By Lynette Rice
Updated December 14, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

And we thought poor Shay was larger than life. Today, NBC announced that the ninth edition of The Biggest Loser on Jan. 5 will feature the heaviest cast ever, with one participant – a Chicago man named Michael – tipping the scales at an astonishing 526 lbs. He’ll be at the ranch with his Italian mother Maria, where the avoirdupois duo will work out along side a pair of identical twins (James and John of Florida) who NBC says “together weigh close to a half a ton” on this special family edition. Fun?

The record-breaking size of the latest contestants doesn’t exactly come as a surprise: creator/executive producer Mark Koops hinted to as much after the season eight finale. But the choice to include such a morbidly obese man like Michael seems risky when the show invited some unwanted attention last month from The New York Times, in which a University of Michigan doctor was quoted as saying that he was “waiting for someone to have the first attack.” Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for the same kind of tragic occurrence myself, so when Tracey dropped to the ground during the season eight premiere last fall, I actually believed the time had finally come. I know excess pounds can put an unusual amount of stress on one’s already weakened heart, but what about a sudden burst of exertion? I love this show, but I really don’t enjoy the fear that occasionally goes along with watching these people push the boundaries with Bob and Jillian. After all, Ruby on the Style Network is taking her super sweet time dropping the weight (and she’s got a looonnnggg way to go) but that doesn’t make her reality show any less enjoyable.

Remarkably, Loser season eight contestant Tracey is sanguine about the whole ordeal; she told me after the finale that “it takes something drastic to start with to make us all wake up and say, ‘I need help!'” so in retrospect, she was clearly grateful for that fateful run (even if it put her in the hospital for 10 days). I imagine the Chicago man will probably feel the same way come spring, assuming he posts the same kind of remarkable weight loss enjoyed by Danny Cahill, this year’s (hot!) winner. And being the largest contestant ever can have its privileges: Shay (who started the show last fall at 476 lbs) is coming back this season for another try at shedding the pounds.

What do you think, Loser fans? Should the show put a ceiling on how large the contestants can be? Or the bigger, the better? Oh, and here’s the list of the latest contestants competing for $250,000 (NBC wants us to wait until the show’s Jan. 5 debut to learn their actual weights):

James Crutchfield (human resources director), 30, and his twin brother, John Crutchfield (senior marketing manager), 30, Orlando, Fla.

Sam Poueu (youth football coach and security guard), 24, and his cousin Koli Palu (football coach and head of security), 29, Rohnert Park, CA.

Melissa Morgan (attorney), 39, and her husband Lance Morgan (rancher), 38, Aspermont, TX.

Patti Anderson (business owner), 55, Lafayette, CA, and her daughter Stephanie Anderson (radio sales executive), 29, West Hollywood, CA.

Cherita Andrews (homemaker), 50, and her daughter Vicky Andrews (student), 22, Houston, TX.

Miggy Cancel (chef), 48, Pemberton, NJ, and her daughter Migdalia Sebren (homemaker), 28, Sanford, NC.

Cheryl George (store owner), 50, and her son, Daris George (salesman/deliveryman), 25, Ardmore, Okla.

O’Neal Hampton, Jr. (U.S. Postal Service station manager), 51, and his daughter, SunShine Hampton (restaurant server), 24, Minneapolis, Minn.

Darrell Hough (press operator/mechanic), 46, and his daughter Andrea Hough (executive assistant), 24, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Sherry Johnston (non-profit administrator), 51, and her daughter Ashley Johnston (manager/esthetician), 27, Knoxville, Tenn.

Maria Ventrella (corporate travel agent), 51, and her son Michael Ventrella (deejay), 30, Chicago, Ill.

Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC