Rachel Love-Fraser, crowned "The Swan" last season on Fox's combination reality show-beauty pageant, has some advice for this season's swans: Surrender to the process.
"You can't be resistant to change," she said. "That is what you are there to do. People say they want to make a change, but there is no magic wand. The entire group that they have assembled is not going to change your life. Some people can be given the world and still can't change. It's up to you."
Love-Fraser should know. She totally remodeled her life and her looks -- thanks largely to the show's litany of "life transformation" options. In addition to fitness training, nutritional guidance and therapy, Love-Fraser also opted for a nose job, lip enhancement, liposuction, a chin implant, a brow lift and a breast lift.
"I was there to take advantage of everything they were giving," she said.
The second season starts on Monday in a two-hour special that reunites the first season's swans before introducing part of the new flock of 16 eager to transform themselves. To help the contestants go from grungy to gorgeous, the weekly show has a roster of professionals including chefs, cosmeticians and, yes, plastic surgeons.
"The biggest criticism of the show is about plastic surgery," said series creator and executive producer Nely Galan, who dreamed up the "Swan" concept while reading "The Ugly Duckling" to her child. "The ones who find it appalling are male TV critics. But that didn't bother the 500,000 women who applied to come on the show this season."
Galan stressed that potential contestants who applied only because they want plastic surgery did not make the cut. "It has to be people who want a complete transformation of their lives. You are offered everything. We do offer plastic surgery. But if you don't want it, you don't have to do it."
Besides the pursuit of physical beauty, the show offers participants the opportunity to work through personal issues that may hamper their self-confidence.
Love-Fraser, who works in the construction industry but dreams of opening a bed-and-breakfast in Hawaii with her husband, discovered the path to transformation required "a lot of work, with all the physical and emotional changes. You're away from your family and taking a hard look at yourself. There is a lot that occurs and if you're not ready for it, you're not going to prosper."
She said the contestants -- 17 to start last season, with nine finalists -- followed a strict diet, did a lot of exercise and underwent intense therapy.
"I enjoyed that the most. I was able to unload a lot of baggage," said Love-Fraser, who lives in Sammamish, Wash.
She said the lack of mirrors for the three months following plastic surgery was not a problem.
"It's liberating not to look in a mirror," she said. "Not having a mirror, you focus on more important things about yourself. If you don't look at yourself all the time, you're not as critical of yourself," she said.
Love-Fraser, 27, was surprised to win, she said, because "I wasn't looking to win, I was just looking to better myself."
Galan called Love-Fraser, who initially weighed 190 pounds, "the most depressed of all the girls when she arrived. People don't realize it is a personality thing as well as about your looks. And Rachel felt miserable. But she did all the work and it was just great when she won."
Galan, 41, said the common denominator for participants is that they feel stuck in their lives, wishing for change but unsure how to achieve it. "Most people don't have the resources to know what to do," she said.
Galan wanted to explore the concept of a team of experts to help women get out of their ruts. "I thought, what if I made a show where I gave women all of that? Instead of sitting home saying, 'If I had Oprah's money my life would be good,' what if they are given all that on a silver platter?"
Although the show features women, "we have gotten so many letters from men, it's shocking," Galan said. "I can tell you it's for women now, but there could be changes."
This season several of the contestants are in their early 40s. The show accepts applicants up to age 45, "both for the audience at Fox and other medical issues," Galan said.
To keep the show fresh, she promises "cutting-edge procedures in nutrition, plastic surgery and therapy. We want to provide the latest greatest information on these to our viewers."
Galan, who has written a guide for potential swans, said her own therapist "doesn't like the show and thinks it is saying to women if they don't have plastic surgery, they're no good," she said.
"But I am saying, pick whatever you want. If you want to become a vegan, knock yourself out. If you've had a bunch of kids and your stomach sags, it's not a big deal if you want help with that. Life is really short and really hard for women, and whatever is going to make you feel better about yourself, do it."
The Swan 2
Monday at 8 p.m. on Fox