jump to navigation

Never Want to Be That Way Again October 7, 2009

Posted by monty in TV.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

biggest_loser(1)vs.   more to love

Can there be any clearer a philosophical dividing line in the United States’ obesity epidemic than the one separating NBC’ The Biggest Loser from Fox’s More to Love?  One features a group of people who realize they’re unhealthy and are actively trying to do something about it, the other revolves around a cast that has resigned itself to a lifetime of midnight cookie dough binges, and whose members are now trying to find a mate with an equally low willpower threshold.

One thing I want to say first: I’m not insensitive to struggles with weight. I’m roughly 5’10”, and by the time I graduated from college, I was topping out at around 200 pounds.  It wasn’t life-threatening, but it also wasn’t healthy.  A year later I became a vegetarian and dropped roughly 20 pounds.  A couple years after that I started running and lost another 30.  Now well into my mid-30’s, I’ve gained about 20 of that back, and I’m in a perpetual state of trying to get rid of it.  I run until my legs (or, more recently, my heart) tell me it’s time to pack it in.  The chips in my pantry taunt me in the evening, and it’s only because popcorn started doing horrendous things to my digestive system that I stopped scarfing the stuff down at movies like a junkie going after his fix.  So I know about weight gain and how hard it is to lose it and keep it off.  I get it.  But because I’ve gone through the struggle myself, I’m perhaps less patient with the whining of the obese than I might otherwise be inclined to be.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.  First, the shows, for the uninitiated.

aliThe Biggest Loser is a reality show where 16 (I think) morbidly obese people try to lose as much weight as they can over the course of a season.  They’re sequestered at a ranch, monitored by physicians, taught how to eat well, and trained by two professionals, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels.  Bob is the Zen, centered good cop to Jillian’s batshit, drill instructor bad cop.  When the contestants are resistant to the training, Bob employs New Age, feel-good reassurance, resorting to anger only when gentle negotiation fails.  Jillian, on the other hand, screams at them and beats them about the head and shoulders with her abs. Some of the contestants favor Bob; some respond well to Jillian. (As a totally unnecessary sidenote, I’d be firmly in the Jillian camp.  I’m a good soldier, and I take orders well.  Also, she’s hot.)  For most of the season the cast is paired up into teams of two.  At the end of each episode the teams weigh in, and the two teams with the lowest percentage of weight lost in the previous week go up for elimination.  The other teams then decide which team goes home.  The elimination is the least interesting aspect of the show to me.  I couldn’t care less about the weepy drama that goes into making that decision.  It’s far more fascinating to see how seriously (or how un-seriously) some of the cast take their weight loss journey.  A lot of them take Bob and Jillian’s training to heart and push themselves harder and farther than I’d ever think possible.  Some of them seem so unwilling to work out that I wonder how they got selected for the show in the first place.  In all, it’s oddly inspiring to see a group of people who have decided to make a positive change in their lives.

more to love 2 And that brings me to More to Love. The premise of this show is slightly more simplistic than The Biggest Loser. Here, a Fat Guy has to decide which Fat Girl is going to be his bride.  They hang out a lot, they go on dates, they bitch about wearing bathing suits, they cry about being picked on.  And at the end of each episode, Fat Guy eliminates two Fat Girls, who then predictably weep on camera about how they’re never going to find another swell guy who has a thing for Fat Girls.

Oh, and they eat.  A lot.

Every episode (and I suffered through most of the season before finally turning away in disgust) included at least one segment where the entire cast plunged into a table of food with all the fervor and abandon of a Bacchanalian orgy.

Am I being insensitive?  Maybe.  But here’s the thing: The Biggest Loser – for all its edited and manufactured inspiration – is, at heart, a show about empowerment, while More to Love is a solipsistic parade of victimhood. There’s no (or very little) reference to any of the cast ever trying to get healthy, but a whole lot of time is spent crying about how unfair it is that guys don’t find overweight women very attractive.  They cry about being picked on at school, they cry about never having had a date, they cry about never being hit on. But do they ever cry about how hard it is to find time to eat healthy and go for a walk?  “The world is a cruel place to overweight people,” they weep, “and are those burritos over there?”

Of course it’s unfair that we live in an image-obsessed society, but that’s not really the issue here.  These women are contestants on a show whose very premise is based on not getting healthy.  Rather than putting in the work to change their lives for the better, these women have gone on a show that allows them to revel in their unhealthiness.  Imagine, as a useful analogy, a show called Junkie Love. On this show, the contestants are female heroin addicts, and each week a male heroin addict eliminates two of them until he settles on his perfect junkie match.  Okay, come to think of it, that show would actually turn out to be pretty popular.  But do you see the point?  In no way would anyone think that’s a healthy relationship, or a healthy environment in which to find a mate.  But a show like More to Love says, “Don’t try to get healthy, fatties.  Come on our show and find true love with someone just as lazy as you are.”  Is it possible that Fox has edited out all the footage of the women talking about how much they’ve exercised and how often they’ve eaten a diet of fresh, healthy food?  Maybe.  But unlikely.  And isn’t the very act of appearing on a show with the premise of More to Love a form of surrender?

Look.  I feel sympathy for people who get picked on and rejected because of how they look.  It’s not like women have ever been knocking down my door for a date, so I get it.  But when you stop to consider just how much of a problem obesity has become in this country – not to mention how much of a drag the corresponding diseases have become on our health care system – a show like More to Love starts to look more and more irresponsible.  We’re at a point where we should be encouraging people, like The Biggest Loser does, to be fit, to get healthy, to make smart choices.  All that More to Love encourages is malaise, and the reassurance that the best solution is just to give up.


Current listening:

Boxer exits

The Boxer Rebellion – Exits

Current reading:


David Cross – I Drink for a Reason