Last night’s Biggest Loser was elegiac, even peaceful. Since Rudy and Danny have so completely dominated this final round, there wasn’t any real conflict. You get the vibe from Amanda and Liz that they’re just happy to have made it this far. I’m not criticizing. I was happy to have a week that slowed down to give us a microscopic focus on the Final Four.
By now, we’re so used to the rhythms of reality TV — the cuts between things happening and people describing how they felt when those things were happening; the shifting inflections that indicate post-production dialogue editing (notice how people never say ”um” or ”like” on any reality show except The Hills?); the general upbeat, self-empowerment tone (because no reality show ever really dares to be depressing.) The opening of last night’s episode was so full of reality show ridiculousity that I had to keep pausing and rewinding. Did anyone else catch that shot of the Biggest Loser gym suddenly appearing on the horizon like a ghost ship, not once but twice? Also, we have to discuss why there’s always a full moon in the skies above the Biggest Loser ranch.
Putting aside the shenanigans, last night’s episode also reminded me that the reality show genre is rooted in the much older tradition of documentary filmmaking. There were moments last night that felt real and alive like nothing else on television. Danny taking long drives at night to clear his head. Rudy searching fruitlessly for more time in the day. Liz treasuring how her husband tells her that he’s proud of her. There’s always the danger with this show that you’ll be assaulted by a surprise infomercial. But you’re also bound to see a few things that blow your mind with sheer human determination.
Let’s run through the trials and travails of the Final Four, in this penultimate episode:
”When I left for the ranch, my daughter was four months old,” explained Rudy, heading back home to Brooklyn, CT. ”I need to prove that the time lost wasn’t lost, it was gained.”
Time is the only foe Rudy has left. At the beginning of last night’s episode, Ali Sweeney mapped out the game plan for the Final Four. ”You’re going home for sixty days,” she explained. No more Loser gym. No more Jillian up in your grill with her aggressive psychotherapy.
I would’ve thought that Rudy would be the clear winner in this as in all contests. Has there ever been a more pathologically driven personality on this show? And yet, as I’ve mentioned before, Rudy’s been weirdly opaque this whole season. Even the revelation that he suffered a personal tragedy in his life — his sister died of leukemia when Rudy was only 15 years old — just seemed to make him more superhero-perfect.
Last night went a long way toward coloring the Rudy legend with some bitter truth. When Bob visited Rudy after a few weeks at home, Rudy gave us a picture of his daily schedule. ”It’s a twelve-hour day at work, plus an hour and twenty minute commute, plus a little time with my family, plus a two-hour workout, and I’m barely getting six hours of sleep a day.” His daughters missed him after long months on the ranch: ”I have to sneak out to go to work. I have to sneak out to go to a workout.”
Like Danny, Rudy’s a family man, but I think it’s fair to say that he’s in a very different place: Rudy’s only 31 years old. His marriage is barely a year old. And in addition to trying to figure out everything that goes along with having a family, Rudy is also trying to plan out years, even decades in the future. He wants to make sure he lives long enough to be Grandpa Rudy.
Time is his only enemy, now. In a sense, Rudy’s struggle is a microcosm of the human struggle in our modern overstimulated, overworked age. And so we should all pay close attention to Rudy’s fate in these final episodes. Is it possible that he can succeed every single week, and still not be the Biggest Loser? I’m reminded of a line from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the epitaph of a great King: ”He won every battle, but lost the war.”
NEXT: Amanda and Bob, together again