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‘The Biggest Loser': Things Get Heavy During Contentious TCA Panel for USA Reboot

TCA 2020: Host, trainers and USA executive face TV critics firing squad

USA Network’s preview of its upcoming “The Biggest Loser” reboot got heavy when host Bob Harper, trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook, and USA exec Heather Olander were grilled by journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour Saturday about how healthy the weight-loss competition series actually is for its participants — and for viewers at home.

“When we brought the show back, one of our big things was that we get 17 years of success on NBC,” Olander, who heads up unscripted programming for USA, said when asked about what changes were made for the updated take to make it safe for contestants. “It’s a beloved show … but we did want to think a little bit about the format and make sure that we’re reflective that health and fitness today. 2020 is very different than a decade ago when the show first came on the air.”

“One of the things that we did look at was the competition elements,” she continued. “What we decided was that the competition is going to be part of the storytelling of the show. It’s a motivating factor for the contestants, but it’s also part of the story of their situation as well, both their failures and their successes over the course of the season impacted who they were at the end.”

Olander added: “To that end, one of the big changes we made this season was the aftercare packages for the eliminated contestants. Because we wanted to give the people who did go home early in the process the best chance at a healthy lifestyle … We just want to make sure that, maybe they don’t win the money, but we still wanted to give them a chance at a great life.”

One journalist asked the panel, “You talked a lot about how the show’s been updated for 2020 but there has been a considerable amount of the show over the years, particularly in the health of the contestants after, and how it’s normalized fat-shaming, and the idea that anyone can go lose weight if they just try hard enough. So what is your responsibility to people who are not out there being able to exercise 20 hours a day?”

Harper, who graduated from being a coach on NBC’s old version of “The Biggest Loser” to hosting USA’s reboot, responded: “For me, I’ve worked with a lot of people that the show has really helped inspire. Weight loss is controversial any way you look at it.”

When pressed on what precautions were taken to make sure contestants don’t endanger themselves in their attempts to win the prize money that comes with being “The Biggest Loser,” Olander said, “From the format standpoint — and we obviously know that these people are coming onto the show — we want to make sure that they are losing the weight, but also in the healthiest environment they can be.”

“So though not shown on the series, behind the scenes, we did have a nutritionist write individualized meal plans for each of the contestants,” she added. “We had two doctors on set and a set of trainers that vetted all of the challenges and the workouts that they did and to make sure they were constantly monitored, to make sure all of their vitals were where they needed to be and that they were losing weight at a healthy rate.”

Cook says that each contestant needed “to hit a certain amount of calories” and each week “we all sat down with the dietician and the doctor and went over bloodwork, as well as each person’s specific diet for the week and their training protocol.”

“So if there was ever somebody that was overtraining, we had to come up with a different way to train them,” Cook said. “And I think you see it, this is the healthiest way to lose weight, the way to go about it, with the doctors, with the dietitians. They’re drinking lots of water, staying hydrated. and it shows in their bloodwork.”

The group was also asked by a reporter about how they feel about the use of the word “fat” in particular, which Lugo and Cook say they “never” used on the show.

“I don’t use that word,” Harper said. “Yeah, I’m trying to think, I don’t really use that word. It’s always about the weight issues, right? It’s one of those things– I guess, being gay, I can say the F-word, but if you say it I’m gonna have a problem with you. So it’s, like, I don’t have a weight problem, so I don’t think it’s really my right to be throwing that word around, loosely.”

“The Biggest Loser” reboot premieres Jan. 28 at 9/8c on NBC.