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TV Review: The Biggest Loser in Las Vegas

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So last night, The Biggest Loser went to Las Vegas. The idea, ostensibly, was to throw more distractions in the path of the contestants. In reality, the show was all about advertising for a) Planet Hollywood, b) the Las Vegas tourism board and c) gambling interests. Oh, sorry, did I say gambling? I mean gaming.

Contestants were faced with two temptations:

Number one was the menu at Planet Hollywood. I’ve eaten at a Planet Hollywood, and temptation isn’t the word that springs to mind. Maybe for some people, scoffing mediocre cheeseburgers while staring at the motorcycle jacket Arnie wore in Terminator 2 is a thrill. For the rest of us, not so much.

Number two was the chance to win big money – as long as the contestants agreed to forgo personal training for the rest of the week. The five who chose this option were dealt from a deck of special cards, with values ranging from $1 to $5000. Incredibly, not one of the five was dealt a card worth less than $1000. Wow. What are the chances?

Later, another special moment: one of the contestants at a slot machine, down to her last dollars, explained that she just ‘felt’ this machine was about to hit. Oh, the tragic cry of the hardened gambler! How little she knew about the true odds of really winning! But yes, you guessed it – she was right. That little puppy paid out over $1600 for the cameras! Oddly enough, the winning combination was… drum roll… three Planet Hollywood symbols, which we got to see in close up. Hmmm.

I love Vegas. Truly, I do. It’s crazy, it’s magical and it has an atmosphere like no other place on earth. But selling this relentless picture of winning – nay, of Big Losers winning – is just… grrrrr. Sometimes you win, sure. Mostly you don’t. If you’re okay with that and play what you can afford to lose, no problem. But on NBC, you get dealt in – bang! – a thousand dollars. You ‘sense’ a machine’s potential – bang! – sixteen hundred. You feed in your very last dollars – bang! – you win big. Double or nothing? – bang! – it’s double every time. What’s more, you can use all this winning euphoria to help you forget other things – like the fact you weigh 350 lbs and will be eating carrots and steamed fish for dinner.

You have to admire the show’s gall. Take a bunch of people with impulse and control issues and set them loose in Las Vegas. Better yet, stack the deck in their favour. Show them – and us – how easy it is to win. Oh, Biggest Losers. You think food is addictive? You have no idea.


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  • Well said, Julane. In fact, that first week, (at least as far as I could tell) they didn’t even specify that one week had passed. So the contestants could have been there for several weeks to achieve those big losses.

    I’m thinking that measuring body fat probably wasn’t an issue when they were all really big – at that point, any weight lost would likely be water and fat. But as they get thinner, it’s totally relevant – some weeks, no loss is absolutely fine as your body recalibrates its fat to muscle ratio. Plus the more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn down the track, even if you aren’t rewarded with a loss on the scale right away.

    Yeah, it’s kind of a double edged sword. If they didn’t lose lots, it wouldn’t be interesting to watch. But as far as motivating people at home, it sucks. I think that it’s one of the key reasons people give up on diet and exercise programs – they want changes ASAP, and when things aren’t that fast, they throw in the towel.

  • Julane

    Not a big Vegas fan and this episode did not change my mind.

    The show would be a lot better if certain things were explained. For example, the first week people lost a lot of weight (as measured by the number on the scale), but the second week they didn’t. Did anyone explain that the first week’s loss is often mostly water weight, and that it is normal for the rate of weight-loss to slow down after that? No.

    Then last week people were working out many hours a day but not losing many pounds. Did anyone explain that muscle weighs more than fat, that the contestants were probably losing many pounds of body fat but gaining muscle weight so that the number did not reflect much of a loss? No. Why not measure their body fat periodically in addition to weighing them on the scale?

    In reality losing 10-20 pounds in a single week is very dangerous and it’s not a good idea for people to try doing that at home. I worry about people who will try these methods and then not achieve what they are seeing on the show.

  • Hey, thanks Laura for pointing that out. I guess I missed the Jillian/Bob programs because I was focusing on their Biggest Loser ‘club’ stuff. You’re right – those are some insane workout schedules, which I suspect no one who ISN’T on a reality show should follow. I’m also amused by how we were told the diet emphasis would be on whole foods – check out all that fat free cream cheese, sponsor’s Jello, fat free mayo, fat free whipped cream, and low carb ketchup. Mmm, natural.

    Props to the contestants for working hard and seeing results – the show wouldn’t be interesting if they didn’t shrink, after all. But four hours of exercise a day? It’s just not feasible for people with things like oh, jobs and families.

  • You can get the plan that they follow online for free on the NBC site. Jillian’s plan is much more specific than Bob’s, but they are both there.

    She has those boys exercising for almost four hours a day on 1200-1500 calories a day.

    No wonder they’re losing 17 pounds in a week!

  • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Parker. The whole show just really irked me. A great example of why we need to always be critical of television, and be aware of what messages it’s sending or endorsing – sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly.

    As for the format thing – yeah, I take your point. It does seem odd to vote people off on a show that’s supposedly about supporting them and seeing them through their journey. Then again, some lateral thinking about the whole premise might be too much to ask from a show that spends a good fifteen minutes of airtime doing weigh-ins.

    You know, The Biggest Loser is really just one big missed opportunity. Why not share the diet and exercise tips and tools with the audience? But no, you’ve got to pay to join the online club for that secret info. Same with Dr Phil, same with the rest of them. If they can make a buck off America’s diet obsession, why give out details for free?

    Jeez, now I’m really riled up.

  • I agree with you on the gambling thing. Why would anyone take a bunch of folks with impulse control problems and addiction tendencies and introduce them to the pleasures of gambling? It makes no sense.

    They really need to rethink the structure of this show. I don’t believe pitting the losers against each other works well. Why not have a reality show where all the contestents stay, and the biggest loser still wins in the end?