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'The Biggest Loser' premiere: Former athletes fight for a return to their glory days

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Biggest Loser
Trae Patton/NBC

[This post contains details from The Biggest Loser episode that aired Sept. 11]

After Rachel Frederickson’s controversial victory last season, the producers are giving themselves a second chance with The Biggest Loser: Glory Days. All 20 contestants this year are former athletes, which theoretically should mean their minds and bodies are better suited for the intense regime expected of this competition. These former champions already know what it takes to be a winner but also understand the concept of limits and discipline, something Frederickson was criticized for lacking. Though it gets a little annoying how many times the trainers say it, this does have the potential to be the best season yet.

In addition to the athletes, there are other changes this season, most notably the departure of on-again/off-again trainer Jillian Michaels. In her place is lookalike trainer Jen Widerstrom, though luckily they don’t share a temper. She’s all about taking control of your life through fear and love and though it sounds a little corny, the contestants seem to be believing it; in the first challenge of the season, Jen was the first trainer to have her six-person white team complete. Because one ridiculously attractive trainer is never enough: Jessie Pavelka (cousin to Jake from The Bachelor) brings some “new blood and new methods” to the show as the trainer for the blue team. And Dolvett Quince returns with his signature smile for his fifth season as the red team trainer. But if you do the math right, you’ll notice that with only three trainers and six-person teams, two people will be left out which is exactly how the first elimination of the season happened. Well, kind of.

At this point, any true fan of the show would also notice something terribly wrong: WHERE IN THE WORLD IS BOB HARPER? The only man to be on the ranch since day 1 was oddly absent from the beginning of the premiere with no explanation at all. But have no fear America, NBC just decided he needed his own space in “Comeback Canyon.” Bob surprised tennis champion Zina Garrison and former WNBA player Vanessa Hayden—the two ladies already en route home—with the news that he would be training them privately for the week before they go head-to-head on the scale for a chance to stay. Each week, the contestant sent home will go to the Canyon first to fight for one more comeback while training with Bob and at some point (not specified when), return to the ranch with him.

The two-hour premiere wasn’t able to thoroughly introduce each contestant, but here are a few to keep an eye on throughout the season:

Damien Woody, 36, Super Bowl champion, 388 lbs.: Woody was drafted by the New England Patriots in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft and went on to win two Super Bowl rings with the organization before going on to play with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets. After retiring in 2011, Woody became an analyst for ESPN. His former glory brought a lot of ego to the ranch when he said he wanted to challenge everyone in the gym, including himself and the trainers.

Lori Harrigan-Mack, 44, Olympic gold medalist, 301 lbs.: Not only is the California native a three-time gold medalist as a member of the U.S. Softball team, she made the record books for throwing the first ever no-hitter in Olympic history. Her return to the gym, the first time since training with the team in 2004, proved to be too emotional for Harrigan-Mack. The breakdown led the mother of one to open up to Jessie about what got her body and mind to this destructive place: seven miscarriages.

Mike Murburg, 58, college wrestler and football player, 399 lbs.: The former Princeton athlete came on the show after a series of personal tragedies took more than just a toll on his health and weight. From the death of his father on the first day of law school to his divorce and the death of his 20-year-old son during Special Forces training, Murburg faced another challenge in the premiere by tearing his meniscus right before the last chance workout. However, he responded with the biggest weight lost of the week. The 38 pounds he lost is impressive with or without the crutches.

Vanessa Hayden, 32, former WNBA player, 366 lbs.: After being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, Hayden left the University of Florida Gators and played six seasons in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks. She says her weight is to blame for being dropped from the team in 2010, which forced her into early retirement. Hayden couldn’t complete the first challenge because of a leg injury and was sent to Comeback Canyon. Under Bob’s guidance and a clear mind, Hayden won the first weigh-in and remains in the game.

During the first team weigh-in, the white team lost a combined total of 104 pounds (a.k.a. the size of their trainer Jen, P.E. teacher Sonya Jones jokes), a 5.01 percent loss. With the help of an injured Mike, however, the red team was able to lose more with a total of 138 pounds, 6.63 percentof the team’s weight. Unfortunately, the blue team (which consists of Woody and five females) didn’t start as strong and lost only a combined 59 pounds, 3.27 percent. Andrea Wilamowski, a Michigan mom who in a moment of weakness earlier in the week told Jessie she wanted to go home, had her bad wish come true and was the first person voted off the ranch. But she’s not completely done just yet, as she now joins Vanessa and Bob in Comeback Canyon for her shot at salvation.

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