Seeing as I’ve barely scratched the surface on the infinitely fascinating theme that is Americans and their food/diet issues, here’s some more food for thought…
Forget X-Factor, forget Britain’s Got Talent, here in America, the biggest reality ‘talent’ show is none other than The Biggest Loser – where a group of people who are larger than life in every possible way (or in more simple terms, morbidly obese) battle against each other to lose the most amount of weight over the course of the series, so as to be crowned THE BIGGEST LOSER in the grand FINALE – and walk away with a neat quarter of a million dollars.
I just came across a repeat of said finale of the last series on the NBC website and quite simply could not believe my eyes.
Of course, this being America, the land of unrepentant and joyous exaggeration, everything about The Biggest Loser was super-sized and coated with sentimentality. It was a story of hyperbole heaped upon hyperbole, superlative slapped upon superlative: The FATTEST/THINNEST contestant ever! The MOST amount of weight EVER lost in a week! The SADDEST/HAPPIEST I’ve ever been! The MOST incredible experience ever! The hardest ordeal ever!
From the melodramatic weigh-in ‘ceremony’ of each contestant stepping onto a giant weighing scales mounted on a giant podium, to the deafening screams and whoops of delight of the live audience, and the ’emotional’ live marriage proposal between two ‘losers’ who met and fell in love on the show…
From the jaw-dropping vital statistics of the ‘losers’ who started off weighing anything from a hefty 250 pounds (18 stone/113 kg) up to a terrifying 480 pounds (34 stone/217 kg), to their even more dramatic weight losses – one guy broke a record by losing double-figure pounds for seven weeks in a row, not forgetting of course 40-year-old Danny, crowned “The Biggest Loser”, who lost a staggering 239 pounds, or 55% of his original body weight – this was larger than life even than by usual American reality TV standards.
The ultimate in sadistic, voyeuristic, vicarious viewing, you couldn’t help but watch in utter fascination and horror at everything these people go through to lose weight, not least of all the extreme cruelty and rigour of the shiny happy skinny practically-perfect celebrity personal trainers who lick them into shape week after week in a gruelling boot camp regime. It’s a no-holds-barred viewing experience – you see the contestants breaking down during exercise sessions, flying off treadmills, collapsing during practice runs, panting, sweating, screaming, sobbing, all dignity gone.
Yet, putting aside cynicism for a minute, the message of The Biggest Loser is pretty powerful. These people, many of whom have suffered all their lives with the trauma, low self esteem and physical limitations of being morbidly obese, are literally born again. Although they may not all have reached their target weight by the finale, they’ve all achieved something not easily done by the best of us – they’ve changed, on the outside and the inside, and they all without exception spoke about how they had ‘got their lives back’, or become the person they always wanted to be.
So in spite of myself, I watched every minute of that finale riveted, and I must confess, I was not averse to a tear or two.
Final word: For any American reader, rest assured, I’m not preaching superiority given that I come from England, where the rate of obesity is probably almost as high as over here.