These Losers Never Quit

(Dave Bjerke - ¿ Nbc Universal)
By Sally Squires
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The Biggest Loser," the hit reality television show about weight loss, recently launched its fourth season on NBC by introducing 18 new -- and very obese -- contestants ready to shed pounds and perhaps win $250,000.

If you've never caught the show, it's worth a look even though there are moments -- the weigh-ins that sometimes seem to border on public humiliation -- that may make you cringe.

Like all reality shows, "The Biggest Loser" gives the impression of being unscripted, but that doesn't mean it's unplanned. This is prime-time entertainment. So there are open casting calls and video tests in more than a dozen cities for contestants, just as there would be for actors on any TV series. But "Biggest Loser" contestants agree to spend as much as four months under 24-hour scrutiny at the show's location near Los Angeles.

This season alone, nearly 300,000 people applied to snag a spot on the show, according to executive producer David Broome. (Casting calls are already underway for the fifth season, which begins in January.)

Unlike many other shows, "Loser" contestants must pass a rigorous physical exam -- not easy to do when you tip the scales at 200, 300 or even 400 pounds. "We've had some people who broke my heart, because we couldn't get them to pass the medical exam," Broome says. "It was most sad because they looked upon us as their last-ditch effort for them."

To keep the show moving, the producers also plan creative story lines for each season and edit cleverly to build suspense and drama.

Take that enormous scale featured on each episode. "It's just a prop," Broome says.

To be sure, contestants stand on it for weigh-ins, but the numbers flashed on the plasma screen behind them come from measurements done earlier that day. (Those weigh-ins are videotaped for the Federal Communications Commission, which monitors all broadcast contests to prevent fraud.) Contestants don't know how they've done until they get "weighed" again in front of the cameras.

Knowing the numbers ahead of time gives the producers an edge: "We do it because then we are able to script the drama about when people are weighed" the second time, Broome says, thus adding suspense to the show.

Get past these entertainment elements, however, and there are some inspiring stories and worthwhile lessons in "The Biggest Loser."

Last season, Erik Chopin, 37, a deli owner and family man with two young children from West Islip, N.Y., proved that you don't have to undergo weight-loss surgery to reverse morbid obesity. At 407 pounds when the show began, Chopin was weeks away from having lap-band surgery. He lost 124 pounds over four months at the show's ranch, then went home, where he shed another 90 pounds over the next four months. His total loss -- 214 pounds -- earned him the $250,000 prize on the show's finale. Along the way, Chopin reversed his Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea and brought elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides to healthy levels.

His secret? Like the rest of the contestants, nothing exotic. He simply learned how to limit calories (men on the show eat 1,700 to 2,000 daily; women, about 1,100 to 1,500) and move a lot more. Chopin also switched to "quality" food, eating more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat, fish or poultry. He and other contestants kept food records to share with their trainers and with physician Robert Huizenga, the show's medical consultant.

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