The biggest boozer
Posted by digglahhh on 26 January 2008
The other day I joined my girlfriend while she caught up on some previous episodes of “The Biggest Loser.” Inadvertently, I’ve become a viewer, if not exactly a fan. The episode from three weeks ago (I think) flipped me out. For Entertainment Weekly, three weeks is long enough to make a show entirely irrelevant, but the readership of this website is probably not characterized by those who treat “The Biggest Loser” as must-see-TV (nor devoted readers of Entertainment Weekly, for that matter).
For those unfamiliar with the show, several teams of two grossly overweight individuals are made to live in a house that is like a fitness complex. The trainers, basically upper middle class white drill-sergeants, exude the superiority of their looks and conditioning, and condescendingly whip the fat asses into shape – sometimes engaging in various psychotherapies they are wholly unqualified for along the way. Teams weigh-in weekly, and one or the other of the two to lose the least combined weight is voted off by the other teams. Lame challenges and prizes along the way create artificial drama; because you are, after all, watching a show consisting of obese people struggling on treadmills, its humor wears thin even as the contestants do as well.
In the episode that irked me, what caused me to freak happened toward the end. There was a surprise challenge the night before the weekly weigh-in. The contestants were given some amount of time (maybe five minutes) alone in an area that was filled with. fried meats, corn dogs, cakes, candies— the worst possible shit one could eat. The teams were told that whichever team ate the most calories combined would split $5,000 – but would obviously be jeopardizing themselves at the weigh-in the following day, and thus their chance to win whatever the big payout is.
Should I eat? Will my partner eat? Holy shit – Hitchcock-like suspense…
What is that? If the show has any legitimate goal at all, it’s to help contestants lose weight and develop a healthy life style. How does that square with such a ridiculous and contrived situation? It’s just wrong on basically every possible level.
If pressed, maybe the show’s creators would give willpower development as the reason for the challenge. But, that’s total bullshit. The challenge does not accurately depict any realistic situation the contestants will ever encounter. Lacking the discipline to avoid impromptu eating contests for cash prizes is probably not the main reason the contestants have failed to develop a healthy relationship with food thus far.
Willpower is a valuable skill that anybody attempting to kick a habit or change a lifestyle should try to develop. But, consider that the unhealthy diets and eating routines these contestants have developed have been practiced over many years. Their behavior is a long established pathology similar to that of a drug addict. Would a show about (recovering) alcoholics throw them in a room with an open bar and offer a cash prize for the team that emptied the most bottles the quickest? Entertainment and plot twists are one thing; completely undermining the professed goals of the show and contestants is another.
Further, the cash prize interjects a new level of bias to the equation. How important five grand is to you directly influences your temptation factor. Shit, I’d eat a plate of bull penis, or whatever the Fear Factor special of the day is for a couple thousand bucks. But, I’m relatively broke! If I was pulling down A-Rod money, I wouldn’t take a single bite – well, maybe if it was imported and served in some sort of reduction… The point is, the more broke you are, the more likely you are going to eat. There’s no reason to introduce an extra, unrelated variable.
Basically, the show was willing to contradict its single concrete premise in the hopes of getting a couple of minutes of good, gross-out TV out of it. Fortunately, the joke was on the network as very few of the contestants ate anything at all. Still, the damage was done in my eyes. I’m under no delusions about the altruism of these sorts of self-help themed reality shows, but that was really jumping the shark as far as I’m concerned.
By the way, the winning team of the eat-off also wound up losing the second most weight. So bonus points for promoting irresponsible and contradictory messaging as well…