Thursday, 26 January 2012

Reality TV? Who is the biggest loser?

This Tuesday, as I normally do, I came home, did some exercise, had a healthy dinner and then looked forward to turning on the television for The Biggest Loser. Some of you may well attach that label to me for admitting to watching such a show, but I admit it I am hooked.

I actually realised on the train home when starting to feel lazy, that in fact knowing this program was on prompted me to do exercise. Surely this can only be a good thing. Weird as it sounds, if I get lazy and don’t do my exercise on a Tuesday and then settle down to watch people on the screen shifting huge tyres, dragging buses and giving it their all in ‘last chance workout’ I feel awful. I’m trying to blog about my progress to keep me going and my boyfriend and I weigh in each Monday morning together to push each other on and support one another. This program seems to also be helping me in sticking to my plan.

However, this week whilst watching the episode I started to feel a little differently and it made me think about reality shows in general. Most of us will admit to loving a bit of reality TV, the whole sense of voyeurism is pretty addictive. Considering the people on them for a moment too you could argue they agree to go on the show and in most instances know what they’re letting themselves in for. There are shows on people losing weight, people changing gender, people getting jobs, people learning to dance, young people going out getting drunk, celebrity couples, the lot. You name it there has likely been a reality show on it, or if not there soon will be.

Since fitness is high on my agenda at present, I will focus on that area for now. I have been religiously watching The Biggest Loser on ITV and also before it Fat Fighters on Channel Four. Both take very different approaches to losing weight and also deal with participants in their own unique ways. Fat Fighters features trainers and clients at a trendy gym in London, where they try different techniques and showcase two people each week who come to them to get in shape or reach a new fitness goal. Although some of the program seems a bit far-fetched and you have one trainer constantly in high heels and a leotard, it does seem to work. Clients get to try cheerleader training, stiletto workouts and pole dancing to name a few of the more memorable classes on offer. The people are given support and their weight loss is checked for health and not just looking at how much they have shed. There isn’t so much a sense of competition, but praise on individual achievement and progress.

Alternatively on The Biggest Loser, I have noticed something which I just don’t understand. People who are still losing weight – albeit a smaller amount than others – are not congratulated on this progress. Instead they get a disappointed/disapproving look from Davina and are made to shuffle back, shame-faced in their super tight, body-on-show gym gear to their fellow contestants. Now I think the idea of the show is great and I understand these people have significant amounts of weight to lose, but the whole thing seems to be becoming a bit too much of a ‘game’ and competition, and not so much about people’s health and improvement.

This week’s episode summed it up whereby contestants admitted to having a ‘gameplan’ and used the ‘voting off’ session as a chance to get rid of someone who wasn’t their ‘friend’ or in their secret circle. Everyone seems to change their opinion on what is healthy and what isn’t, be it weight loss progress, what to eat, what to drink and so on. However, most advice I’ve seen is that healthy weight loss is around 1-2lbs per week, the longer it takes to come off, the longer it stays off. Yet when somebody loses 2lbs on The Biggest Loser they get downtrodden and looked badly upon or are given pity because they achieved such a meagre amount. This I don’t agree with.

Tasks where they get penalised with weight being added on to their weight loss percentage or ‘games’ where they have to eat lots of calories also defeats the object of the cause in my mind. I for one know when I need to get in shape and get healthy I need to keep pretty rigidly to my plan else I ‘fall off the wagon’ very easily and don’t stick to things.

I also don’t understand these contestants that go on there and are given an opportunity to be professionally trained and achieve unbelievable results, yet spend the time moping and making excuses. Or those that seem to go on these programs to attack others and act like playground bullies. Why go on the show?

Unfortunately as with most ‘reality’ TV the characters, competitors, contestants and stars of the program are the ones who seem to suffer for our enjoyment. Sebastian Faulks points towards this in part in his book A Week in December when referring to a ‘reality’ show where a contestant with mental health issues ends up killing themselves. Obviously this is a dramatised, exaggerated version of what we’re seeing but nonetheless makes you ask where will we stop?

The worst thing in all this? There is just something in our nature as human beings which reality TV seems to be able to use, it somehow flicks a switch inside and gets us well and truly hooked. No matter how much I complain and disagree with the approach of these programs and how the people in them are portrayed or treated, unfortunately I know I will still continue to hit that remote and tune in…

Since writing this and on the night I've realised I'm going to miss Fat Fighters and The Biggest Loser tomorrow (am genuinely upset!) I've noticed some insight onto how people are really trained on The Biggest Loser has been revealed by trainer Charlotte Ord

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