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TELEVISION REVIEW

'The Biggest Loser' is all about second chances

Tonight's season premiere reveals why there's more to the show than contestants losing weight. Their stories of hope in the face of tragedy make for powerful reality TV.

September 15, 2009|Rene Lynch

If you've never seen "The Biggest Loser," you might wonder why a reality weight loss show has such a devoted following. After all, the premise hasn't changed one bit in eight seasons: Get a dozen or so morbidly obese people together, give them diet and fitness makeovers, and the person who loses the most weight wins a hefty cash prize.

But tune in tonight for the Season 8 premiere and you'll see what the NBC show is really about. (Hint: It's a lot more than weight.)

Just don't forget to bring your Kleenex.

This season's theme is second chances -- all 16 competitors have something profound in common, other than the obvious. They've all met with heartbreak and tragedy, and each has turned to food for comfort.

There's 30-year-old Shay Sorrells, a bright, bubbly social worker from Newport Beach, who grew up in foster care while her homeless mother struggled with a heroine addiction that ultimately killed her. Shay now tips the scales at 476 pounds -- making her the single largest contestant, man or woman, to be on the weight-loss show.

There's Daniel Wright, a 19-year-old student from North Carolina, who has become the face of teenage obesity. He arrived at the ranch last season weighing 454 pounds and was eliminated early on. He now weighs 312 pounds and has been given a second chance to compete.

And then there's Abby Rike. The teacher from Texas was happily married, with a 5-year-old daughter and a newborn son who helped complete her family's portrait. Then her husband and children were killed when the van they were traveling in was struck by a speeding vehicle.

"I've been surviving. Not living, but surviving," she said of the three years that have passed since the tragedy. Rike said food helped ease the pain of her loss, and she came to "The Biggest Loser" Ranch with 242 pounds on her 5-foot-4-inch frame. But just showing up was an accomplishment of sorts: "I think I have what it takes to start living my life again."

The circumstances facing many of the competitors are extreme. Two are so out of shape they are hospitalized after the very first challenge -- a one-mile race. But Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels said during a media call before tonight's premiere that viewers at home will be able to relate.

"Every human being has gone through a tragedy of sorts," Michaels said. And when tragedy strikes, everyone faces two choices. "You can crumble, give up and waste your life." Or you can find the strength to "see the loss as an entry point for learning, and grow from it."

And, as Michaels makes clear during that emotionally charged elimination weigh-in, if Rike can find the ability to confront her weight, what excuse do you have?

There is one key change this season: Michaels and Harper will co-train all the players, which means they will get two beat downs for the price of one. It also means more insight into the two celebrity trainers' distinctly different approaches even as they aim for the same exact goal -- and how the Bob versus Jillian battles of seasons past was more TV drama than reality.

"[Jillian] is my No. 1 confidant," Harper said, adding that this co-trainer format will allow the competition to stay where it needs to be -- among the contestants. "We both feel like this is the way the show should have been from the onset," Michaels added.

Michaels, sounding more like she belongs on National Geographic than NBC, says she views herself and Harper as "two leopards on the Serengeti" and the contestants are "like a herd of animals." Michaels said she could rely on Harper to put the group through its paces in the gym while she isolated one of the contestants from the rest of the pack. Why? "So I can destroy one of them and break them down."

There's another thing that both trainers agree upon. The pair were pre-taping some teasers for tonight's show when they were asked to read off a cue card that said: "You only get one second chance."

"We both had a fit," Michaels said. "We were like no, no, no! . . . you always get another chance to save your life."

"I come from a world where you get a fourth, and a fifth, and a 15th chance," Harper added.

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rene.lynch@latimes.com

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'The Biggest Loser'

Where: NBC

When: 8 tonight

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)

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