Is 'Biggest Loser' Going Too Far?
By Mike Hess Posted Dec 15th 2009 05:50PM
It seems that the girth of those hoping to shed pounds on 'The Biggest Loser' is proportional to how many people tune in, as last week's finale scored the heftiest 'Loser' ratings since 2005. Capitalizing on that ratio, 'Loser' is going even bigger with its next season, when 526 pound Michael Ventrella -- the show's largest contestant ever -- tips the scales for the show's ninth season. Prior to Ventrella's 500+ pound weigh-in, the heaviest contestant was in season eight, when Shay Sorrells began the show at 476 pounds. While 'Loser' has certainly helped save and change the lives of those who participate, does striving to help the morbidly obese become exploitation when the pound tallies keep going up and their "heaviest ever" status is used to promote the show? Or is it simply indicative of an ever-expanding America? After the jump, a slew of media experts weigh in.
Sandy Deane, Managing Editor of AOL Television: "It may seem sensationalist and overly dramatic on the surface, but I think the heart of the show is always focused on making the biggest impact in these people's lives. The heavier the contestant, the bigger the risks, successes and failures for that contestant. The people of our nation are heavier than ever before, and I think the casting of larger people each season just reflects that disturbing national trend."
Alex Blagg, Executive Editor at Celebuzz: "This is America, so bigger is always better. Why would I want to watch a 500 pound morbidly obese woman run on a treadmill towards her body image goals when I could be watching a 600 pound morbidly obese person do the same thing? By the fall season of 2012, I fully expect to see has-been soap stars shouting at 1,000-pound bed-ridden obese people about doing some sit-ups."
Emma Rosenblum, Associate Editor at New York Magazine: "On the one hand, it's great that people like Shay and Daniel (the two biggest contestants in the show's history) are getting the kind of weight loss kick start they need in order to live longer, healthier lives. But it's clear that the show is using them to up the dramatic (and visual) ante. If these people want to be on 'Loser,' with all that it entails, I say more power to them. They just have to be willing to subject themselves to those embarrassing promos –– who wants to be featured on national TV as the "heaviest contestant...EVER!" –– and also live with the knowledge that some viewers might be watching specifically to 'ohh' and 'ahh' at their impressive weight."
Matthew Greenberg, TV Writer for TrueSlant: Of course NBC and 'Biggest Loser' are exploiting the contestants. All reality programming is, at some level, based on exploitation. The genius in 'Biggest Loser' is that -- while at its base -- it's a sideshow show where the audience is invited to come and stare at the morbidly obese and their emotional issues. The show also helps its contestants better their lives, which provides emotional story lines that resonate with the audience and reduce the sleaze factor of the show. It's a sideshow you can feel good about ... By touting "our contestants are even fatter than last year!" the show runs the risk of reminding folks about the unsavory part of the equation."
Susi May, Editor at FitSugar: "While I think the show is motivational, they do seem to be going for extremes to breathe life into their concept. I am not sure if I could simply say it is OK or it not, because it is true -- these contestants are heavier. So what does that say about us as viewers? Are we truly motivated by watching people that can't walk a mile on a treadmill?"
Alex Balk, Editor of TheAwl.com: "It's a wonderful thing that American television, which has itself played a part in our national obesity epidemic, is playing a small part to help some of their viewers become less massive."
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