Tuesday’s episode of The Biggest Loser brought an end to the silhouettes and creative camera angles: Yes, at last we were introduced to the two new taskmasters, er, trainers. (SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading unless you’ve already watched this week’s installment.) Brett Hoebel, a celebrity trainer whose areas of expertise include martial arts, and Cara Castronuova, who made a name for herself as a professional boxer, have joined Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels in their daunting challenge to help overweight contestants lose pounds and emotional baggage. Let’s get to know the Unknowns’ fitness gurus.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Finally, you two can come out from the shadows. Did you keep the secret from your family and friends?
CARA CASTRONUOVA: I kept it from the majority of people in my life, which was crazy because they were wondering where I was. All of the sudden I was in L.A., and I live in N.Y. — all my family and friends are there. I told the people closest to me, but I didn’t share it with my extended family, who were all big fans of the show, because I wanted them to watch the show and be completely surprised. And now I’m just starting to get all the calls, and everyone’s like, “How could you hold this from me?” I wanted to see who’d recognize me from my voice, from my silhouette, from the back of my head, and I’m shocked at some of the people from high school who have actually recognized me without seeing my face.
BRETT HOEBEL: I’ve been working so hard to get into a position like this, of being with such an amazing crew of trainers and being a part of a movement for America that I really value, and then not to be able to share that success with your friends and family has been very difficult. I just wanted to give a huge fist pump — I’m from Jersey! — and I couldn’t do it. It’s been extremely tough, but I did tell my closest of family. But come [tonight], the fists will be pumping, brother!
How long have you been watching the show? Cara, is it true you don’t even own a TV?
CC: Yeah, I don’t have a TV back in New York. [laughs] I didn’t watch the show, so when I found out I was going to be interviewed to be a trainer on the show, I went online, downloaded the episodes and watched them all on a friend’s computer, and I was just spellbound. It was love at first sight.
BH: I knew Jillian before I got cast on it…. She came to New York, and I was showing her and some of her friends capoeira. Once I met her, I started watching the show and was a big fan.
How will your training techniques differ from Bob’s and Jillian’s?
BH: All I can say is I’m trying to pave my [own] way. I have a pre-med background. I really and truly believe that training is a science. You either know anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, or you don’t. And there’s also a martial arts part of it, which is the capoeira, the muy thai…. Cara’s an amazing fighter. We both bring that aspect to it. We’re both from New York City. You’re gonna get NYC in the hizzouse! It’s like, in your face, it’s the real deal. There is no BS. I refer to us as “the dynamic duo.”
CC: You can’t compare us to Bob and Jillian. My background is that of a competitive athlete and a fighter, and I’m bringing something totally different to The Biggest Loser that wasn’t there before. And Brett is bringing something totally different. And the contestants love it, because they’re able to learn from four people who all have something totally different to bring to them.
How aggressive will you be in making contestants see the light? And which of you made someone cry first?
BH: I don’t know if aggressive is the word. I think our style has been motivational. We have set the Biggest Loser record of the most weight [lost] in the first week, and the fastest person to get to 100 lbs. Those are the two biggest records we’ve beat and proven with our methods. The other thing is: We’ve both made ’em cry day one, brother! It was a tie!
CC: Puke and cry, day one. Everyone has a different training style and being a female, sometimes you find you have to get really aggressive. Some people respond really well to aggression, some people don’t. I’m the type of person who can get a feel for what you need and what I need to do to push you to get you to a breaking point, where you realize that you can’t go on this way anymore, that the reason you’re heavy is because you’re ignoring all the stuff that’s going on inside.
BH: Part of my approach is to lead by example. I fully believe you gotta walk your talk. If you want someone to do something, you can yell at them, you can blow a whistle at them, you can punch them, but I’d rather get in the trenches, do the exercise right in front of them, with them. I don’t have to open my mouth. They will do it at that point. And you’re going to see that this season, that’s different. You’re going to see us training alongside these contestants.
Which contestant has posed the biggest challenge so far?
CC: Hands down, it’s been Rulon [Gardner, Olympic gold medalist]. He’s an enigma and a puzzle to me because he’s so guarded. He’s achieved great things in his life, but he’s also a human being just like everybody else on the show. He’s someone who I can identify with, coming from an athletic background and being someone who has to figure out what it takes to win. So I get him in certain ways, but at the same time, because he’s such an established athlete and he’s so on everybody’s radar, he has more of a guard up than everybody else.
BH: Rulon’s the toughest nut to crack. He’s done a lot of motivational speaking, so he knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off. It’s about the moments off-camera. That’s when the light goes on. Sometimes we have breakthroughs when the cameras aren’t there…. Rulon is a very smart and extremely hard-working individual, but that’s the easy part for this guy. The physical weight is easy to lose. The emotional weight is the most difficult. How does an Olympic gold medalist who wrestled in the 200s get to 474 pounds, basically double his weight? Those answers are very difficult for him to unfold. To get to the middle of an Olympic champion is not easy. But [we] had a really good heart-to-heart, and starting to peel the layers off of this champion has been one of the most gratifying experiences.
Cara, you’ve been the No. 2-ranked boxer in the nation and won two Golden Gloves championships. In what ways does your boxing background inform how you train these contestants?
CC: It’s not just the physical aspect of boxing, it’s the whole fighter mentality that has been ingrained in me through the years as a competitive athlete. One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is to box — to get into the ring and to face off with somebody whose whole goal is to knock you out, to hurt you, and to be able to fight back. Winning titles made me find out that I have what it takes to do certain things that I didn’t think I was capable of. But also, the losing and getting knocked down and getting back up…. What [contestants] are doing here is comparable to what a boxer does in the ring. They’re fighting tooth and nail to get their lives back. And they’re going to get knocked down and the most important thing is they keep getting up, keep getting up.
Brett, you battled weight issues as a kid. How much does that help you relate to what these contestants are going through?
BH: Look, part of it is we’re the underdogs. A lot of them chose to be with us because of the immunity, not because they know who we are. When they’re used to two superstar trainers, part of the way to build their trust and respect is your relatability. Have you gone what they’ve gone through? I was not born with a six-pack. I was 50 lbs. overweight. I made it and came out on the other side through changing my attitude, my diet and my training, and [going through] a lot of emotional struggles. I didn’t date. I got called fatso. I got teased about the way I looked…. If you haven’t been overweight, and you haven’t gone through that, it’s not something you can teach someone. I’m not saying you can’t be an effective trainer without going through it, but I’m just saying there’s something about having gone through that and being ostracized for that that you just can’t replicate.
Cara, your father, who was obese, passed away when you were a teenager. How did that impact you and the career path you’ve chosen?
CC: I’ve never really had a weight problem personally, but I come from a very obese family that struggled with their weight and through a lot of obesity-related diseases. One of those people was my dad. As a kid, [having] an obese dad who wasn’t able to do everything he wanted to do with his kids was really hard for me because I knew instinctively it was because he was overweight; I just couldn’t do anything to help him. He passed away when I was 14, and that was really hard for me — his passing away had a big impact on my life because I knew in my heart that if he had lost weight, he probably wouldn’t be dead. So as an adult now, 16 years later, and I’m training these contestants and seeing how I’m helping people lose weight, I’ll lay in bed sometimes and I’m like, “I wish I could go back in time when my dad was heavy and train him.” So it’s redemption for me to help the contestants.
This show has a lot of serious moments. What was the most lighthearted one you’ve experienced so far?
CC: It was off-camera, back at the Ridge. We organized this Halloween party where everyone had to come dressed up as different people. Some of them dressed up as each other, I dressed up as Brett, Brett dressed up as me, and it was hysterical. We all did a skit, we had a big dance, and everyone was at their heaviest, so it was like dancing was a workout, just moving on the dance floor.
BH: I remember coming in as V for Vendetta and Cara twisting my arm and being like, “You have to dress like me!” I was like, “Oh my god, are you really going to put those extensions in my hair?”
CC: Funny as hell.