by Golda Poretsky, H.H.C.
A few months ago, I wrote yet another post on why The Biggest Loser is so bad for its contestants, the millions who watch the show, and the culture in general. I expected to see the usual comments from my usual readership.
What I didn’t expect to see was a comment from Season 3 Biggest Loser finalist, Kai Hibbard, saying how much she enjoyed my post and asking if we might speak.
Shortly thereafter, Kai and I spoke on the phone about her experiences on the Biggest Loser. From seeing her fellow contestants forced to workout with injuries against doctor’s orders, to the extreme dehydration prior to weigh-ins, to the resultant eating disorder that Kai still is working to heal, the story she told was nothing like the fantasy that the Biggest Loser seeks to promote.
I’ve held off on sharing this interview for the last few months, mainly because I have no journalism background and wasn’t quite sure how to present the material. But given that the Biggest Loser continues to be popular I felt that it was time to share our talk with all of you.
Because Kai’s story is so powerful in her own words, and because she has so much to share on the reality of this reality TV series, I’ve decided to break the interview into 3 parts, and give you the actual audio to listen to if you so desire.
Kai on the audition process:
“So I haven’t really talked about this because I’m not really supposed to. . . . So they put us in hotel rooms and they take your key away so you can’t leave. And you spend a week locked in a hotel room and if you want to go anywhere you have to call a production assistant to take you to get groceries or get dinner or whatever you might need. You also get loaded up in these vans with other possible contestants and you’re not allowed to speak when you’re in the van, with anybody, and then we had to go through these like doctor’s tests . . . . You get poked and prodded by complete strangers and nobody will tell you a single thing about what’s going on. And that point was where I really believe that the dehumanization process started, where they start teaching you that because you are overweight you are sub-human and you just start to believe it. Through the whole process, they just keep telling you, over and over, how lucky you are to be there. You’re being yelled at by people [whose] job is basically to keep the ‘fat people’ in line and you start to believe it.”
“They reminded you almost daily that you were supposedly lucky to be there and you got that for, gosh, I was on that ranch for 3 months so I heard for 3 months how lucky I was to be there and, let me tell you, my feet were bleeding, I was covered in bruises, I was beat up, but boy, I kept hearing about how lucky I was to be there.”
On the seclusion of the ranch:
“A lot of people don’t know that once we were actually on the ranch, it was 6 weeks before we were allowed to get mail from home and our mail was opened and censored. And it was 8 weeks before we were allowed to speak to anybody on the phone and it was for 5 minutes at a time with a chaperone.”
On the meaning of a “week” on the Biggest Loser:
“It varied. It went from 14 days and I believe that near the end we had one week that was 5 days.”
On then-host Caroline Rhea’s reaction to the blown up “before” pictures located throughout the ranch:
“She walked and she saw the photos of us that were shot deliberately to make us look as poorly as possible hanging up around the house and she lost it. She lost it on the crew and she demanded that they take them down and that it was humiliating. [She said that] we were people and should be treated as people.”
On being treated as “an expendable commodity”:
“We did one challenge in a stadium in California. It was about 100 degrees that day and the challenge involved running up stairs and then doing the wave all the way around the stadium and then running down the stairs and back across the football field. When we were done, we were obviously covered in sweat, we were all out of shape, and that was a really hard challenge in that heat. They brought us bottles of water that we had packed ourselves in the truck that had been sitting in the heat all day, and they broke out coolers for the trainers, the cameramen, the audio people, and for Caroline Rhea and they had cool water and we drank 90 degree water after we ran the challenge. . . . And actually one of the contestants, Eric, from New York (won my season) lost it at that point and screamed about how we weren’t animals and to please stop treating us like animals and they handled it the way they handled us always, [they] quieted him down, and reminded him how lucky we were to be there, that it was saving his life.“
On the way contestants (and viewers) are brainwashed into believing that fat people are subhuman:
“I believe that . . . most of the contestants, felt like it was okay to treat us like we were subhuman when we were there, that the ends justify the means. If they were going to make us thin, then it was totally worth it to humiliate us and treat us poorly all the way along. I just don’t feel that way.”
Click here to listen to the first portion of my interview with Kai.
Next week, hear about the real Biggest Loser diet and exercise plan, what happens when the finalists leave the ranch to lose more weight, and how what she learned on the ranch led Kai into a full-on eating disorder. Also, find out why other contestants never seem to speak out like Kai has.
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and her work, click here.