Biggest Loser producer admits they made a mistake

The New York Post and Reality Blurred posted articles about an interview with the producer seen in the ‘walk off’ episode of Biggest Loser. Some revealing tidbits that, honestly, confirm some of my suspicions.

In the episode they portrayed the contestants as having a clear understanding all along of exactly how the game would play out regarding eliminated contestants, setting the viewer up to sympathize with mystified production staff who were just going along with what they had said they were going to do all along. The same producer’s comments in the interview, however, suggest something else:

Lubin acknowledges that the contestants “made one good point: We should have been clear from the beginning [about the returning-contestants twist]. We did that last season, on Day One, but this season it was only implied and then happened so late in the game.”

‘Only implied’? Late in the game – later than has ever happened before? Implied is a world different than the ‘clearly stated’ portrayal they gave in the episode.

In addition, he talks about how both Mark and Buddy are forbidden to do any media/interviews about the walkoff and their reasons for doing so. Some might speculate, what difference does that make? They broke the contract once, what stops them a second time? Simply that the show never has financially punished someone for quitting; it’s not even the first time this season (remember Joe Messina?). However, it is clearly stated in the contract that they will sue if a contestants’ actions threaten the value of the show (in other words, profitability), with the penalty being in the million dollar range.

The thing is, the fact that they are tightly enforcing that, and what we saw in the episode was so clearly staged for the cameras after the real conversations had already taken place, gives more weight to the idea that there is more to the story than we saw. It wasn’t just about returning eliminated contestants.

I’ve heard it from so many different corners now that I really do believe one of the issues behind the conflict between producers and cast is the portrayal of the cast on the show. Lubin even mentions in the interview that how they were being portrayed was an issue particularly significant for Mark and Buddy as pastors. The general reaction from cast members is shock to find out their season has come across as one of the most drama filled to date – their perception was that it was a great experience, not the conflict we have seen. I know as a pastor I went into my season very nervous about the potential damage bad editing could have on my ministry – it was something I had in the back of my mind as something worth walking over.

I know the response has been consistently been from some quarters, ‘it doesn’t matter how much editing does, they still made the faces, said the words, and had the moments.’ The problem is, things can be taken wildly out of context. I remember being disappointed at the portrayal of one of the women on my season; she was deeply religious and NEVER swore. Yet she was bleeped repeatedly in just about every episode she was in. Why? The story written for the season before any of us had ever shown up had her on the ‘evil’ team, part of the villainous trio of women they wanted viewers to hate. So innocent words were bleeped to give the perception that she was foul mouthed.

On another reality show, another deeply religious woman and church leader was portrayed as watching other contestants skinny dip in the pool. Just staring away. Only thing was, the first she ever knew of the skinny dipping was when she watched the episode at home – editors had spliced together footage of her sitting by the pool one day, with the footage of the other housemates skinny dipping. But the damage was done; people were shocked to think she was some sort of dirty gawker.

I love the video before – it shows some great tricks to the trade:

Here’s the thing, I love Biggest Loser. I had an amazing experience. I would do again in a heart beat. I made incredible friendships, learned volumes about health and myself. But I feel bad when good people get hurt because of the realities of a tv genre that survives on conflict, fan reaction, and drama – whether there was any or not. For me, that means I will always give contestants on any reality show the benefit of the doubt. Because there are always two sides to any story, and the cast are not the ones sharing their side. Especially in this particular instance.

I keep telling myself I’m done blogging about this episode. I think I really am this time!

7 thoughts on “Biggest Loser producer admits they made a mistake

  1. Interesting comments, Matt. I have really enjoyed reading your take on recent BL events.

    I've actually thought from the beginning that the walkout threat had something to do with how these castmembers were being portrayed….I know whether the show accurately represented me or not wouldn't matter one bit if I belatedly realized America hated me and that my mom or spouse or kids couldn't go to the grocery store or church or work anymore without hearing negative opinions about me.

    The only things that bother me about this theory are 1) the timing — it is obvious from Mark's "America was right about you!" comment to Conda several weeks prior that castmates had learned about their edits and the resulting internet hoopla during their home visits, if not sooner — and 2) Buddy's decision to leave — Buddy never got the arrogant/self-centered edit that Mark, Conda and several others received; the worst he could be accused of would be falling in with a "bad" crowd or being gullible….neither of which would be a professional deal-breaker for a pastor, who is supposed to look for the good in everyone.

    I COMPLETELY understood Mark's leaving …. as I said in a response to a prior blog note on the subject, Mark pretty much had to find a reason to huff off if he was to have any hope at all of salvaging his reputuation. While I have never felt Mark was all that innocent (though I allow for the possibility of his being arrogant enough to believe he had done nothing wrong), I do have to wonder if Buddy's departure was primarily a show of solidarity with Mark …if Buddy believed Mark had been inaccurately portrayed, I could understand him thinking that his own decision to remain on the ranch would somehow be endorsing a false portrayal of Mark, and thus would present an ethical conflict for him. That in turn makes me have to at least consider whether Mark was in fact more innocent than I have contemplated.

    If I could stand to watch this season over again (and there is NO WAY that I could!), it would be interesting to note specific objectionable sentences uttered by Mark rather than just reaction shots or body language which, as you point out, could easily have been dropped in out of context by crafty editors. Would I come away with the same feeling of distaste I have for him now? I'm not sure, but if the answer was "no", then the producers should be heartily ashamed of themselves because I have held Mark FAR more accountable than I have held Conda (since he was old enough to know better and supposed to be a role model.) If someone else wants to run the experiment and report back, I'd like to hear about the findings.

    One of the lessons that I hope the new production team learned from this season is that the BL audience doesn't find the same kind of drama prevalent on so many other reality shows inspirational. Since Extreme Makeover Home Edition went off the air, there's not a lot of inspirational television out there…I'd hate to see The Biggest Loser fail, but I think most of us would rather see the show canceled rather than endure another season like this one. I'm not really superstitious, but perhaps Season 13 was always doomed to be unlucky for its cast members.


  2. Matt,

    Thanks for letting us know of your newest blog.

    I must say, I am completely blown away regarding what you wrote about the unfortunate editing done on your season too, as well as other reality shows. Is there any possibility it was the same production company working with 3ball for your season, as BL was stuck with this season? From what you say it appears 3ball plays in the same mud pile as the current producers (they just don’t get quite as dirty).

    It infuriates me, IF a contestant is WRONGLY portrayed in editing (especially to the point of it destroying their career / reputation), they do not have a leg to stand on, in which to repair the damage that was done to them. Because the truth was never shown on TV they’re not allowed to discuss the truth. Obviously, destroying people’s lives is all allowed in their contracts, but really, that is insane!

    It’s funny, I was going to write you to ask a question, but you answered it so perfectly here. “I would do again in a heart beat”.

    Again, thanks for sharing the update.


  3. I guess for me I'm not surprised by it. We all joke around about reality TV not being reality, but I think the majority of viewers don't realize just how unreal it all is. Maybe part of the reaction is that we're used to it on shows where we expect drama (most reality shows thrive on that), but when it comes to Biggest Loser, where inspiration seems to be where it really hits its stride, we're caught off guard that the same practices are going on behind the scenes. It really shouldn't be surprising, though; look at the lineup of shows the production company is also making, it's all the same staff behind all those shows and that's how they work.

    I do wonder if the new production team came in and didn't hit that inspirational tone because they are used to their other reality shows. It did take the 3Ball team a few seasons to really begin to grasp the unique demands of Biggest Loser (inspirational, filming is several times longer, the mental and physical demands of weight loss, etc.).

    Editing works both ways; my experience has been that most of the contestants react and operate the same way, yet some get edited as heroes, others as villains.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the story they plan on telling. For years the writers for reality shows have wanted billing equal to other show writers. Producers have resisted this for a couple reasons; one, it would require them to pay writers more, and secondly, it would mean admitting reality shows have writers! For the most part, the story of the season is written before filming ever begins. Yes, changes get made and unexpected moments can be used. But having the story ahead of time allows producers, directors and camera men to grab shots that can be used for that story regardless of the context. It gives a direction to the overall story of the season.

    The one thing I feel bad about in these posts is that it may come across as me having bad feelings or negativity about the show. I had a great time. I like the producers. I've never in my life heard a pep talk like what JD Roth can give. It's no wonder he does this for a living – the man could get people fired up and inspired to do anything! My comments really aren't meant to inspire anger towards the show – they're doing their job, creating entertainment that will generate profit so they can keep making the show. But I do wish people understood more of what goes on behind the scenes, and how in a lot of ways, reality show cast members deserve the benefit of doubt.


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