dying to win

I was out of town on business from early Monday to very late Wednesday this week; my first business trip in 2+ years.

While I was excited to get back in the saddle again, I was a bit bummed that the timing of this trip meant missing the live finale of The Biggest Loser season 15 on Tuesday night.

As you may recall, I had the opportunity to spend a week at a Biggest Loser Resort back in November 2012. It was a truly transformative experience, and one which left me with a soft spot in my heart for this program, so I get pretty wrapped up in the show and its contestants each season.

With the DVR set, I looked forward to watching the recorded show as soon as I arrived back home. My biggest challenge was trying to avoid spoilers on Facebook or Twitter. I wanted a total blackout until I could watch it for myself, and magically I managed to remain blissfully unaware of anything finale-related.

I settled in to watch the show during my lunch break.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this season.

– Rant on –

The move to a 60-minute show format meant that viewers saw a whole lot of overt product placement, one challenge, a bit of the workouts, and – of course – the weigh-in. Personally, I enjoy watching the gruelling workouts, and seeing the amazing victories and emotional breakthroughs that such extreme exercise can deliver. It’s those things that prompted me to write about how my week of tears became my year of sweat.

The new shorter format cut out most of the elements I loved, which was disappointing, especially when they still prioritized on screen time for the latest subway sandwich or dessert-flavoured gum. Oh and let’s not forget the Brita water filters.

It seems the show’s producers got the memo via the social media rants of disenfranchised fans, and they went back to the 2-hour format in the second half of the season. So there’s that.

Still, as a loyal viewer,  I continue to bristle over the very obvious tweaking of the rulebook to allow former American Idol, Ruben Studdard, to make 3 appearances on the ranch, despite being eliminated. Twice. It’s clear to me that Ruben’s main goal in participating on the show was to sell more records. In fact, he released a new single the day his ‘return to the ranch’ episode aired.

What a co-inky-dink.

What is not so clear to me is why the show felt so compelled to have him on? Do American’s care that much about him because he was on another reality TV show? Bottom line: this guy arrived at the finale still morbidly obese, but the happy recipient of a shit-ton of screen-time, including a live performance during finale night. Well played, Ruben, well played.

**Note to producers: Okay, I get it; it’s a TV show. A reality TV show. Heck, it’s even a game-show. But, come on – can you please just award those coveted few spots to people who actually want to lose weight and get healthy?

Show format and fame-whoring aside, let’s get down to the brass tacks about what really derailed Season 15 for me.

Finale Rachel.


The winner of season 15 of the Biggest Loser, 5’5 Rachel Frederickson, weighed in at 105 lbs, making her the first contestant in the history of the show to finish the season officially underweight.

Finale Rachel emerged onto that stage a sliver of not only her former self, but even of the Rachel we admired as recently as last week’s episode (filmed approximately 3 months ago). Where was the Rachel who dominated challenges? The Rachel who pre-packed her meals before trips off the ranch to ensure she could eat healthy? The Rachel who smoked the competition during a mini triathlon in the previous episode?

Where did that Rachel go?

That Rachel was replaced by Finale Rachel.

Finale Rachel, gaunt-faced, skeletal-armed and sunken-eyed, had no relation to strong, healthy, athletic Rachel.

I looked at her and saw Karen Carpenter.

Finale Rachel looked sick.

Finale Rachel looked hungry.

Finale Rachel invoked these reactions when she took to the stage.


Look at Bob’s eyes… his mouth. He looks like he’s about to cry.

Look at contestant, Tanya, behind Jillian. She looks like she just saw Voldemort.

Jillian, who barely hides her disdain at the best of times, is surprisingly poker-faced, compared to the others.

To their credit, neither Bob Harper nor Jillian Michaels has defended their shocked reactions. True, they have not spoken out against the anorexic-like appearance of this ‘winner’ either, but at least they aren’t pretending that this was healthy. Or appropriate.

Their silence speaks volumes. As does the shocked reaction in the screen capture above.

Jillian eventually posted this statement to her Facebook page, “So here it is, Bob and I want to take a moment to congratulate all of the BL contestants on their hard work. We’re not comfortable commenting on Rachel’s journey because we weren’t her trainers and weren’t given an opportunity to work with her at any point. Any questions about the contestants on the Biggest Loser should be directed to the show’s producers.” 

For me the show may have jumped the shark last night.

Critics have long been vocal about the extreme practices promoted by this show, and I can understand their valid concerns. Still, I remained an avid supporter of the show because, at the end of the day, all contestants were better off by the end of the show than they were at the start.

Few reach their ideal goal weight during the course of the season; but even for the many who do not, the fact that they drop 20, 30, 40% (or more) of their body weight means they finish far healthier than when they began. All benefited from their participation in the program. All inspired me and made me an enthusiastic cheerleader of the show.

That changed when they crowned a winner who finished underweight.

Being overweight is clearly not healthy, but being underweight isn’t either.

I’m disturbed by the message that crowning an underweight ‘winner’ sends to the most vulnerable out there, like the teen with low self-esteem who just skipped a meal, or shoved her fingers down her throat; that is: to be a winner you must be the thinnest of them all.

Biggest Loser Season 15, you ARE a big, fat loser. Fail.

– Rant off –

Keep moving,

xoxo nancy


50 thoughts on “dying to win

  1. I used to be a regular viewer but with all our traveling I’ve missed the last two seasons. This gal has been all over the internet today and you are so right….closer to Karen Carpenter. Now that she’s won perhaps she’ll put back on some weight. Mixed message for sure 😉

    • Ingrid, in hindsight, I’m not sure how I managed to avoid all the controversy and headlines during my blackout period. I started yelling at the TV watching it, prompting my husband to come out and go, “oh yeah, it’s been all over the news…”

      This is so disturbing. Especially her comments about how great she feels. Here’s to hoping she doesn’t actually believe this is healthy or attractive, and that she went overboard only to ensure she locked in on the $250k prize money…

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with you about this! I spent quite a lot of my lunch break reading about this girl and peopls reactions to her!
    I haven’t really watched the biggest loser but have had vague respect for what is does and it seemed to promote healthy eating and lots of exercise which is good. But this shocks me!
    At my lightest ever weight (when I was 17) I weighed the same as this 7.5 stone which is 105lbs and at 5’5″ I was nit healthy I was not eating and I was borderline anorexic! So to see it on a program about health is opposite if what I expected.

    • Sam, as I said to Ingrid above, I’m shocked I was able to escape all the news on this. After I watched and googled her name, I couldn’t scroll the articles fast enough.

      I’m not sure how the TV show can prevent stuff like this in the future, other than, perhaps, by only casting very, very overweight contestants. Or maybe there are other parameters beyond just total % weight loss as the final measure.

      I don’t have the answer, but I know that this is a big, big problem.

      I’m really disappointed that there wasn’t more at-home monitoring to ensure that the contestants didn’t do things that compromised their health (like starving themselves…).

      p.s. I’m so glad that you recovered from that scary time at 17. Anorexia is a very dangerous mental disorder. That’s what scares me so much about Rachel’s victory. How many girls doing the starving or purging thing now feel validated?…

      • I think there will (or should) be some changes about how the final winner is decided, some form of body composition monitoring. They could possibly also provide monitoring / mentoring from the trainers in the three months at home! It really needs to promote health and not thin at all costs!
        🙂 thank you, I was never officially anorexic but looking back I had so much anorexic behaviour which has gone in on and off for years! Even overweight I have had (until recently) a very strange attitude to food and weight loss. I think I am going to write a blog about it as I have been thinking a lot about it recently!

      • I think that would be fascinating for us to read Sam. So many core issues embedded deep within us. It’s not just about diet and exercise. Will look forward to your future blog!


  3. I didn’t watch the show, but I’ve seen the pics and heard the aftermath. When I read she was 5’5′ and weighed 105#, I knew right away that would put her BMI too low. Then again, the pictures confirmed it–no numbers necessary when one sees those bony arms and that skeletal face. I had to wonder, though, would the reaction have been as intense had she been a man? But yes, the looks on the trainers’ faces and the contestant behind them says it all. A picture is worth a thousand words…

    • Indeed Carrie. That picture of the trainers said it all for me.

      I’m so disappointed that such a big franchise allowed this to happen. I can’t imagine they were completely clueless. Surely they have contact with the contestants after they go home?

      I am hoping that the show’s producers put out some form of statement, and *preferably* a plan or rules that ensure an underweight contestant situation doesn’t happen again.

  4. Nancy – excellent commentary. Having seen loved ones struggle with severe eating disorders that, like any addiction, are always lurking in the background – this finale of BL was shocking. Rachel does look like Karen Carpenter and oh my god her arms. Her head looks 20x larger than her body. So sad. Jillian and Bob are staying far away from this as they should … because that girl has a BIG problem now … and it’s far more of a health risk than obesity.

    • Totally shocking, Syd. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Am I an eternal optimist to hope that the show producer’s do something to come back from this horrible negative position?

  5. Wow! I don’t watch the show but now I’m sure I never will. It’s obvious that the “winner” is a sad example of someone taking the program to the extreme and destroying her health. And the worst part of it is the millions of young people watching the show and thinking that is a good thing. Good for you for being vocal about this and spreading the word. Hopefully the shows producers will get the message and take steps to correct this problem.

    • Kathy, I’m saddest because up until Tuesday (15 seasons) this was never an issue. The contestants ranged from still heavy to a little overweight to actually hitting their ideal goal weight. I have never seen any contestant finish in an underweight situation. It’s so disturbing that the show’s producers allowed this. I know $250k is a lot of money (the prize) and the truth is that Rachel wouldn’t have won if she had come in at her ideal /healthy weight. She simply didn’t have as big a % to lose as some others. But her extreme weight loss should have prompted show producers to intervene. My two cents, anyway.

  6. An insightful post to show why the productization of anything isn’t worth it. I’ve never watched this show, but I am appalled at the picture of the ‘winner.’ This is exactly the body image that we’re trying to teach women ISN’T cool.

    • I went from angry to disappointed to really, really sad. I’m still dumbfounded as to how the show producers stood by and allowed this to happen. I’m hoping that even if the moral and ethical obligations don’t get them to act, that at the very least the negative PR will get them to speak out…to do something. Change the rules; I don’t know.

      I just know that I’m unbelievably sad that this played out the way it did.

  7. Hmmmm. I don’t watch the show regularly but I like it, and I totally agree with you. No bueno. Also, the camera adds 10 pounds, and that photo is scary. Can you imagine what she looked like in person? Sad : ( That’s not the point of the show.

  8. It was shocking…. I’ll continue watching. But Danny from last season got fat again. So maybe Rachel will become normal again by next season

    • Reenies, a LOT of them do regain a lot of weight, which is great when you see the ones who maintain (like Olivia and Hanna – the sisters). Most of them are at their tiniest for the finale because of the obvious money prize, but I’ve never seen anything like what Rachel did last night. That was beyond exercise — that was starvation. Her face scared me. I just hope she is not into full on psychological issues/anorexia mode. If so, that’s a dangerous spot to be in.

  9. I have to tell you I LOVED this show and the 2nd season I even made it pretty far in the interviewing process. But the year they put on Rulan -the grecko roman gold medal wrestler, that was the last season I could watch… I mean that guy could walk into ANY gym and get help for free why was he a contestant … While I didn’t watch this season I was in need of motivation this week so I watched the finale looking for a little push. I was SO disappointed! Not just at how far she had gone, but that her mom was cheering her so enthusiastically, Rachel’s weird comments about control with happiness and that look on Jillian, Bob’s and her fellow contestants faces. I truly will never watch it again. Great post, this is exactly how I felt!

    • Kathy, it was the most disturbing thing ever. More so for me because she was so awesome all season. She reminded me of Tara Costa — a beast, an athlete! The difference between Rachel in the penultimate episode and the finale was literally night and day. She did this at home. She went from strong and healthy to scary skinny.
      So disappointing.

  10. I’ve never watched the show but I think my mom does so we were talking about this tonight because I saw some news on it. I think she caught everyone off-guard and since the judges never have seen this before they weren’t sure what to do. I am hoping this is the last time this ever happens. It is so awful that the idea of winning took over her mind and body. It is really sad because she didn’t make any headway with her health at all. if she is mentally not in touch with her body, she will likely go right back to where she started, if she doesn’t starve herself first. so tragic.

    • That’s just the thing Kerry, she made SO MUCH headway with her health. If you can, watch the second last episode. She is a true athlete — the picture of strength and health. In that penultimate episode, I think she weighed 148 lbs, which means she would have been almost at her goal weight, based on BMI, etc. What she did to herself after she got home (in the 3 months from last week’s episode and Tuesday’s) is all starvation, it seems. She regained her health and then compromised it again. So sad.

      • All I’ve seen so far is the general happy-happy, joy-joy stuff. If it was just a push to win at all costs, I’m even okay with that. I’m more worried that she’s down the rabbit hole to must-get-thinner; never-thin-enough… a very dangerous mindset. Hopefully she celebrated the win with a big, juicy cheeseburger. Fingers crossed.

  11. I was shocked when I watched but as I sit back I am not nearly as upset. She was an extreme competitor and stayed consistent in that light. I believe she will right her current body makeup and add weight as well. I also believe that this lead to a change in the show to keep it from happening again. In the end I am hoping for the best. After reading some statements from former winners the is a lot of questionable eating and drinking habits leading up to the finally. Maybe they could do some check ins over the last few weeks to help keep people healthy.

    • Hey John, so good to hear from you! I guess if you want to win, you’ve gotta go to extremes – especially when you’re smaller and have less to lose. I agree that even in past seasons some of the contestants have appeared somewhat emaciated – and I’m sure they really limited food and even liquids in the days leading up to finale. I’ve never seen anyone quite so extreme though. I guess it just hit me so hard because she looked SO AMAZING in the last episode before finale. The challenge was that she was probably (realistically) at or near goal weight back then – 3 months ago – but knew that wouldn’t be enough to win. God, even Bobby at 170 lbs and 6 ft tall… way too light, I think. And then he jokingly said something about wanting to be 160… Uh…really???

      Anyway – I don’t know how they can make it any different (the producers) given that the measure is total % weight loss – but it seems to me that someone should have been checking in on the contestants in the weeks at home to ensure really unhealthy shit wasn’t happening. Very sad to see that hollow-cheeked girl last night.

  12. Tanya’s expression is THE BEST. I think the issue here is probably the rule book. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think the rules are whoever loses the most weight wins, right? I am sure that no one ever suspected that anyone grossly overweight would actually manage to end up underweight by the end of a season. And fair enough. It took 15 seasons for it to actually happen. So perhaps the winner needs to be the person who loses the most weight while not surpassing their healthy weight range. The onus is now on the show to adjust the rule book accordingly to ensure they don’t support this sort of thing. She does look sick and underweight is definitely not healthy. She looks a breath away from anorexic if you ask me. Bet she feels like shit reading all the media today too.

    • The rule was originally (in the first couple of seasons) total weight lost wins. Then they realized that wasn’t fair to folks who had less to lose, so instead they made it highest % weight loss wins. And that is the rule still today.

      I guess they never banked on someone dipping below healthy weight and BMI because it had never happened in 15 seasons of the US program. Hopefully this result will spur them to make additional changes to the rules.

      And good point, Rach, on how that poor girl must feel reading all the media swirling around. It’s so sad. I just hope she gets her head on straight and moves back to healthy living. She was a monster on the ranch — doing everything right: hard core exercise and really smart eating. Hopefully she’ll get back to that girl.

  13. The simple fact of the matter is that Rachel played by the rules. The Biggest Loser is all about total weight loss, and they don’t care if the weight lost is fat or muscle. When a system of perverse incentives is created, one can hardly complain about the result.

    Here’s an idea, Biggest Loser — incorporate Bod Pod into your large assortment of product placements. Measure fat lost, not simply total weight lost. Perhaps create a formula where weight gained through additional muscle growth is a benefit rather than a detriment.

    • You’re absolutely right, Tamara. Rachel won, fair and square, based on the existing rules. I remember several months ago visiting the Wiki page for The Biggest Loser TV show and they had summary tables of all the seasons, all contestants listing starting weight, ending weight, total BMI (before and after) and I was appalled to see that in many (most) of the seasons, the winners were still at an overweight BMI score. I guess the producers just never saw this as a possibility given the historical results.

      I love your idea of measuring BMI as an indicator of success. At the end of the day it’s a far better measure of health (fat lost versus total pounds lost) than the straight up % weight loss they currently employ.

      Whatever they do, at the very least they should be offering a public statement, given the amount of noise on this issue. I, for one, hope this spurs changes to the program and a healthier/safer approach to helping these people lose the weight they obviously need to lose.

      • Not BMI. BMI just tells you your body mass, and does not differentiate between muscle and fat. Bod Pod does.

        I suppose they could also do water displacement tests every week, but you know how much Biggest Loser loves product placement!

      • I’ve never heard of Bod Pod. My BMI scale gives me the following measurements: weight, BMI, % water, % fat. You would think that if a cheap at-home scale could tell me all that, they could figure out how to look at more than just % weight loss for their contestants.

  14. Thoughtful rant, Nancy. I’m not a viewer, but it sure looks like the train jumped off the rails somewhere. They probably need a don’t-go-to-hell-with-a-joke clause in the rulebook. Peace, John

    • I’m hoping that the off-the-charts negative press on this will cause the powers that be to revisit that rule book, John. Tuesday’s result may open a Pandora’s Box in future seasons. Let the purging commence…

  15. While there has always been some element of gamesmanship and alliance-building in the show — indicating that it was more about the money than health for at least some of the contestants — this was the first time that it was completely obvious that the winner of the season was in it in large part, if not completely, just for the money. I think Rachel decided to win, whatever the cost, and she did everything that she felt was necessary to ensure that win.

    I’m not sure how you avoid that in the future — no at home portion to the competition? better screening of contestants? more focus on health than on winning the money?

    I’m also not sure what other metric could be used to measure a “winner” in a health & fitness competition that would apply unilaterally and fairly across gender and age lines.

    • One of the things I did like about this season is that there was a lot less voting of people off versus just automatic elimination based on lowest % weight loss. That seemed to help combat the whole gamesmanship/alliance building that we saw in every elimination in previous seasons.

      With the Rachel thing, I really hope it was just a conscious choice on her part to win at all costs, and not a deeper psychological issue that developed as she lost the weight. If it’s the former, she could just go and celebrate the win with a big ol’ cheeseburger right after the show. If it’s the latter, I think she’s in a really dangerous spot.

      I’m not sure what the right answer is in terms of other metrics the show could use. At the very least, though, I think there should be something related to closest-to-ideal-weight element. Or, better still, a penalty for going too far under your ideal weight. It’s a tricky thing – because you can’t make it easier for those who are smaller to win, but the current rules perhaps make it easier for those who are bigger to win, given they have more % body weight to take off.

      Ugh, no easy answer… I just know that the way things ended this season left me feeling cold.

  16. I’m back and trolling through your blog. John and I are avid fans of the show, but as retired PE and Health teachers have never been comfortable with the show’s one way to win – biggest loss of weight. We believe the winner should be chosen based on: BMI, and, body fat %, and measurements and if they insist weight as well as a fitness test – Strength, endurance, flexibility. Rachel is the same height as me; but at her final weigh in, 15 pounds lighter…. I agree the show has jumped the shark.

    • It was a really disappointing finale, that’s for sure. I just hope her extreme weight loss was in the name of winning $500k, and not because she has developed an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. Very sad.

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