For the record, Bob was wrong when he said eliminated players have been coming back since the beginning. The first time that happened on American soil was season three with the crew you see above (I’m the tall one in the middle!). Australia’s version of Biggest Loser actually did it first the year before – Bob and Jillian were trainers there as well, so he can get a pass for feeling like he’s been seeing this happen forever. Although I did find it amusing that he was acting like it was no big deal – back in season three, he was furious and kind of a jerk over the whole thing!
Anyway, all the drama this season has me thinking about it again, and I’ve seen a lot of comments from people who are mystified by the reactions by the ranch cast, don’t understand why they would react that way, etc. Here are some of my disorganized thoughts on eliminated players returning and why viewers, eliminated cast, and ranch cast have the reactions they do …
First, the viewers.
Here is the truth: people love an underdog. We identify with them. We root for them. We love to see them overcome extreme odds and beat the favorites. It’s why movies like Rocky, Rudy, Cool Runnings, and just about every other sports movie made does well. When it comes to Biggest Loser, we feel awful for the eliminated contestants – especially if it happens on the first day. We love seeing them come back and win – it’s inspiring, it’s encouraging, and honestly, they’re typically the ones we identify with in a lot of ways, especially if as a viewer you’re wishing you could be on the show – you just get it in your gut why they are trying so hard to get that spot back. And if you’re identifying with the underdog, you’re naturally going to be furious with the people slamming them or trying to keep them out.
I don’t think Biggest Loser realized that at first. It’s part of the reason why I think they’ve never done something like they did in my season again; they thought the ranch cast would be the heroes and the at home contestants would be a fun novelty. Instead, the online response was overwhelmingly in support of the home contenders and against the ranchers! People felt so bad for us, and they wanted us to succeed – meanwhile, they were turned off by all the game play on the ranch. Not a great business model if the bulk of the financial investment and risk is centered around the 14 chosen for the ranch. People identified with us, felt the pain of us being rejected on the first day of the ranch, and felt enraged when it felt like insult was added to injury when we returned to the ranch only to be angrily and bitterly welcomed with comments from the ranchers along the lines of the first priority being to vote us off, it didn’t seem fair, and so on.
Another surprising thing about eliminating players? For some, it is like rocket fuel. It turns out extended time on the ranch is NOT necessary for weight loss. Motivation is necessary. Over and over, from season to season, we have seen contestants eliminated in the first weeks of the show (or the first day in my case!), go home and disappear … only to return not only thinner, but ahead of the cast on the ranch both in percentage and weight lost. This was genuinely shocking to the producers at first; how could this be possible?
I can’t speak for every eliminated contestant, but as someone who did return without having the trainers or gym once, and yet still ahead of everyone on the ranch in percentage loss and pounds loss, here’s what I know: I was ticked. That rejection, being sent home, gave me a laser focus. While they were distracted by game play, challenges, unknown schedules, being jerked around by production staff and a thousand other things, all I thought about was getting my spot back on the ranch and showing everyone they were wrong for discounting me. I exercised at the gym until my feet bled, I could hardly move for weeks because of my sore muscles, a number of times I passed out or almost passed out – all because I was so determined to get back. That’s why it never surprises me to see eliminated contestants, or even eliminated teams (black team, season four) come back and dominate. It takes the competitive edge to another level.
The Ranch Contestants.
Let’s be real, in this whole discussion (actually, monologue), these are the ones who kind of get the raw end of the deal. In what other competition can you play by the rules, eliminate someone and then have them show up again rested, focused, and having another shot at the prize while you’re worn down, fried and emotionally drained? And by the way, their arrival will be timed by behind the scenes people to be a moment most shocking and difficult for you because they’re hoping you’ll lose it on camera so they can have a controversial episode that will make fans react (reread the viewers portion if you’ve forgotten!). This may sound funny from a guy who got twice as many episodes as he would have because of the whole returning contestants thing, but I think I get it. I knew way back in season three that our return would upset ranchers simply because I knew I would be upset by it. Here are some of the factors that shape their reactions …
- It prolongs the game. The truth is, once someone has been at the ranch for months … they don’t need the ranch. People have pulled off incredible results after only a few days with the trainers and nutritionists. Once you’ve learned the lessons, you can do it. Months in, it’s about the game play and the prize. For every returning contestant, it means it will be that much longer before the eventual winner can see their family again. And with weeks sometimes taking longer than seven days to film, bringing back a couple contestants means anywhere from 2-3 weeks more completely cut off from family. That’s draining and a shock to the system – especially if you’ve been counting down to seeing your kids after being away for months. On my season, Bobby came and apologized to us later saying, ‘all I was thinking when I saw you was, I thought we had two weeks left and now we have four.’
- Survivor. Being on the ranch is HARD. It is physically, emotionally and mentally draining. There is a reason why former contestants don’t recommend their loved ones go on the show – it’s not what anyone expects. For those who have spent day after day, month after month, surviving that environment, lasting through elimination after elimination, it is really hard to see someone else get a shot at the prize without enduring the environment.
- The unknown. It is a game show. Just like Apprentice, Survivor, Wheel of Fortune, Biggest Loser is first and foremost a game show. After a few weeks on the ranch, everyone knows each other, what to expect, and how things will probably go. We don’t like change. And the cast is generally a lot of type A personalities who want control and have lost it. Bringing someone new in to the mix completely changes everything and causes all types of chaos. When you’re already on the emotional edge, this feels even more dramatic.
- Intimidation. How would you feel if you had been training with Bob for two or three months, killing yourself, thinking you’re winning the game and dominating the competition only to have somebody show up that you haven’t seen in months, you haven’t bonded with, and by all rights (in your mind) should be way behind because they don’t have the freedom to just focus on weight loss … only to have them hop on the scale and reenter the competition at the top of the pack? Part of the reaction we see is a result of the intimidation coming from thinking you have all the competition figured out only to have a new front leader added to the mix who is rested, strong, and mentally fresh.
- Jealousy. This is the biggest one in a lot of ways. Most people sign up for Biggest Loser because they honestly believe they just can’t do it at home on their own – I was one of those people. They willingly give up contact with their family, friends, they turn over their cell phones, get cut off from mail, media, TV, and really the outside world. They allow people half their age to shuttle them around like cattle, treat them like a commodity, manipulate their emotions daily, all for the sake of losing weight they thought they couldn’t do on their own. Only to have someone show up, ready to compete for the big prize, while also having had the time home immersed with everything they have given up. That was one of the questions that infuriated Bob back in my season from the ranchers – ‘why did we give up everything to be here when they stayed at home and are beating us?’ It is brutal to realize you could have had it all – the game, your family, your world, and still lose the weight.
Ultimately, I think all the reactions are okay. It makes sense to me. I don’t like when one group lashes out at another group (viewer to rancher, rancher to eliminated, etc) because it feels like the wrong target for the animosity. The reality is, the show intentionally creates an environment for this to happen. They want the viewers worked up because that’s good for ratings. They want the contestants exploding because that’s good TV. Most reality shows keep the alcohol constantly stocked because it makes for less inhibited contestants. Biggest Loser can’t do that – too many calories, so they create drama other ways.
So at the end of the day, as a former eliminated contestant that got a less than enthusiastic reception at the ranch (watch season 3, episode 8 on Netflix if you’re curious), I think it would be a lot better to take a step back and look at the bigger context before coming to any conclusions about someone.