Saturday, December 03, 2005

Is The Success Of 'The Biggest Loser' Cannibalizing Its Fan Base?

Matt Hoover lost 157 pounds to win "The Biggest Loser" Season Two

I was struck by this Yale Daily News column this week from a fifth-year graduate student from Yale University named Michael Seringhaus because he brings up some very intriguing questions and issues surrounding the hit NBC reality weight loss show "The Biggest Loser."

Now that the confetti has stopped falling since Matt Hoover was named the Season Two winner of the show with 16 million fans watching this week, I think it is good to take a look at what Seringhaus has written and ponder it for just a moment because it brings up an issue I personally hadn't even thought about before now.

While openly skeptical of any attempt to market weight loss to the general public, Seringhaus says he finds "The Biggest Loser" to be "surprisingly refreshing."

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And yet the success of a show like this bring on a huge problem for producers who base their success on there being a whole lotta overweight and obese people out there who need to be inspired and motivated to lose weight.

"Because such ventures depend upon overweight people to fuel profits, they face a not-so-subtle conflict of interest: Any technique that legitimately helps people drop pounds in a sustainable manner will cannibalize its own client base in quite short order," Seringhaus writes. "Selling diets is an awfully short-lived business if the product actually works."

Think about that for just a moment. If everybody and their momma went out and bought The Biggest Loser book or Workout DVD to actually lose weight like Matt, Seth, Suzy and the rest did, then what would happen to the fan base that comprises "The Biggest Loser" show? Would there be a need for "The Biggest Loser" to exist? Would the audience drop off because they are no longer overweight or obese -- in essence, they wouldn't need the show anymore?

I contend it would not change the show's audience one bit and I can explain why based on my own experience.

When the first season of "The Biggest Loser" was on last summer, I was glued to my television set although I had already lost over 100 pounds on my low-carb lifestyle prior to the first episode airing. But there was something incredibly energizing to watch others struggle like I did to do something about their weight to not only look better, but to feel better, too. And those contestants from Season One did it, too!

When this year's edition of "The Biggest Loser" hit the television screen, I was again enthralled by the show because as a former 410-pounder you never forget what that felt like. I could literally feel the pain and struggles those contestants were going through because I've been there not that long ago. I never want to forget what it felt like being obese because it will help me remain the thin man I am today.

Although I am 180+ pounds lighter than I was in January 2004, here I was this season watching these contestants of "The Biggest Loser" and cheering them on to achieve the amazing results that they accomplished in a short amount of time.

Is it odd for someone who has attained a large weight loss success to be attracted to a show about overweight and obese people who need to lose a large amount of weight, too? I don't think so.

For me, the weight loss is just the beginning. The most difficult part of any effective diet plan is keeping the weight off once it is lost. While Matt and the rest can and should be proud of their weight loss on "The Biggest Loser," their real challenge is going to be over the next year, five years, ten years. Can they keep the weight off? Is this lifestyle change that begins in the mind going to work for them the rest of their lives? The answer to that question depends on the individual and their commitment to healthy living.

But shows like "The Biggest Loser" can keep you accountable and I was glad to see many of the contestants from Season One in the audience at "The Biggest Loser" finale on Tuesday night. They're looking good because they remain committed to the principles that got them the success they were able to acheive.

I am sure it was a little surreal for them to watch new contestants go through what they had to go through and they undoubtedly lived vicariously through those contestants as they recalled their own experiences on "The Biggest Loser" ranch. But the same could be said for anyone who has lost weight -- watching others go through that process is, as NBC would say, MUST SEE TV! It's captivating, which is why they have scored such a huge winner with a show about losing.

Seringhaus criticizes "The Biggest Loser" for flaunting the overweight and obese contestants around in tight spandex, making them weigh in using huge cargo scales with giant LCD monitors, and for the show failing to recognize and reward those contestants who weren't the biggest losers but who still lost a significant amount of weight.

Those idiosyncrasies about the show aside, Seringhaus said the "astonishing" weight loss by the contestants to become "amazingly thin" right before our eyes is why people watch. It may also explain why droves of people are applying to appear on "The Biggest Loser 3" and a spin-off series is coming in January 2006 featuring self-contained episodes of brother vs. sister, co-worker vs. co-worker, and city vs. city. I can't wait to see those shows!!!

But this brings us back to the lingering question: What about the fan base watching the show? With diet plans of every kind (even off-the-wall ones like this) out in the marketplace today, why aren't people getting thinner? And if shows like "The Biggest Loser" really start helping people lose weight, what will be its fate?

I don't think those are necessarily the right questions to ask. The very point that we can talk about obesity in an attempt to come up with ways to help solve it is a healthy (all pun intended!) discussion. With all the glamour of Hollywood celebrities who promote unreasonably high expectations for beauty in this country, I'm am personally glad to see a show like "The Biggest Loser" be so successful. It's a product of our society because the issue of obesity is current and not going away anytime soon.

But Seringhaus wonders just how long "The Biggest Loser" can continue.

"NBC producers should be careful what they wish for, since a sudden bout of self-discipline might cause audiences not only to lose weight, but to halt their frenzied consumption of products pushed by the network's advertisers," he writes.

To grab a line from my political background, the fat will always be among us (just like "the poor will always be among us"). As long as exercise is a dirty word and fast food continues to appeal to the "billions and billions," people walking around with extra pounds will continue.

But the lasting impact of "The Biggest Loser" will be with the thousands, maybe millions, of people who are finally motivated to do something about their weight problem because of the show.

Seringhaus agrees.

"And if this causes just one person to abandon that exhausting and costly cocktail of self-propagating literature, weight-loss groups and overpriced diet aids, the show will have served an unexpected and valuable purpose," he concludes.

My point exactly. "The Biggest Loser" could be the starting point for people to finally get up off that couch and start living the healthy and energetic life they have always dreamed of. It happened for me through livin' la vida low-carb and it can happen for anybody who wants it so badly they can taste it. It's time for you to make it happen and become a BIG WEIGHT LOSER, too!

You can contact Michael Seringhaus by e-mailing him here.

12-3-05 UPDATE: Michael Seringhaus responded to my blog post about him and said he actually had come across this blog in his research for his column:

Thanks for reading and linking -- the show was quite fun!

You may be interested to know I actually came across your blog in doing a bit of research for the column last week -- so it's neat to be linked there.

Cheers and keep up the good blog,


Neat stuff that he came to this blog looking for information about "The Biggest Loser." Yeah, I guess I wrote a few articles about the show, didn't I? LOL! THANKS, Michael. You are welcome to come back here anytime.

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Blogger Kent said...

I doubt I will tire of cheering on others to achieve the same weight loss and be the same success story I have any time soon. So rather than cannibalize its audience by making them no longer need the show, it is furthering the people who are more sensitive or attenuated to weight loss issues. It is the same reason I stay and help out at AtkinsDietBulletinBoard every day months after my weight loss phase is longer over. The fact is seeing someone whether it is your own success story in the making or someone else's achieve their goals is VERY compelling. In a spectator culture, rooting your favorite member, gender, or the whole lot of them to see what it means to be slim and fit, there is no better reality to me.

12/03/2005 9:47 PM  

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