Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why The Biggest Loser is the Worst Show on TV

Before you get too deep into this, you'll probably want to make sure that you check out yesterday's post first.  In it, I explain why The Wife and I love watching The Biggest Loser.  Thanks to the magic of our DVR, we haven't missed an episode since getting hooked a few years ago.  In a lot of ways, it's the best show on TV.  While that's all fine and good, the show has some problems - serious problems. 

Sure, maybe I overreacted just a little bit.  I don't actually consider The Biggest Loser the absolute worst piece of garbage on the airways.  That distinction is actually a tie between any and every show with the word 'housewives' in the title.

Here's where The Biggest Loser misses the mark:

1.  They're having a Pity Party and everyone's invited.

Most of the contestants on the show didn't get to their heaviest without having a few issues.  For some, it's just a matter of slowly losing control and letting their diet and sedentary lifestyle get out of hand.  For others, the problems are a little more intense. 

Last season, there was a mother whose daughter had started starving herself to keep from becoming like her mother.  There was a young lady whose parents made her feel guilty for her young brother's accidental death when they were children.  A few seasons ago there was even a woman whose husband and three young children were recently killed in a car accident.  My word.  I'd say that being overweight was the least of their worries.

Obviously, these issues will need to be addressed for the contestant to adjust to their new way of living.  The issues aren't the problem.  We all have 'em.  The problem I have with the show is how the viewer is constantly reminded of these struggles.  In-between the workouts and weigh-ins, it's a constant parade of teary-eyed confessionals.  I'm not trying to be callous, but it gets old.  When a 2-hour show gives me an hour of heartbreak and upheaval, I feel like I need to suck down a pint of ice cream just to cope with the emotions.

If the producers really want to help motivate us, they should give us fewer water-works sessions and more time focusing on the 'hows' and 'whys' of weight loss.  Show us how to put together a responsible, attainable diet; give us examples of effective workout plans and stop making us ride an emotional roller coaster.  Oh, and when someone is going through a deeply personal breakthrough, maybe you could, oh I don't know, take the camera out of their face for 5 minutes and let them deal with things.  We'll all understand.  Trust me.

2.  I'm not fooled by your product placement.

Okay.  So, you're a contestant on the show, and you just happen to be sitting around the kitchen with some of your other contestant buddies.  You just happen to be talking about the dilemma of how to carry healthy snacks around town.  Then, one of the handy-dandy trainers just happens to walk around the corner to 'educate' you about the new Ziploc snack bags?  Really?

I know that the network needs to make their money somewhere, but every time I get duped into watching one of these pseudo-commercials thinking that it's part of the actual show I feel my IQ drop 5 points.  If the network wants to bombard me with ads (which they have the right to do) they don't need to be sneaky about it.  Just decorate all of the contestant's workout shirts with logos - like a NASCAR driver.  We'll get the idea.

3. It sets impossible weight-loss expectations.

This is the issue that hits me the hardest.  It set's the bar unreasonably high.  Some of these contestants are consistently losing 10 pounds or more each week.  For the average overweight American trying to get back in shape, the math is not in their favor.  Look:

Fact: One pound of fat contains 3500 calories.  Fact: During the Ironman bike leg, I burned approximately 7,000 calories.  Even if I took 100% of my energy from fat, I still only lost 2 pounds during that effort.  That means that for someone to lose 10 pounds of fat in one week, they would have to bike approximately 550 miles.  I'll even be nice and give them the weekend off.

Now, just to clarify.  I have had single workouts where I finish weighing 5 or more pounds less than when I started.  However, most of that is water weight.  If you plan on losing weight like this, you won't be getting healthy; you'll be getting dehydrated. 

I don't know about you, but even during my heaviest Ironman training, I didn't come close to 550 miles of cycling per week.  Now, imagine an obese viewer of The Biggest Loser who decides to get their act together.  They start to eat healthy and hit the gym hard expecting to see the same magical weight-loss numbers that appear on the show.  But after a month of slaving away, they've only managed to lose a few pounds.  I can imagine that it would be pretty discouraging.

What the show needs to do is place more of an emphasis on educating the viewers on how to develop long-term goals.  Remind us that losing weight is like turning a large ship; you can turn the wheel, but it's going to take a little while for it to complete the turn and face the other direction.  Sure, it's still great to be inspired (and impressed) by some truly amazing results, but for the love of Pete, help the rest of us who don't have access to world-class trainers, nutritionists and facilities. 

Will I keep watching the show?  Absolutely.  Will I encourage others to check it out?  Sure.  It's good entertainment.  However, if you're looking for personal answers to impact your own life, you can do a lot better than trying to derive them from a TV show. 

1 comment:

  1. Nicely Done. I'd have to agree that I think The Biggest Loser has somehow managed to coexist as one of the Best and Worst shows on TV.

    One thing that I will add to your post from yesterday is the development in the last few seasons of the pay it forward mentality. While the show seems to make unlikely (and sometimes unwilling) superheroes out of their cast each season they have the ability to become serious agents of change in the communities they came from.

    That "spread the love" concept is really starting to show through with the follow up segments of past contestants and I have to admit it's kind of cool.