Fat-free finale for loyal 'losers'

go samA confession: over the past two years I've become a regular (though not religious) viewer of The Biggest Loser. This interest has been aided by virtue of living in a household where the show is often on the TV, and abetted by a Foxtel IQ box that lets us record the program and skip through tedious 'filler' to focus on the competition itself.

I've consistently sneered at reality TV, and always considered The Biggest Loser to be a particularly objectionable example. Yet in the lead-up to the season finale, due to air tonight, I've been forced to reassess a couple of my prejudices, while others remain firmly intact.

Don't get me wrong. This is trash TV. Some of its dubious features are common throughout the 'reality' genre: the formulaic structure, the emotional manipulation, the vapidity of the format, the sniping and backstabbing which is cast as 'drama'.

Others are idiosyncratic: the nauseating pap-psychology dribbled by the Aussie trainers — as if bulky biceps give them the ability to psychoanalyse their emotionally vulnerable charges — and the try-hard tough talk spouted by militaristic motivator, The Commando.

Then there's the 'temptations', where high-fat, high-calorie foods (how can you fit so much bacon and fried eggs onto one plate?) are dangled in front of contestants, with the promise of prizes such as a week's immunity from elimination if they give in and scoff up. And, of course, there's the irony of a show that purports to celebrate weight loss while keeping thousands of viewers pinned to their sofas and their television sets.

As far as losing weight goes, the 'big brother' approach seems a particularly undignified one. That is a personal judgement. I'm a self-conscious exerciser. I prefer to pound pavement under cover of night. I use the gym at times when I know it will be nearly empty. The idea of sweating it out on a treadmill or struggling through my stomach crunches in front of a camera and a television audience seems totally abhorrent.

So while my overriding emotional response to the decreasingly overweight contestants on The Biggest Loser is one of pity and vicarious shame, that has more to do with personal biases than anything else.

I've reassessed another personal prejudice. In the throes of skepticism, I usually scoff at the seemingly insincere camaraderie between contestants. After all, at the end of the day each has their individual eye on the cash prize, and to hell with camaraderie.

It was for this reason that last year, I was rooting for Chris. Cast by the show's producers as the series villain, Chris was the outsider who came into the house during the final few weeks and swiped victory out from under the 'real' contestants' noses.

Chris wasn't into playing games, except to the extent that he was there to play the game. I respected his frankness, and was pleased when his skeletal form stepped onto the scales at the finale, and he was declared to be the 'biggest loser'. There can be only one winner, so surely to be openly self-interested is the only way to play without being disingenuous.

Or so I thought. This year I've been eating my words, like one of those overstuffed plates of bacon and eggs. Two of this year's final three, who will take to the stage for tonight's final weigh-off, have gotten through simply by being too damn nice to vote out.

Only a seriously heartless mug could have eliminated baby-faced Sam, with his cheeky grin and little-brother affability, or 30-something Alison, the unofficial 'mum' to the other contestants, who gets weepy every time she talks about missing her young daughters back home.

This year's final three have put paid to the idea that 'every person for his or herself' is the only way to win. The third finalist, Kirsten, is a former Olympian with one hell of a competitive streak. She's been a contender from the get-go, but has made it to the final thanks in no small part to an alliance with Sam and Alison.

In an apparent reversal of the reality TV formula, a pact based on loyalty and friendship, not on backstabbing and strategy, has allowed this triumvirate to stand strong while the other contestants have gradually competed themselves out of the game.

It could be that 2008 goes down in history as the year The Biggest Loser redeemed itself. On the other hand, Sam, Alison and Kirsten may have simply rewritten the strategy book, so that next year's competitors exploit teamwork as a way to achieve individual success.

The Biggest Loser website

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles have been published by The Age, Inside Film, and the Brisbane Courier Mail. He is a contributor to the inaugural edition of the journal Studies in Australian Weird Fiction. Email Tim



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