Alison Sweeney can’t help but get emotionally caught up with the contestants of “The Biggest Loser.” As the host of the reality show that awards a grand prize of $250,000 to the contestant who loses the most weight, Sweeney has seen hundreds of people suffer the trials and tribulations of being obese in a society that places a high value on not being fat. Sweeney is not only a host but also a cheerleader for the contestants, who often have more emotional baggage than physical baggage. And now “The Biggest Loser” is doing its part to give more outreach to communities. For Season 10 of “The Biggest Loser,” the show is changing its format to have a “pay it forward” theme designed to motivate communities, not just individual contestants, to get healthier by losing weight and improving their nutrition and overall fitness.
In the Season 10 premiere episode (which airs September 21 on NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time), Sweeney and “The Biggest Loser” trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels travel to seven cities, with each trainer leading community fitness challenges, such as a one-mile race or a 500 step-up competition. In each of the seven cities — Detroit; Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; Atlanta; Phoenix; Oklahoma City; and Boston — there will also be three potential contestants competing in the challenges. The two candidates who complete their fitness challenge first win a spot at “The Biggest Loser” ranch. Those who don’t make it will get a chance to vie for a spot on the show in a later episode. During a recent telephone conference call with reporters, Sweeney talked about the past, present and future of “The Biggest Loser.”
How was it traveling to all those cities for Season 10 of “The Biggest Loser”? And can you comment on the new “pay it forward” community theme for the show?
Like every time, every city we went to we had crowds of people. And we really made the effort to make them feel like you are a part of this season, too. “You are here. These are your players you got to support them.” The players were challenging them like, “I want everyone here to make a difference. I’m going to see you at the end of this. And I want you to lose weight with me.” We really felt like as opposed to narrowing it down in some ways we have a cast of thousand this season because we have so many people with us those days opening it up and being challenged, being motivated and inspired by what they saw that first day.
It’s the community of it. To feel the relationship and in some ways, that is what we always say, too, is like one of the reasons the show works is that it works on campus because you are surrounding yourself by people who want to make that change, too. So gathering those people together, coming to that meeting where we picked our first contestants, they found a community of people around them. New best friends, new people who are going to walk with them in their neighborhood, they found people to inspire them, and hopefully be accountable to them and to each other. And hopefully that is another way that they took that first step.
How will the “pay it forward” work scheme work throughout this season?
We have a lot of different ways some of them more in theory than necessary that we carry out in this show. But a little bit of both in that we talked about in the first nine seasons of the show. The contestants come on the campus, they meet people, they do their weight their loss. But it’s really ancillary in some ways like they don’t think about the real world, they don’t think about what it’s going [on]. They just focus on what they are trying to do, what they are trying to achieve. And then they go home and they meet people who are so inspired by them when they first seen the episodes air.
And so this season is sort of instead of following that same track we kind of really talked about how America the entire time. We talked about how America is going to respond to you and how people are going to relate to your story. And how important that is to take what you’ve learned here and you pay it forward and share that knowledge with the people back home that you saw on day one in your hometown … how they got on the campus in the first place.
But beyond that, like fans, we are going to respond to you because they are living that same story or they fill they relate to you. And we see it happen so many times until we really embraced like right from the get go with this group. And really encourage them to think about that, think about beyond themselves and their own struggle … [and] what America is facing.
The challenges in some ways … do or die for the contestants, and their passion played a part I think in a really interesting way because oftentimes, people feel like the scale. People, whether the scale was your friend or not, what can save you is your heart and your commitment to it. And so we set up challenges that really play toward that and really made them show their commitment to it and remind them that being on campus is something that they have to earn and they have to work towards. And here are no free rides. They had to really work for it. So it really did remind everyone every week how much they want to be there and how much they have to work for it.
And on a totally separate note, we had the most amazing travel episode. It’s in some of the promos I’ve already seen on the show where we visit Camp Pendleton and visited the Marines.
That and Australia are the two best trips we’ve ever taken with the show. It was seriously unbelievable and emotional and just was so spectacular. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing the whole experience was for us. Never mind how awesome it’s going to look on TV. So I can’t wait for everyone to see that episode.
What can you say about contestants Ally and Lisa from Oklahoma, and why mining Oklahoma seems to work for contestants?
Well, there are amazing people they are really great women … They are both really awesome women. And it was just fun to see how they adjusted to certainly the experience in the first episode of what the changes were being thrown at them … We definitely bought some curveballs to the show this year that kept people on their toes. It was really interesting to see them fight through it and deal with some changes …
And Lisa has that family, the kids that I totally relate to. She has that story of so many people that she has to take care of and a daughter she wants to be out of her. And she doesn’t walk her past of battling obesity. That’s a story I relate to, and I love that she said that from day one: “I’m not a quitter. As hard as this I’m not quitting.” And I admire that. I admire that from the beginning.
There was a recent poll that came out talking about how television audiences seem to be getting a little tired of reality shows. And there are so many horrific stories that people are going through like the people that are on “The Biggest Loser” and numerous other self-improvement reality shows where improvement that kind of physical and mental improvement shows. Do you worry that people will be numbed up to it: through seeing people going though the same thing every season?
I think that no matter how what the specifics are, ultimately, it is a show of inspiration and a show of success. And I don’t think that ever gets old. I think people want to feel like it’s possible to overcome that. And they love being reminded. I get people in the summer who are asking me all summer when it [“The Biggest Loser”] is coming back, because it encourages them to work out.
So it seems to me like people really love the feel-good that they get from the show. That as entertaining as other shows are and wonderful, I’m a fan of lots of TV. But this show has something special about it … So they miss it when its gone.
Educating them in terms of prevention. I think that is something that we live, but we don’t really point a lot when we discuss it. But we spend a lot of time educating all of our contestants and hopefully America, too, so that our children are not facing the same obesity economic that we face today. mean that is a huge aspect of what we’re trying to do every single week.
How has “The Biggest Loser” impacted your life?
I’ll just say that I never expected to be as emotional tied as I have become to them [the contestants]. It’s such a heartfelt journey they go through, I always talk to fans who talk about their favorite person or who they are rooting for. And I feel that way about every single person I meet on the campus. And you want them so badly to succeed. You want to help them get through such a difficult emotional time in their life. I have such a vested interest and such pride in every single person every week when they get up on the scale. I want to cheer .
And I felt that the weight of that when I was pregnant with my daughter and wanting to lose weight afterwards. I felt the responsibility of all those people whom I weighed in over the years, over the season, and wanting to honor that by doing my part and getting back in shape and working hard for it. And living the message that we talk about. And not for nothing, it’s pretty nice to have [“The Biggest Loser” trainers] Bob [Harper] and Jillian [Michaels] staring at you every week because it is very inspiring and motivating to be like no, no I think can make time for the gym.
You don’t see a lot of TV shows where the camera guys are actually like filming something, and then crying like actual tears from the other eye. It can be pretty powerful. And I had one camera guy who has done this for the entire season or for all of the seasons, and he’s been around the block. He’s done tons of documentaries, and after the Dallas episode … which is what inspired the 5K. He came up to me and he said, “This is what it’s all about.” He was never more proud of being television than he was that day. I was so touched by that. And it was so great. We’re pretty hardened to what we do. And when something touches you like that, you’re on the right track.
Can you give some advice about how you handle all the pressures of being a working mom?
I feel like in some ways that it’s just sort of the battle every working mom faces, which is making time for everything. I’m so lucky in that I have access to all those experts — Bob and Jillian certainly being the first and foremost who offered me advice and nutrition and fitness and how to get the most out of a limited amount of time that I have.
But again, you do feel like it’s just making that choice every single day. How do I allocate my time in my day? Someone said to me a long time ago: “You have time to watch TV. Everyone seems to find time to watch whatever it is.”
And I love how “The Biggest Loser” inspires people to get up and work out during the commercial breaks or watch it at the gym or whatever it is — little things that can make a difference. And I always just remind myself like I have time you just have to make the choice to make it and fit it in your workout. And I feel like it’s not selfish, and it’s what we tell our contestants all the time, and you’re actually setting a really great example for your kids. Educating them of how important it is for them to be fit and for them to be healthy and eat right. And if you look at it that way, I think it puts a lot of stuff in perspective.
You just talked at length about the level of emotional involvement you feel in this show. And it seems like every season or every few months you’ll see another magazine article or online article criticizing the show for being dangerous. How do you feel like when you are standing in the grocery line and you see one of those magazines?
I feel like that oftentimes if I read those articles, I feel like it’s a very uneducated or not the whole picture. But that’s true of most of those types of things where they are just looking from one perspective and they don’t tell the whole story. I know what they live, and we’re out there all the time. And everyone has to make their own choices in life and so I see the healthy choices that are available.
And what an amazing opportunity it is to come to “The Biggest Loser” ranch and to change your life and, in some instances, literally save your life. And we know what that is and I know that the fans … see the heart behind it and they see what we’re doing. And that is all that matters to me, and that is important. So I don’t like that other stuff bother me.
How has social networking expanded the show’s reach? And have you been surprised with just the amount of “The Biggest Loser” activity that you see on Twitter and Facebook?
I’m not surprised by it … When I signed up for Twitter, I really had no idea what I was doing. The next thing, you’re totally addicted to it. It’s ridiculous. But it’s not surprising to me because it is a topic, it is such water-cooler talk. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, you’re passionate about it. I love tweeting during the show when people are watching it, because you get that instant feedback. That is how I watch TV with my husband: I pause it and we discuss that line when he does that. And oftentimes, I go back and like replay the comments Jillian makes three or four times because it’s so great, she is so awesome.
And so that’s the kind of viewer I am. I’m such a fan of the show. And so I get why people want to talk about it, why people are excited to sort of relish and enjoy every single moment that unfolds. So that sort of makes since to me I am definitely and also like because I am such a fan … it shouldn’t be surprising how invested I am in Twitter and sharing those feelings with other fans. And I have tons of photos I take in this season that I can’t wait to post to my website when this episodes start airing. It’s a lot of fun. I love it.
How influential do you think the money prize is? But you think it would be the same show without the $25,000 prize?
Here is what I’ll say. I firmly believe, and I’ve watched it happen almost every season, that the fact that it is a competition helps inspire people … There is a reason that the contestants haven’t had any luck trying to lose weight on their own at home. And when they come to the ranch and they get all the advantages of being there and they have the opportunities presented there and the expertise, the fact that it is a competition and that someone goes home every week raises the stakes in a way that you cannot predict. And we talk about it at every challenge …
We had one challenge several seasons ago where the guys who developed the challenges said those contestants will hold that bar above their head no more than an hour. Because they test it and they do all these things to try to figure out what we think will happen. Tara and Laura held that over their heads against Kristin for four hours and 40 minutes. Because in the end it’s a game, and when you have a winner and a loser and someone is going home, and someone in the end is going to win a quarter of a million dollars, that brings out your heart, it brings out your sense of competitive spirit. And believe me, as a competitor myself, that is something I relate to, and I think that totally encourages people to work that much harder, try that much harder to commit themselves to the process in a way that they might not otherwise have done.
Did you ever just think like a show like this would really put you out there?
I didn’t know the show would take off like this. But at the same time, mostly I didn’t realize how passionate I would become about the show and the people that are part of it. I love “Days of Our Lives.” I love what I do as an actress. But I never realized how much I would love my job as the host of this show and how much it would take up such a big part of my heart.
How do you feel this season was different for you as a host, compared to past seasons?
Well, it’s different for me every season because the group is different. Every cast, they make the show; we make it what it is every season. And so this group is definitely unique and special. And I think that the fact that they did come from those big events where they had to earn their spot on campus set a different level of I don’t know how to describe it, but just their commitment to wanting to be there and knowing how many people they saw, the hundreds of people out there in those clouds, thousands of people who want the opportunity that they now have. That spot on campus that they now have.
And I think that is at a different level of their understanding just out of the gate. And every season … everyone has their own journey, and it changes how I do my job. I certainly had some firsts — at the weigh-in room that we’ll talk about as those episodes start to get close. But it’s a very emotional journey and you feel that every time it’s different for me.
Was “The Biggest Loser a catalyst in you feeling so enthusiastic about health and fitness that it prompted you to write your book “The Mommy Diet”?
Obviously, my experience with “The Biggest Loser” has colored the rest of my life, but certainly no less when you’re pregnant. It’s the sort of that time where you’re gaining weight and you spend nine months thinking about this weight you’re gaining and how you’re going to deal with it after the baby is born. And along the way … because I was working on the show at the time that I was pregnant with my daughter I just got so many people, so many new moms, pregnant moms asking me questions.
And I really realized there was sort of a hole in the marketplace for the idea which is that the mommies aren’t really focuses on providing information and useful guidelines for the mother. And so many books that you’ll read while you’re pregnant all focus how to take care of your baby, which is obviously very important. But this is something important, too: You need to take care of yourself. And you taking care of yourself will make you a better mother. So that was sort of the premise of what got me started and thinking about writing this book.
And getting all that information down, that’s really where it came from. And I was so thrilled to get so much great advice from fitness experts and nutrition experts and beauty and fashion and everyone just wanted to help out and give new moms a great start. And frankly, you don’t even need to be a new mom. You can be a mom of an older kid. You can be anyone, and it’ll have some good tips in it … Like no matter what your circumstances are, no matter where you are , some of my tips are like things that you can do at home … [for] free. So there is always something you can do and you always learn a healthier choice.
How much do you allow yourself to get invested in these contestants’ lives? Doesn’t it break your heart sometimes?
It does; my heart breaks. You say goodbye to them, and it’s just so hard to watch it unfold. The elimination room is so and the scale, it’s just so hard to see how hard they work. But it would be a disservice to me and their journey if I didn’t care. That’s not who I am. I can’t distance myself like that. I do my best on TV and, of course, it makes everyone laugh. Like I try to keep it together and not show America necessarily. And there are some times where I get caught and I can’t help it. But for the most part, I try to keep it inside and let the contestants know that I’m totally rooting for all of them equally …
People will say it’s impossible. And it’s frustrating because I think we do prove every week it is possible. And I think Mark it’s a perfect example of contestants who have come on the show and been on for such a short period of time and lost a tremendous amount of weight. And O’Neal is a great example of someone who wasn’t even on campus and he went home and proved he could do it. And Vicky and Sherita did, too — and Sunshine. They all went home and made a difference in their lives and with no guidance, having not even met Bob and Jillian for that period of time …
I met amazing people when we went to the different cities. I met people with major health issues and major disabilities who didn’t accept anything less than the best and got themselves healthy in every way they possibly could. I can’t really tell you all the stories of the people I ran into who didn’t let it beat them and found a way to get healthy anyway. And I just think you meet all these amazing people, and you realize it all starts with the choice you make in your mind. If you start with that choice, if you believe that it is impossible then you’re right, it is … If you are willing to believe in yourself and give yourself that chance then anything is possible. And you can’t change someone’s mind for them they have to make that choice for themselves.
What do you think are the quintessential “Biggest Loser” moments of seasons past?
I’m such a girl. My favorite moments were the makeover episodes. Like that moment with Ali Vincent when she realized that the dress flown in for her was one that would actually fit … Just that princess, Cinderella moment of her realizing, “That’s me. That’s my body.” Just in totally quintessentially exactly what we do. Because in the end, it isn’t about the pounds on the scale, it’s about how you feel about yourself and who you’ve become, not just on the outside but on the inside. And how proud you are that it’s starting to reflect you on the inside, it’s starting to shine through.
And there are so many examples of people who gained so much confidence in themselves … Dan from the Season 5 of young men who came into their own … I got to stand there and watch it happen the first week , Mike would hardly talk to me. He was so nervous and embarrassed and shy. And by the end, the confidence that he had is who he was becoming. And we’re pulling together a “where are they now” special. And I saw his picture and I was like, “He was a cute kid in college. Right now, he looks good.”
I was psyched for him and his life. And Darius the same thing, the same sort of similar story. And Sunshine. Just those young people who have been trapped by this weight their entire childhood coming out of it and finding who they’re being so strong. That moment where Sunshine and O’Neal had that pack last season, and their bond as father/daughter was just something that I really related to. I have such a great relationship with my dad and just seeing them together really meant so much to me. And then when she came out from under his wings so to speak it was so wonderful to see. It was so amazing. So yes, those are some of my favorite moments.
For more info: “The Biggest Loser” website
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