Biggest Loser health story leads show to threaten cast; Jillian says “contestants can get a little too crazy”

The New York Times reports today on The Biggest Loser, saying in the headline that “health can take a back seat” on the show. The story is interesting, from the confessions of previous cast members to the way the show threatened its past contestants, warning them not to talk to the media.

After some pointless conjecture on the part of doctors who just watch the show on TV, the paper notes that “the winners of the first four seasons of the show each have added at least 20 percent to their weight at the end of the show,” and reports that “Kai Hibbard, who lost 118 pounds and finished as the runner-up in Season 3, has written on her MySpace blog and elsewhere that she and other contestants would drink as little water as possible in the 24 hours before a weigh-in. When the cameras were off, she said, contestants would work out in as much clothing as possible.”

Jillian Michaels admitted, “Contestants can get a little too crazy and they can get too thin. That is the worst part of the show. It’s just part of the nature of reality TV.”

Dr. Rob Huizenga, the show’s doctor and a UCLA professor, told the paper that the one-mile race at the start of this season wasn’t a good idea. “If we had it to do over, we wouldn’t do it. It was an unexpected complication and we’re going to do better. … [T]hat challenge has changed a lot of the way we do things.” Huizenga defended the show’s overall approach, though, saying, “This is not only a major amount of weight loss, it is a totally different kind of weight loss compared with surgery or starvation diets.”

Executive producer JD Roth defended the show, saying “it needs to be extreme in my opinion” because “For some of these people this is their last chance,” and he said it’s “a public service to have a show that inspires people to be healthier.”

Interestingly, when the paper started its reporting, a talent producer threatened former cast members with “serious consequences” and a fine of $100,000 or $1 million if they talk to the press, and approved interviews came with a publicist listening in, a good way of making it seem like the show has something to hide.

On ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Health Can Take Back Seat [New York Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.