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The Column

The Biggest Loser
11/28/04

As most people do, I spent a great deal of Thanksgiving weekend watching bad television. Thanks to reality shows, watching bad TV is a lot easier than it used to be.

I avoid most reality TV, with a few exceptions. Years ago I was pretty into "Real World San Francisco," but mainly to see Puck and Pedro fight. "Apprentice" was good enough not to shut off right away, and I was even on "Last Comic Standing" briefly, before I found out it was a gigantic hoax. But the cavalcade of garbage to hit the air in this last year has prevented me from ever giving another reality show a fair chance. If I'm thankful for one thing this year, it's that I don't own a TV.

I accidentally caught three minutes of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," while flipping channels, mainly because the title intrigued me. I was wondering if they were trying to figure out who wastes more of their life playing video games or has the worst dating skills, or something like that. I was very wrong.

The concept is fairly simple - the contestants compete to lose weight, and the winner gets a quarter of a million dollars. The show is supposed to positively inspire others to lose weight, so much so that on the Biggest Loser message boards (yes, there are Biggest Loser message boards), the contestants are described as heroes. That's "heroes," not "heros." Very different things.

Let me see if I understand this. "The Biggest Loser" consists of twelve overweight contestants who all say that they're desperate to lose weight, but only get off their butts and do something about their health problems when there's money at stake. Those aren't heroes. For a quarter million dollars, I'd lose 170 pounds. And I only weight 170 pounds.

"Hey, where'd Steve go?"

"I don't know, but if you find him, I have all this money..."

Or maybe I'd be healthier and only drop 165 pounds. Then I'd be a five pound stick, being blown around by a good gust of wind. Hopefully they give me the money in small denominations, so it will weigh me down.

Some people's definition of "hero" is someone who affects positive change in another person. In that respect, maybe these people are heroes. But not in my book - I believe a hero is a firefighter or a soldier, not people who need a bribe to better themselves.

I understand that obesity is a serious problem in America. In a culture of excess, it is logical that while we race to fatten our piece of the pie, many people end up eating too much of it. And maybe it's difficult for you to accept someone skinny discussing this problem. But while I may not know the right answer, I know reality TV isn't it.

The producers of this show would lead you to believe that they're involved because obesity is a serious concern for them. No. Three of the producers came from "For Love or Money," a show full of ratings-pursuing whores. And that's just the producers.

What "The Biggest Loser" does teach is that people should be paid to better themselves, and surrounding fat people with food and seeing what happens makes good television. And as overweight America collectively sits and watches, clumsily spilling Cheeto crumbs on our old high school football jerseys, there's a certain irony. "The Biggest Loser" is not anyone on the show - it's us. It's the people who watch, the people who allow these shows to take over our entertainment. We are the biggest loser. Congratulations America - you win.

What do you think happens to the contestants who get kicked off the show? Who are publicly embarrassed and told that they're a failure at losing weight? While a few may continue to train or eat better, most of them will probably gain more, taking such a blow to their confidence and ego that training and eating better just become reminders of when America spent a season laughing at them. I would not be surprised if in two years, most of the contestants are heavier than they were when the show started. I smell reunion episode!

I'm glad I shut the show off so quickly. And I hope you do, too. If you haven't watched yet, don't. And if you have, you can find something better. Maybe you can find a new way to live vicariously through people instead of actually going out and living your own life.

If you are overweight and need inspiration, please don't look to reality TV. Look to a friend who has been able to lose a few pounds, or a doctor who can help counsel you through the diet that is best for your metabolism. The first step is not seeing how much other people can get paid to shape up - it's to change the channel, or shut off the TV entirely.

Hopefully without the help of a remote.

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