The Biggest Loser USA Is TV's Biggest Winner

When twenty-two, overweight contestants go head to head in a weight loss competition, it results in triumphant results for the contestants. Oh, and it makes for bloody good television too.
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When twenty-two, overweight contestants go head to head in a weight loss competition, it results in triumphant results for the contestants. Oh, and it makes for bloody good television too.

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There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just come out with it; the Biggest Loser is the greatest program on television right now.

Before you spit whatever beverage you have to hand out all over the place at this fact (and if you don't have one, go and get one - I'll be right here waiting for you to read then again and then spit it out all the place), please understand that it's not the ITV1 9pm Tuesday night, Davina McCall version that I'm so enamoured with. It's the version of it that goes out an hour earlier on Sky Living - the American version.

Firstly, I'll explain the show for the uninitiated. Basically, it's a weight loss show - the winner of the programme will be the contestant who has lost the largest percentage of their starting weight. Sixteen overweight people start the show. Some seasons see them divided into teams, others see them compete as individuals. The contestants take part in a challenge to gain an advantage in the weekly weigh in, we see them exercise and we see what they go through in order to shift all this weight. Then at the end of the show, every contestant is weighed, and the two players with the lowest percentage of weight loss are sent into a tie-break situation where the rest of the contestants will vote one of the players off. This continues until we get down to a final four situation, who go to the finale, and we find out who the overall winner is.

And here's how they hook you in - they appeal to your evil side. As terrible a thing as it is, sometimes the devil within you just enjoys the suffering of someone else. I know it's awful, I know it's terrible, but I have guffawed many many times at some fatty sweating and screaming that they can't run any more, seconds before they go arse over tea-kettle off a treadmill. It's dreadful, it's disgraceful, it's disgusting, but unfortunately for my chances of getting into Heaven, it's also completely hilarious.

The main difference between the American version and the British version of the programme is essentially the main difference between the USA and the UK. The American version is just so damn AMERICAN. I'm sorry, but there's no other adjective for it. The British Biggest Loser is a bit half arsed and bland in how they go about things, the Yanks even do morbid obesity with glitz, glamour, fireworks and pizazz. For a start, there's the sheer size of the Americans. We're not short of fatties in this country, but the Americans just blow us away. The largest contestant ever was season 9 winner Michael Ventrella, who initially tipped the scales at a mind boggling 526lbs (37.5st, 239kg), the fattest English guy was Kevin McLernon, who weighed in a frankly paltry 450lbs (32.1st, 204.1kg).

The contestants in the UK are a bit embarrassed and biscuit arsed to be there. There's a lot of looking at the floor, and not really saying what's going on. The Shermans wear their hearts on their massive sleeves, and are willing to reveal all kinds of inappropriate details about their lives. They'll wail and cry about everything, from some truly truly sad stories (BLUS has seen contestants with whole families killed in car wrecks before) to no good reason (a picture of a cake is enough to send some contestants doolally - "I can't believe I used to eat that!" they'll moan. "Self abuse!").

I know it's awful, I know it's terrible, but I have guffawed many many times at some fatty sweating and screaming that they can't run any more, seconds before they go arse over tea-kettle off a treadmill. It's dreadful, it's disgraceful, it's disgusting, but unfortunately for my chances of getting into Heaven, it's also completely hilarious

There's major budget differences as well - the Brits will go on an Army assault course, the Americans will go and train with the Marines for a week. The British will row dinghies up and down a local swimming pool, the Yanks will be steering enormous longboats along massive swathes of Californian surf. The Brits will watch a sports video to see how to get fit, Anna Kournikova will tow up and play tennis with the Americans to help them shift a few pounds.

Oh, and the British prize? Twenty five grand. Times that by ten for the Americans.

Then there's the trainers. Richard Callender in our version seems like a nice regular bloke, who'll help you lose a bit of weight. Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels will tear you to pieces and emotionally destroy you, before building you up again in their own perfect, brilliantly toothed image. Jillian, especially, is truly amazing. She's a trainer-cum-psychologist-cum-counsellor-cum-bully-cum-pussycat. One minute she's shouting and screaming in a contestant's face that they're letting themselves down by not trying, the next she's sitting outside with them telling them no matter what their parents or people in the street say, they are good people and they are worth good times in their lives and this will all be worth it in the end.

I've already talked of the initial hook - the voyeurism and school-yard laughing and hectoring of contestants by people sitting at home on their fat arse, eating Mars bars (a popular pursuit of my own). But a few weeks in, something happens. You become involved in the process, you stop laughing at them, you become emotionally attached to the contestants, and you start rooting for them to do well.

Herein lies the crux of the whole American version. It's about what every great, transformative reality television show should be about - redemption. The fact that that no matter how out of control your life gets or how black or hopeless a situation seems, if you apply yourself to a problem, and you get a little help from your friends along the way, then you can be redeemed and saved, and your life will be worth living. And if there's television cameras there to film it and broadcast it - well, ain't that sweet?

And whisper it, but some of the contestants end up being pretty hot. It's a final piece of it - I mocked you for being fat and minging and now here you are, looking hot and utterly unattainable to me. Whoda thunk it, eh? Fatties can be attractive too. A great lesson.

And finally, the name. The name itself is so great. Turning the epithet 'loser' into a positive thing -you've got to imagine that a lot of these fatties have been called 'big losers' all their lives - here being the Biggest Loser makes them the Biggest Winner.

And that's why Biggest Loser USA is the best programme in the world right now.

Biggest Loser USA is on Sky Living, Tuesdays, 8pm.

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