This whole week, there was an ugliness about the way Brendan and Frado seemed to think they were in control of the game and were going to spin it the way they wanted. Ada is sort of second-stringer in their alliance, and agreed with them. She has good numbers every week and has no sympathy for "weak" players. Anna and Elizabeth were the weakest players on their team and it looked like they were in trouble.
Jillian and Anna have a heart-to-heart early on when Anna gets frustrated with her workout and says that she is failing this and fails everything. Jillian gets her alone and asks how she could be a failure when she has already lost 40 pounds on her own. She said she was a failure because she couldn't keep her three-year-old son from dying of cancer. I had forgotten this part of her story. I have a two-year-old nephew I'm completely crazy about, so I was reaching for the tissues.
I liked the challenge this week. The two teams have to go to various places in the city to answer food questions like "Which of these two dishes has less calories?" The whole team has to be together before answering the questions. If they get it right, they move on to the next question. If they get it wrong, they have to do a penalty activity (stair-stepping, lunges, etc.) before they can go on. I was able to answer almost all the questions right. The winning team got The Biggest Loser Meal Plan home delivery for 40 weeks (which could make a big difference when players are sent home to compete at the end, or for eliminated players who wanted to win the at-home prize) and letters from home. It looked pretty close between the two teams, but the Black team just barely manages to carry Anna, Elizabeth, and Rick up a flight of stairs to victory. Brendan manages to make me like him just for a second when he gives his letters from home to Lisa, who seems desperate for some word from her kids. Later in the show, I thought, "Maybe he doesn't have anyone at home who likes him."
Back in the gym, Jillian picks up on the nasty dynamic developing on her team with Brendan and Frado bullying the weaker players and planning to throw the weigh-in. She asks Frado (and Brendan, though she seems to have more faith in Frado) to play it straight and let the numbers decide things. He promises, and Brendan swears on his "goddaughter's grave" that he is going to be fair. My guess is he doesn't have a goddaughter, but if he does, he should make his false promises on his own fat grave, because it seems pretty obvious that he plans to cheat. Even Alli seems to get upset with the Black Team's scheming at the weigh-in. When Brendan says that if they threw the weigh-in and get Patrick on their team and get rid of a weak player, it "works out for everyone," she flashes an angry look and says, "not for someone."
The weigh-in goes as I expected -- everyone seems to play fair but Brendan, who only loses 2 pounds. He does not admit that he cheated, but there is no way that a 300-pound guy who used to eat "Gravediggers" at home should have only lost 2 pounds in an intensely controlled environment like the Biggest Loser ranch. He also seemed extremely nervous and jumpy.
I get really annoyed with the water-loading trick, because there is no reason that it should be allowed to happen. There are a lot of ways that the game could be changed to make it impossible for players to cheat on the weigh-ins. The contestants could be weighed every day. The weigh-ins could be a surprise, the way they were at the beginning of the show. There could be a yellow line in team weigh-ins, where only the bottom two players could be eliminated. There could be a rule that any player who gains weight is immediately sent home (since water-loading has to be tricky to get right if you don't have access to a scale). With all the fancy medical tests the show uses, there has to be a way to determine whether someone's body-water content is higher than expected. The fact that there are all these ways to fix this problem, but that the show continues to allow it to happen, means that the show's producers want this kind of gameplay to be part of the show.
Interestingly, just before watching this episode I listened to a This American Life podcast on "Frenemies," which talked about the weird ways that reality TV players interact. There is an interesting analysis of "I'm not here to make friends" -- a phrase that only seems to exist on reality TV. The players who say this are players we are set up to despise, and they also almost never win. But they play an important role in manufacturing the drama that keeps us watching the show. This manipulation is why I don't usually watch reality TV, but here I am watching TBL.
Surprisingly, instead of eliminating Elizabeth or Anna, the Black Team decides to dump Rick, who has been the perfect Biggest Loser contestant. He's nice, he is not at all dramatic, and he loses tons of weight each week. Brendan, Frado, and their new teammate Patrick seem to have decided that they'll wait to pick off the weak players later, and get rid of someone who feels like a threat to them. There are hints that the other contestants might fight back next week.
Rick seems to be doing just fine at home. His wife obviously cares about him and the whole family seems happy to support him in his weight-loss effort. It seems that they were just waiting for him to make the decision to change and that they are thrilled to have a happier, more mobile Rick instead of someone who could barely get out of a chair on his own. Rick is a physical therapist, which means that all day, he is in a gym-like environment. His weight had to be a huge handicap in a field that is all about health and fitness.
The important thing to remember, and something that is surprisingly hard to keep in mind while watching The Biggest Loser, is that even though players seemed freaked out by the idea of going home, for most of them, going home means being with people who care about them instead of a set of scheming strangers. Though home is where they got fat, home is also the place they will have to get thin if they are going to be able to be a long-term success. The players who are really, truly reluctant to leave should probably think hard about the relationships that they have at home, because if you would rather be on the ranch with Brendan than home with your boyfriend, the boyfriend probably needs to go.