TV Review: The Biggest Loser

TV Review: The Biggest Loser

Why we're tuning out this time

By Mark HadleyWednesday 5 Feb 2014TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

The ratings war kicked off last week with a fusillade of Reality TV that included returning juggernauts My Kitchen Rules and The Block: Fans Vs. Favs. However the biggest loser was…The Biggest Loser. What is it about the show that is turning viewers off?

The Biggest Loser losing ratings battle. 
The new format for Shine Australia’s reality weight-loss program draws all of its contestants from the single Victorian township of Ararat. This locale, according to the producers, holds the dubious title of being Australia’s most overweight town. The only significant difference to the show seems to be that the town is able to contribute to its residents’ success by carrying out large-scale exercises on their behalf. Otherwise it’s the usual format of challenges followed by a weekly weigh-in where a competitor is voted off the team that’s lost the least number of kilos. 

Last week’s Monday night episode earned an anemic 560,000 viewers in the face of MKR’s healthier 1.67 million and The Block’s 1.14 million. Nine seasons in, are Australian’s just worn out by seeing overweight people suffer? Or is it something else?

One of the easiest things to observe from watching The Biggest Loser is the relative success various training methods have. Each team consists of overweight men and women who can each tell a story about how their weight has held them back in life. In some cases their obesity has reached life-threatening proportions, as in the case of 181 kilogram mother Mary. The program’s trainers issue a lot of good advice and encouragement mixed with tough love – read ‘yelling’ – and these are supposed to lift the competitors out of their sloth. But I wonder how much success the diatribes deliver – for the contestants as well as the program.

As an experiment I had a friend watch an episode where trainer ‘The Commando’ went to town on his team for not trying hard enough. Ten minutes in they confessed they found it hard to watch five minutes of his verbal encouragement, let alone the full hour. It wasn’t just the abuse; it was the feeling that yelling didn’t really change people. And Mary’s own experience in a similar scene underlined the point:

“I was exhausted but Cameron willed me to push myself further than I’d ever pushed myself before. He changed from yelling to more of an encouragement that we’re going to do it, and I wanted to finish this challenge.”

All three of these Reality TV series turn on the philosophy that you can bake, build and exercise your way to a better future if you only try hard enough. However The Biggest Loser provides the clearest evidence that even if you want to, sometimes you just can’t. The barriers that stand between us and change don’t just consist of a lack of information or positive attitude. 

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Deeper than poor choices, deeper even than mental illness, is a human quality that willingly trades what is best for what is good right now. The Bible calls it sin and traces it to our decision to not let our Designer tell us what is best. It’s very unattractive to see someone sobbing on their knees that they’re fat and they can’t do anything about it. Human weakness doesn’t win ratings. We’d rather look at the winner who gets themselves a new body, than the dozen competitors sent home. This is also why I think we would rather click over to tasty meals and beautiful room, however hard they are to make. At least there it still looks like we can stand on our own two feet. 

Rating: PG
Distributor: Network TEN
Release Date: August 18