Last Night’s Biggest Loser Finale Was Horrifying
I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Biggest Loser.” While I don’t watch the show on a regular basis anymore, I do tune in every now and then because the show’s DVDs helped me drop a bunch of weight. I find it hard to resist the finales, when we finally get to see the amazing and often inspirational transformations these people have made.
Last night I tuned into the finale. I’d seen bits and pieces of this season’s episodes and I remember one contestant, Rachel, who seemed to dominate any physical challenge thrown at her. She was a former swimmer who obviously still had a strong competitive drive. Not surprisingly, she was one of the final three contestants in the hunt for the grand prize.
Before she came out on stage, the show ran a segment recapping her “journey.” In what must have been one of the final episodes, the show’s doctor told Rachel that she was only five pounds away from falling into “athlete” territory in terms of weight and body fat. She looked great at that point, with a strong, athletic build. I figured when she came out that she wouldn’t look drastically different because she didn’t have much more weight to lose.
But I was shocked when she came out.
It was hard to tell right away, but as she got closer to the camera, I was startled to see a completely different woman. The skin of her face looked dehydrated and it was stretched thin. Her arms, which once were muscular, were twigs. Her legs had lost all muscle tone. I have no idea what she weighed the last time she was at the Biggest Loser Ranch, but she appeared to have lost an additional 30 pounds. The first thought that came to my mind was that she looked like someone with an eating disorder.
I wasn’t the only one disturbed by her appearance. When the camera panned over to Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, they looked like they were in a state of shock. But not in a good way. They looked disturbed. The athlete they helped build at the ranch had turned into a waif.
Jumping on Twitter, I saw a lot of people throwing the word anorexic around to describe her. There was a lot of outrage that the show had allowed her to come out on stage with that appearance. Clearly some producer knew what she looked like before she went out there. Some folks questioned what the producer was thinking when they sent her on stage.
As Rachel got on the scale, it became obvious just how drastic her weight loss was. As the scale jumped around before settling on a final weight, numbers like 79 or 85 appeared on the screen. That’s when my heart really began to sink. I knew that final number was going to be low, too low. It stopped at 105. She had lost 155 pounds, almost 60 percent of her body weight. Rachel seemed delightfully shocked. Surely she had an idea of what her weight would be, but maybe even she didn’t realize just how low that final number would get.
Alison Sweeney, the show’s host, didn’t seem to know what to say. Do you congratulate someone who might have gone to extreme measures to win? What do you say to someone who won the show’s triathlon competition but now looks like she’d pass out if she tried to run a quarter mile?
Once Rachel was officially named the winner, I didn’t see any of the trainers go up to congratulate her. Of course they might have after the cameras aired, but the whole ending felt awkward.
Should we be surprised when a contestant takes it too far? The whole show is about losing weight and offers a large cash prize to the person who drops the highest percentage. But in the years I’ve watched the show, I’ve never looked at what the trainers and contestants were doing and said, “Gee, that looks dangerous.” They focus on healthy eating and an active lifestyle. Yes, it’s unrealistic in the sense that when these contestants go home, they won’t be working out as much as they did at the ranch. And no, most Americans don’t have the opportunity to drop the weight as quickly as the contestants do. But the show provides them the knowledge of how to lose weight and the confidence needed to go home and continue on that path.
Somewhere Rachel got lost. I’m sure her competitive edge pushed her to do everything she could to win the competition. But it became more than that. Obviously I don’t know how she lost the additional weight, but she has the look of someone who is malnourished. I think what started as a healthy desire to win turned into something unhealthy. She’s lost muscle tone, which happens when you starve yourself. She looks older than 23 because she’s so gaunt. She looks like someone who needs help.
Some folks have said she’ll gain weight now that the competition is over. That may be true, but if she does have an eating disorder, it’s not that simple. It’s not an easy habit to kick. She will need to completely change her attitude toward food and herself. I’m hoping this is where the show and its trainers will step in. Maybe she should speak to fellow contest Tumi, winner of the at-home prize for weight loss. Tumi lost 175 pounds but she looked lean and athletic at 144 pounds. She looked the way Rachel did before the finale.
I fear young men and women watching this show will look at Rachel and think that’s how they should look. That she is the idea of physical perfection. I don’t say all this to beat up on her, because that’s obviously not what she needs. She needs support. If she does have some type of eating disorder, that’s something that she should be able to work through privately, with the support system she built through the show.
While I feel “The Biggest Loser” needs to address this in some way at some point, the priority needs to be helping Rachel. Then the show needs to examine how it deals with the mental aspect of weight loss, because yes, that’s a factor too. We see the trainers try to address the personal issues the contestants are struggling with, but what they really need is help from mental health professionals. Maybe that goes on behind the scenes, I don’t know. But the show should also examine how they interact with these contestants in the time between leaving the ranch and the finale. They should be checking in with these contestants to make sure that they’re continuing the healthy habits they’ve learned. After that, then maybe the show can find a way to publicly address what happens when weight loss goes to the extreme.