In my last post on The Biggest Loser, “Two Great Ideas for ‘The Biggest Loser,’ “ I talked about the season (14), critiques of the show and two of my own ideas for how the show could embrace it’s public health angles.
This time, I am going to chime in on a controversy from the last season, which ended on February 4, 2014 with Rachel Frederickson as the Season 15 winner.
Watching the finale, I have to admit that I was taken aback by the weight loss of more than one contestant.
This season, Tumi Oguntala won the $100,000 at-home prize by losing 175 pounds or 54.86 percent of her starting weight. As the winner of the grand prize of $250,000, Frederickson lost 59.62 percent of her starting weight, a higher percentage of weight than any other in the history of the show. The second and third place finalists, David Brown and Bobby Saleem, lost 54.28 and 52.41 percent of their starting weights, respectively. (“ ‘The Biggest Loser’ season ends with record-breaking win” )
I was surprised and a bit concerned by some of the contestant’s weight loss, in part, because it seemed like more of them than usual had super dramatic losses. And, I personally thought Frederickson, in particular, looked too thin.
After the finale aired, many news stories, tweets and blog posts focused on Frederickson’s weight loss as a scandal for the show or concern for her health. The Biggest Loser was criticized for allowing a contestant to seemingly put her health at risk by becoming too thin. Even Frederickson admitted in an interview after the show that she may have gone too far to win. ( “The Biggest Loser Goes Too Far,” “Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson Admits She May Have Gone Too Far”)
On the one hand, my reaction leaned towards concern for Frederickson’s health. On the other hand, as I stated in my post on Season 14, The Biggest Loser is a reality show competition for which each contestant knows the rules. If you believe the show’s statements about Frederickson passing their medical tests, and I do, then she met her goal of winning the show by their rules. And, as an adult, she has responsibility for making a decision about how far to go to win.
On the third hand, I am concerned that future contestants or admirers of the show will be influenced by Frederickson’s success to think that one has to go to an extreme to “win” at the weight loss “game” in their own lives.
I hope that The Biggest Loser will examine its rule and processes and make changes that will discourage any possible trend towards too much weight loss, while maintaining the positive and popular aspects of the show.
With a more positive spin, producers should consider how they could shift the focus even more to health rather than weight loss.
Possible changes might include:
- Changing the show’s medical standards for acceptable health.
- Not letting contestants see their (and others’) weight loss amounts until the finale. I.e., As each contestant is weighed, only viewers would see the actual amount and percentage of weight loss each week. The contestants and trainers would only know the order of weight loss each week and overall. Perhaps this approach every week or some weeks could help contestants not fixate on the numbers.
- Sigh…putting more voting back into the mix, so that really successful weight losers are voted off for strategic reasons.
- Including an element of goal maintenance (which is also a major challenge and a long term health goal) into the grand prize. I.e., Once a contestant reaches their goal weight, the challenge becomes how well they can maintain that healthy weight within reasonable fluctuations.
- Encouraging the trainers and the winners to speak out more about the difference between a competition setting and reality after each finale. (Kudos to Dolvett Quince, Frederickson’s trainer, for admitting to his initial “shock” at her appearance at the finale and committing to supporting Frederickson’s real world health efforts.)
Finally, I still think The Biggest Loser is an entertaining reality competition show that inspires many people to improve healthy habits, like exercising and eating in a healthy way.
And, I will change my view and viewing of the show if they have too many winners who push the boundaries of weight loss too far.