We’re living in the golden age of reality television, and by now viewers understand how shows are formatted and are generally conscious of just how real (or unreal) the programming is.
We trust that the activity happening behind the scenes is simply an assistant to loosely script the “real” scenarios we end up watching— mostly for the sake of drama and storyline. When someone agrees to appear on a reality show, they usually know to take the “reality” of it all with a grain of salt.
However, when hopefuls began auditioning for NBC’s The Biggest Loser in 2004, they didn’t know that they would be faced with absolutely horrific conditions behind the scenes. The Biggest Loser was a reality TV show that featured overweight and obese contestants who competed strenuously to lose weight throughout the season; the contestant who lost the most weight was deemed the biggest “loser” and given a hefty cash prize.
In recent years, quite a few former contestants have stirred controversy when speaking of their awful— and sometimes illegal— behind the scene scandals.
Here are the 15 Dark Secrets About The Biggest Loser You Had No Idea About.
15. Contestants went home with serious health issues
The lack of care for contestants was not something that happened as the series progressed; in fact, the very first Biggest Loser found himself going home a lot thinner, but with terrible health issues.
Ryan Benson won the show in its first season, going from 330 pounds to 208 pounds, which proved to be quite the unhealthy change for him. After the show, Benson said he was so malnourished that he was urinating blood. “That’s a sign of kidney damage, if not failure,” Darby explained. This is a condition that Benson did not have previously.
Another claim made against the show regarding their improper nourishment was from a season 2 contestant. During season 2, Mark Yesitis, a police officer in San Francisco, had dropped 17 pounds of pure water weight. Yesitis claimed he was “near death” and even had to have his gall bladder removed— a health issue he never faced before participating on The Biggest Loser.
14. There was a lot of fat shaming on set
People expect personal trainers to be tough— it’s usually what makes them motivating. However, The Biggest Loser‘s trainers have been criticized for crossing the line into downright abusive territory.
There have been claims of trainers screaming “Get up!” and then making harsh comments about contestant’s relatives. In one case, Kai Hibbard claims that trainers would yell at contestants “You’re going die before your children grow up” or “You’re going to die, just like your mother.” Hibbard even claims that a trainer texted a contestant “We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin.”
Contestant Suzanne Mendonca recalls the host of the show telling people to throw up in order to lose more calories. In addition to the verbal abuse experienced on set, contestants were reportedly forced to shower together with no curtains. Also, in one season, they had to use Port-a-Potties, which some recall as being “humiliating.”
13. Ryan Benson starved himself in order to win
Eating disorders are among the many controversies regarding the way contestants are treated and effected by The Biggest Loser. After filming completed, Ryan Benson publicly admitted to fasting and dehydrating himself in order to drop weight more quickly. Benson ultimately won the season, after dropping to 208 pounds from 330 pounds.
Benson admits that the pressures of “fame” at the end of production is what motivated his fasting during the show. The show has claimed that contestants are closely monitored to prevent such extreme rituals, however, it is clear that no one caught on to Benson’s behavior during his season.
The fact that no one involved in production was attentive enough to assist Benson during his brief eating disorder on the show makes one wonder what other kinds of dangerous behavior the show has not caught.
12. Two contestants were hospitalized in 2009
The Biggest Loser has generated a lot of controversy during its tenure on NBC, but one of the first major red flags came in 2009 when two contestants had to actually be hospitalized; one, reportedly, taken via an airlift after collapsing from heat stroke during a one-mile race.
The reason for this is due to the extreme conditions that contestants are put under, especially when they very suddenly and drastically change their lifestyle after years of the same unhealthy routines.
Lynn Darby, professor of exercise science at Bowling Green State University, explained that calorie restriction alone needs to be supervised. The show, then, adds incredibly strenuous exercise on top of that restriction and, unfortunately, people can become seriously ill and injured.
Contestant Rachel Frederickson is a perfect example of this drastic and dangerous change. Frederickson dropped 155 pounds during the show, and though she was not hospitalized, it was cause for serious concern considering her small, 5 foot 4 inch body and the amount of weight she dropped in such a short period of time.
11. Many contestants gain the weight back
There have been many stories of former contestants gaining their weight back almost immediately, but the most famous example is Rachel Frederickson. Frederickson’s 155 pound drop in weight was clearly concerning at the time of the finale. However, within one month of the show’s end she gained 20 pounds back.
Lezlye Donahue joined the show at around 250 pounds and has since gained all of her weight back post-production. The biggest problem, many contestants claim, is that they are forced to be on incredibly restrictive diets while filming, but are then expected to keep it going after production.
It’s nearly impossible once a contestant has gone back to their normal routine to dedicate as many hours to working out and staying healthy, when the show never provided sufficient nutrition education in the first place.
10. Many have claimed the weigh-ins are fake
One of the most intriguing parts of The Biggest Loser was seeing the contestants’ transformation week-by-week. The show set a foundation for viewers that the contestants had seven days to improve themselves when they would do weekly weigh-ins to track their progress. This, however, is just for vanity.
Former contestant Andrew “Cosi” Costello claimed that the weigh-ins never happened on a weekly basis; in fact, he said one time the periods between weigh-ins were about three and a half weeks. Cosi recalled having to recite lines like “I’ve worked really hard this week” when he knew it was false information, because at least 16 days had gone by.
9. Contestants couldn’t go home for the holidays
Andrew “Cosi” Costello also provides one of the most heartbreaking stories; Cosi claims that over Christmas break the crew was able to take ten days off to go home. The cast, however, was not allowed to leave for the holidays.
Instead, they were left in the house with a security guard and a supervisor, who continued to monitor them throughout the break. Even worse, Costello claims the only communication that the contestants were allowed was a five-minute call to their partners on Christmas Day.
Costello explained that, at the time, he felt as if he could not complain about these conditions because he had, after all, agreed to be on the reality series. Unfortunately, he was not aware of how restrictive the various rules would be; especially when it came to the holiday season and the ability to see his family.
8. Nicole Michalik reported that contestants can’t listen to music
Season 4 participant Nicole Michalik reported that, in addition to the grueling workouts they were forced to endure, contestants were not allowed to listen to music while cameras were recording. Michalik’s claims have stirred controversy because not only were contestants forbidden from music, but they were then forced to then listen to the trainers’ harsh commentary regarding their workouts.
This was especially difficult to have to work through so much extreme criticism from the trainers without the comfort of music— which, unfortunately, was just a sad excuse for added drama and dialogue into the series.
Michalik recalled the intensity of the on-camera workouts: “We did have iPods and music when the cameras weren’t there. But when the cameras were actually on us, we just had to get our asses kicked with no music, which was miserable.”
7. Kai Hibbard and other contestants had to work out for dangerous lengths of time
Though The Biggest Loser provides medical exams for all of the contestants, it seems that many of these consultations are completely disregarded. For instance, contestant Kai Hibbard’s very first workout on the show was four hours long and consisted of rowing, body-weight work, kettle bells, treadmill, interval training, stairmaster , and outside work with tires.
In fact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, contestants were doing workouts that were approximately 10 times the recommended amount for overweight and obese individuals. The show also kept vomit buckets nearby at all times, and they were routinely used by contestants.
Hibbard reported that she had to work out for five to eight hours straight. She also claimed that there was no easing into these intense workouts; Hibbard said her feet were bleeding through her shoes within three weeks of filming.
6. The Season 3 had a lot of Franken-foods
Kai Hibbard also critiqued the show because of the food it served to contestants. Hibbard says a bulk of the food on her season was “Frankenfood”— or, genetically modified foods.
A lot of the food provided on the The Biggest Loser is from sponsors, but has little to no actual nutritional value. Jell-o, Rockstar Energy Drinks, Kraft fat-free cheese, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray are just a few foods on her grocery list that Hibbard says were approved by her trainer.
Hibbard says that, at one point, blood work was done on all of the contestants and the show’s doctor prescribed electrolyte drinks. However, the trainer later told the contestants not to drink it because it would “put weight on” and make them “lose the chance to save their life.”
5. Kai Hibbard couldn’t call home for six weeks
Kai Hibbard reported that contestants are only allowed to make phone calls home after six weeks of filming, and even then, they must be monitored by the production team. Hibbard says that this is because the show feared contestants might be giving away show secrets.
All of this distrust and monitoring by production makes for an extremely intense environment. In fact, many contestants begin to fear the authority of the show. In addition to the lack of phone calls allowed, Hibbard also claimed that participants could not leave their hotel rooms when they were not filming. Additionally, she had suspicions that her laptop had been bugged by production.
In one case, Hibbard recalls a contestant’s child falling ill and being rushed to the ICU. The contestant was apparently allowed to talk to his family, but feared leaving the set in case the show would not bring him back.
4. Trainer Jillian Michaels quit the show
Trainer Jillian Michaels made Biggest Loser history when she quit the show in June of 2014. It was reported that Michaels was deeply concerned about the way the show was caring for the contestants.
NBC has, of course, defended the show and their treatment of participants, but the departure of a trainer was a huge red flag for the show. Quite a few professionals have expressed their concern about the show and the longterm health effects that many of the contestants have faced.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who specializes in obesity at the University of Ottowa, stated that the show is an “atrocity,” and went so far as to say, “This approach is not endorsed by anyone in the medical community. NBC [has] made an awful lot of money off of damaging these individuals.”
3. Joelle Gwynn was urged to lie about her caloric intake
Similarly to how participants were forced to lie about their weigh-in dates, contestant Joelle Gwynn claims she was told to lie on camera about her diet. Off-camera, trainer Bob Harper informed Gwynn that she needed to skew her information about what she ate and what she lost.
Gwynn said that she was encouraged to eat only 800 calories or fewer per day, but was instructed to say she was intaking 1,500 calories per day when filmed.
Keeping with the dishonesty of the show, there were also claimed of a production assistant telling a contestant to take up smoking in order to cut her appetite in half.
All of these claims against the show back up the many reports of production telling the participants to falsify their weight-loss journey, which can be discouraging for viewers who are seeing drastic results with the claims that contestants are eating 1,500 calories and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
2. Joelle Gwynn claims she was given drugs for weight loss
Joelle Gwynn also made an extremely serious claim against the show regarding pills given to contestants. Gwynn appeared on the “Couples” season of the show and worked with trainer Bob Harper.
Her most horrifying claim from the show was that her trainer provided her with drugs in order to induce weight loss. Her story is that she was meeting with the Harper during a check-in, when his assistant entered the room with a bundled up brown paper bag. The bag contained pills, which she was instructed to begin taking. Gwynn also claims that trainer Bob Harper provided Adderall to contestants.
Gwynn does admit to taking the pills that were provided to her once, which she claims made her extremely jittery and overly hyper. Joelle Gwynn is not the only former contestant to claim illegal drugs were handed out, but The Biggest Loser‘s Dr. Robert Huizenga filed a lawsuit against Gwynn this past year for her statement alleging falsified claims.
1. Suzanne Mendonca was told to gain weight before filming
Many contestants admit that it is difficult to discuss some of controversies on the show because they did, after all, agree to be filmed. That is why contestant Suzanne Mendonca’s claims against the show are specially saddening.
Mendonca reported that the production team informed her that she needed to gain weight in order to appear on the show. Mendonca says they specifically said “You’re not fat enough” and she was told to “gain 40 pounds” and to “keep eating.” Mendonca went from 229 pounds to 255 pounds just to be a contestant on the show.
Contestant Lezlye Donahue says that the show is very manipulative, and others have said that they make contestants feel as if they’re lucky to be participating. This kind of psychological manipulation is how The Biggest Loser has easily convinced contestants like Mendonca to do outlandish things, such gain more weight in order to be on the show.
Do you know of any other dark secrets about The Biggest Loser? Let us know in the comment section.
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