This review is not a plot summary -- it won't focus on telling you who will or won't be eliminated, or providing a full recap of the show. Instead, I will react to the things I found interesting in the episode. Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments!
Jillian Michaels had mentioned on her podcast that this season, the trainers had a chance to be part of the casting process on "The Biggest Loser," so I wasn't surprised to see them interviewing would-be contestants on the show, I was just surprised to see them dumping pictures into their "NO" pile for the cameras. That seemed a bit mean to me.
This season's cast has another Olympic athlete, and this time it's Holley Mangold, who spoke openly about how it was difficult for her to get sponsors because of her weight. I was objecting to her statement that she didn't want to be "just an Olympian," but Jesse suggested that she might think she has a better chance of medaling if she could go down a weight class and maintain most of her strength.
There is also something new, a B-lister, Ruben Studdard, who had some limited success after his "American Idol" win but seems to had a lot of expensive, celebrity-style problems -- embezzling family member/business manager, marriage and divorce, lawsuits. My guess is that he is on TBL partly because he needs the money -- he is probably getting more than the usual pay for being on the show. He also probably wants to lose what is an alarming belly even by TBL standards. He is the biggest guy on the show.
There are not the usual "freak-show" contestants this time around -- no extremely huge ones, no older contestants, no super-young contestants (the ages range from 24-43), no one who seems obviously chosen to be the "mean girl." Maybe having the trainers involved in the casting injected some sanity this time. There is one thing that weirded me out a little -- a contestant who seems to have been chosen by Dolvett because she said she had a crush on him was put on his team. Dolvett is a stunningly handsome guy, but it seems weird that he would want someone he trained to have that kind of interest in him. He has always long, deep, soulful stares into his contestants' eyes (icky), but to have someone who might take that as a sign of a love connection could get a bit weird.
The format was shorter this time -- only one hour -- and there didn't seem to be the usual annoying padding. The show moved quickly and seemed to offer up a new take -- no contestants falling off treadmills with the camera shake to remind us that these people are heavy. Jillian said at one point, "this is not a reality show, this is rehab." The show seems to be taking itself a little more seriously. The contestants seem to be taking it seriously, too. They don't seem to be fake-crying to get attention or get out of workouts. They seem to be trying hard to show that they belong.
Even the contestant with the most heartbreaking history, David, refuses to play along with the usual TBL storylines. Though he lost his wife to cancer at an early age, he doesn't want everyone to see him as "just some sad puppy who was run over by life. I'm more than just a sad story." He has a mark on his chest that is there to remind himself and others that he has "the heart of a warrior." Good! It is annoying to see a personal tragedy turned into Sadsploitation.
Edited to add this paragraph: One other story that really stood out to me was Rachel's. On the show she said she was on-track to be a champion swimmer but "gave it all up for a boy." Swimmers tend to do well on TBL (Ali Vincent, Tara, Danni). I was more struck, though, by this sense she seemed to have that one bad decision had ruined her whole life, another common phenomenon on TBL. I think that all-or-nothing thinking tends to be a major factor in weight gain and a major barrier to change, so it's not surprising that this attitude turns up so often on the show, often among former athletes whose glory days passed too quickly (Matt, Rulon, several former football players). Maybe this bothers me because I had this attitude myself when I was in my 20s and over 200 pounds -- I thought I had ruined my whole life. Luckily I was able to break out of that attitude and make changes. Rachel's contestant biography said it took her six years after her relationship with the boy ended to gain 100 pounds -- it's too bad that she let one bad decision put her on a long downward slide. If there is one real lesson that TBL preaches, it's that it's always possible to turn things around. That has always been the thing that keeps me watching the show season after season.
I have one big unanswered question after watching the first episode: How does the "trainer save" work? Can the trainers use it every time someone is eliminated, or is there a limit to how often it is used? If they explained this somewhere in the episode, I missed it. I think it would cheapen the show if the trainers could save every person who failed to make a weigh-in.
I think this season shows a lot of promise and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it.