One of the eliminated players returns, changing the dynamic of the game completely; two previous winners take over hosting duties while Alison Sweeney takes her six-day maternity leave; and no fewer than three contestants show gains at the weigh-in

By Jean Bentley
Updated April 01, 2009 at 04:00 PM EDT
Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

If only every week were this eventful on the Biggest Loser ranch — then we wouldn’t have to sit through the 45 minutes of repeated footage and drawn-out editing it takes to witness one weigh-in. With Alison Sweeney gone for the birth of her second child, past winners Ali Vincent and Michelle Aguilar subbing in her place, the return of three eliminated contestants, Ron getting emergency surgery, and a truly dramatic weigh-in during which no less than three contestants ended up gaining weight, there wasn’t a shortage of drama this week. And while the action started immediately after the previous week’s weigh-in, it didn’t let up until the last vote was counted in the elimination room.

When the contestants entered the gym the morning after the weigh-in expecting their usual beginning-of-the-week pop challenge, they were surprised to see Ali Vincent waiting in Alison Sweeney’s usual spot. Due to the fact that she gave birth right after shooting the weigh-in, Sweeney was taking a little time off with her newborn, and Vincent would be filling her shoes. Vincent has the distinction of being the first female Biggest Loser. Having won the title after being sent home for five weeks, she was the perfect choice to introduce Estella, David, and Nicole, who were sent home at the end of the first week of competition and never returned because their partners had been eliminated.

Now, I don’t want to seem uninspired by Estella and David’s losses (the former more than the latter, since I don’t think David had really lost much since we last saw him), but seeing Nicole walk through the gym was like seeing a stranger walk through the door. She had lost so much weight that she was barely recognizable but for her infectious smile. So, while Stella weighed in first with an incredible 45-pound loss, and David settled for mediocrity with 46, we knew Nicole’s number had to be high — but I don’t think anyone (except Nicole) expected it to be quite so high. Since her first arrival on the ranch, Nicole had lost a jaw-dropping 87 pounds. That amounted to a 32.34 percentage loss — second only to Tara.

The high number was like a beacon of hope for the rest of the episode — Ron would finally get sent packing, Tara would finally be put in her place, and the competition would be refreshed with someone who wasn’t so jaded that every waking thought was consumed with how to beat every other person! Or so I hoped. Nope, sadly, just as quickly as she returned to the ranch, Nicole was sent back home to Brooklyn. And from first glance, girlfriend was doomed before she even participated in a lick of competition.

Because her transformation was so drastic, everyone else on the ranch was seriously freaked out by Nicole’s chances in the competition. Of course, when they each approached her individually to ”welcome” her back, they all went with the ”Holy cow, you’re totally going to inspire me to step up my game now” angle. Well, the ”game” part was true anyway. While some people took the changed dynamic and used it to lose a ton of weight, others used it to scheme and rationalize away their less-than-stellar performances for the week. Nicole, meanwhile, knew she was totally in the running once she heard how she stood in the competition overall, but was utterly clueless about the game-play aspect of the show. She was only on the ranch a week before getting sent home, and the lack of reality show experience (scheming, plotting, and the like) definitely contributed to her downfall. We know this because they showed pretty much every contestant talking about how it was more about the ”game” now, including Nicole herself: ”I’m not just coming back to the ranch, I’m coming back to the game.”

NEXT: The contestants perform a balancing act

Up early for a jog the morning after her return, Nicole ran into Tara outside, who immediately started prattling on about strategy and percentages and other game-play-type things. Judging by her mini-breakdown in front of Jillian later in the day, Tara was totally (rightfully) threatened by Nicole’s presence, and likely not soothed by Jillian’s assertion of ”Honey, you’re manic!”

Meanwhile, Bob had a mini-workout with Sione and Kristin, his two strongest players, where he discussed how dangerous Ron is becoming in the competition. Ron’s clearly only in it to fight for his son, Mike, and would happily throw any other player under the bus if it meant Mike could stay in the competition. As if his spidey senses started tingling at the mention of his name, Ron began having chest pains and was sent to the hospital that afternoon. Though it was scary to see him ill (I might not like the guy, but I want him to lose weight and I definitely don’t want him to get sick or hurt), the hospital scene made for one of my favorite slow-mo montages of the season. However, it was only appropriate to be amused by the slow shots of Ron being pushed on the gurney set to ER-type dramatic music once I learned he’d be okay: After a double-balloon enteroscopy, the doctors found that the pain was due to a bleeding ulcer in the part of his stomach he hasn’t used since his gastric bypass surgery, and patched it right up.

This week’s challenge, hosted by season 6 winner Michelle Aguilar, was a balance exercise: Each person had to stand upright on a platform suspended over a pool while clinging to a rope with only one hand. The platforms were held up with 40 cables, which would be cut down one at a time until one person remained standing. After the first few cuts, Filipe started getting cocky about the ease of the challenge, so Michelle ordered two ropes cut. Mike, who was dubious about his balance skills on solid ground (”I have zero balance standing up. It’s a miracle I can walk.”), fell first, followed by Mr. Boast-a-Lot, who surely regretted his smartass display of hubris only moments before. Laura, Tara, Helen, and Nicole followed the men overboard, until Kristin and Sione were left standing. Finally, after more than an hour and with only nine ropes left, Kristin fell to the water and Sione won a pound advantage at the weigh-in. I’m surprised they didn’t cut to commercial before Kristin fell. Could that have been…gasp…restraint on the part of the BL editors?

Tonight’s Trainer’s Tip was to keep a journal of your calories burned and calories eaten, a move I wholeheartedly agree with: I’m Jean Bentley and I support this message. As someone who’s finally following through on the annual ”lose weight” New Year’s Resolution, I think it’s a pretty valuable tip. I can also get behind the egregious product placement this week, because the act of packing your own food and planning what you’re going to eat is also a great idea, whether you do it in Ziploc brand containers or not. And, since Nicole’s totes my new gym buddy (as you may have read yesterday), I can vouch for the fact that she really does pack all her food and bring it with her to the gym. I never noticed the containers before, however, so I can’t vouch for the Approved Product usage, NBC product placement dudes.

NEXT: Alison Sweeney exposes her superhuman identity and iron-clad work ethic by returning to work less than a week after giving birth

After a beachfront Last Chance Workout, it was time for the night’s weigh-in. Ever the workaholic, Alison Sweeney was back (and definitely glowing in that ”new mom” kinda way) only days after giving birth. Though it was nice to see Ali V. and Michelle looking so fit, hearing Sweeney’s voice announce the contestants as they went up to the scale was a welcome sound. Now, if you hadn’t sensed already that things were about to get crazy, the foreshadowing truck came barreling through the gym right before Nicole weighed in. Alison kept chatting with her about the challenges she faced this week and the routine she kept at home, something we don’t usually see. Now, maybe they do gab for that long before the weigh-in and just don’t show us, but the entire dialogue smacked of ”We’re totally setting you up for your post-show interview right now.”

Sadly, Nicole stepped on the scale, and her number elicited the most exaggerated-yet-genuine slack-jawed/mouth-covered response from everyone in the room: she gained five pounds. FIVE. (This was yet another reveal before the commercial, was that same editor just as sick of the slow-mo footage repeat as I am?) Though she was clearly nervous about her first weigh-in back on the ranch, no one seemed more shocked about the gain than Nicole (and disappointed, too, since she not only gained five pounds but also lost her immunity). Bob chalked the whole thing up to the same stress factor that Jillian said Tara’s suffered from for the past few weeks, and Helen said (in an individual interview) what everyone else was thinking: ”Well, guess I’m safe now!”

Which was true, of course, until Laura ended up gaining a pound, and Ron, who had been pumped full of liquids in the hospital, gained three. On a more positive note, Tara finally passed the 100 mark, Mike had his first double-digit loss in a while (which he attributed to the extra motivation Nicole’s presence gave him), and everyone else landed comfortably above the yellow line. Since Ron gained a higher percentage than Laura did, the former model managed to land right above the line too, even though she gained — something I’m not sure has ever happened before (Has it? Am I wrong? It’s late right now. Remind me in the comments if you can think of another instance.)

Both Nicole and Ron gave concise speeches in the ”beg for your life” appeal to the other contestants. Nicole didn’t want to break down and cry, so she asked everyone to consider the things they had said to her throughout the week about how her presence helped them step up their game. Ron said something smug about having asked them to save his son in week four, and was now asking them to save him — but Mike’s impassioned plea likely aided things along. Tara, ever the helper, told Nicole ”It matters what you say,” but I’d beg to differ. Like it was mentioned about a thousand times previously in the episode, the climate on the ranch at this point in the competition is about playing the game and preserving your own safety. Everyone’s decisions were already made — it didn’t matter what anyone said.

A side note: In one of his interviews, Ron said, ”Some people want to get rid of me, they think I’m controlling things around here.” You know what they say about people thinking things, right Ron? (You don’t? That’s not an actual adage? Well, here’s what I say: they’re only thinking that because it’s true. You know it, I know it, America knows it, but possibly not everyone on the ranch knows it. They will soon, though, once your son is in the top four.)

NEXT: Ron gets angry at someone for doing the same thing he’s been doing for the past 14 episodes

Back to the elimination room: Mike cast his vote first, which obviously went to Nicole, as did Laura’s (she pulled the whole ”Ron needs to be here more” schtick) and Tara’s. Filipe and Sione voted for Ron, which wasn’t surprising, since they had picked Damien and Nicole to be on their team in the very first episode, and Helen ”voted with her heart” for Ron too. Ron, after hearing Sione’s vote, got really upset and said something about how ”people are making these decisions for themselves,” which is possibly the single most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a while. I’m sorry, Ron, what have your decisions been made for? The good of the person you think ”can do well at home,” or the longevity of you and your son in the competition?

With a 3-3 tie, the final vote was down to Kristin. After stuttering and not really saying anything meaningful, she revealed her vote: Nicole. While she tried to pass it off for some other reason, Kristin was clearly just as threatened by Nicole as Tara, and was doing what she thought was the best move to ensure her place in the competition. However, I would not be surprised if Ron has a hand in voting her out next week, since that’s his M.O., and since that clip of Bob telling Sione and Kristin that Ron would totally vote them out if they were up for elimination had to be included in this episode for some reason.

Now, here’s where I’m torn. I love Nicole. I think she’s amazing. She looked great, handled herself with class, and worked incredibly hard. On the other hand, I think Ron is a slimy game player. But I think Nicole would’ve been doomed anyway had she stayed, because everyone was jealous and threatened by her success. And I truly think Ron needs the supervision and regimen that the ranch provides. Plus, he’s clearly not a threat to win the whole shebang, so it’s not like people have to worry about competing with him. So, I’ll begrudgingly say that I think the decision tonight was right, though it pains me that everyone treated Nicole like she wasn’t a member of their cool kids club. I want to see Ron go — and soon. But I think girlfriend’s practically got the consolation $100,000 in her pocket already. So chin up, Nicole, and I’ll totally see you at the gym tomorrow.

Nicole’s post-weigh-in interview was truly tear-worthy, especially when she said she didn’t recognize herself in the mirror at the ranch because she didn’t realize how much weight she’d actually lost: ”It’s not about winning the title, …it’s about how I feel about myself, what I know I’m capable of doing, and the woman that I’ve become. And I really love her.” COME ON, Biggest Loser, are you trying to make me cry? Her transformation moment showed her picking out a new wedding dress with her friends — six sizes smaller than her original size 24. Though she’s a size 12 now, her goal is to fit into a size 8 for her wedding.

I know you all may not have been rooting for Nicole as unabashedly as I was, but did she win you over? What did you think of her plea to stay: ill-advised or quietly confident? Were you sad to see her go before Ron, or do you think she was doomed to go soon either way? Did you get goose bumps when you saw how great she and Estella looked? Were you freaked out or oddly fascinated by the unnecessary shots of the inside of Ron’s intestines? And how in awe are you of Alison Sweeney’s post-baby work ethic?

Episode Recaps

The Biggest Loser

Contestants battle the bulge and each other in the competitive weight-loss series
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