The show's heaviest crew ever starts their journey on season 8 and an old face returns

The Biggest Loser
Credit: Dave Bjerke/NBC
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The Biggest Loser is inspirational, but only because it’s secretly the bleakest show on television. Sean, a youth pastor, began the season 8 premiere explaining that he was on the show for his children – “If I go, they won’t remember me.” Death is a vivid danger for the unhealthy contestants, which makes Loser, in my opinion, a more tensely exciting viewing experience than a show like Survivor, where the only real danger is that the contestants (mostly model-perfect wannabe actors) might not last long enough to become D-list celebrities.

The season premiere began with a surprise challenge for the contestants. (Sean, this season’s quote fountain, described his feelings: “Nerves and excitement wrapped up in the unknown.”) The challenge: run the last mile of last season’s Biggest Loser marathon. “You’ll be following in the season 7 finalists’ footsteps,” said host Ali Sweeney. The cast lined up at the starting line and then…”Hold It!” said Ali. “We’ve got ANOTHER surprise.”

Yes, as part of this season’s Second Chances theme, season 7’s Daniel Wright was back to finish what he started. (I think he actually said that.) I have mixed feelings. Bringing in someone who’s already experienced the Jillian Michaels Boot Camp is patently unfair to the newbies, which became even more obvious when Daniel blew threw the mile-thon in 13 minutes while everyone else wheezed along. I’m not denying that Daniel has an amazing personal drive — between seasons, the exuberant Loser beat diabetes and lost over 100 pounds. But is it me, or did that exuberance start to seem a bit smarmy next to all the other, brand new contestants?

The race began with supermom Tracey speeding off to beat Daniel (henceforth known as Agent Orange.) The mile-thon quickly became a slow-motion music montage as the contestants struggled to keep going, climaxing with Tracey’s dramatic collapse on the shore. The other contestants carried her over the finish line like a fallen Viking queen, before a helicopter flew her away. (Also hospital bound: Coach Mo, the oldest participant.)

Back at the ranch the other participants swapped backstories. Social worker Shay had been homeless and living on the streets with an addict mother and spent her teens in foster care. Dina can’t get pregnant “because of my weight.” But Abby, a high school teacher, had the most tragic story: her family died in a fatal car accident. Tears flowed. (Sean, in the understatement of the year: “Abby’s story punched me in the face.”)

The Losers paired off in teams (bad sign: Alexandra and Julio were the last ones picked), then went to the Biggest Loser Gym for a weigh-in which prompted Jillian to point out, ruefully, “We’ve never had a crew of contestants this big.” Sure enough, Shay entered the record books as the biggest Biggest Loser ever at 476 pounds. “That’s 476 reasons why I’m here,” she cried out. Hooray! She’s my number 2 seed.

NEXT: Medical intervention

I’m a bit skeptical about the decision to have Bob and Jillian coach everyone this season — it seems to cut down on the spirit of competition — but that definitely brings out the trainers’ whole good cop/bad cop approach to weight loss. Example: Shay couldn’t handle one workout and begged to leave. Jillian’s succinct appraisal of Shay’s naysaying: “It bores me!” After a tense face-off, Shay walked outside for a stairway cry session.

Jillian had a game plan — ignore Shay and let her come back in on her own. “Let’s give her a day,” said Jillian. Mr. Nice Guy Bob, flabbergasted, negotiated that down to an hour. (Sure enough, Shay walked back in a few minutes later.) At their best, Jillian and Bob are like Simon Cowell and Tim Gunn on the same show. (Ali Sweeney can be Tom Bergeron.)

The Losers went to see resident Biggest Loser doctor in his magical land of medical mystery. I like Dr. Huizenga — he’s like Richard Simmons, M.D. — but this interlude felt repetitive, except for the best/worst moment in Biggest Loser history. Dr. Huizenga chastised Sean for not admitting to his medical problems. Sean: “It’s not like I have Type 2 Diabetes.” Dr. Huizenga: “You DO have type 2 Diabetes.” Sean responded appropriately to the news.

The Last Chance workout featured a couple vintage Jillianisms. Jillian to Allen the firefighter: “That’s right, Allen, you’re gonna be my bitch this season.” Jillian to near-unconscious Julio: “Every time you lay down, I’m gonna think, ‘Dead Father.'” Also, for one of the exercises, were the Losers pulling Jillian along behind them, as if they were chariot horses? Is this exercise actually helpful, and if so, who’d like to be my new gym mate?

At the final weigh-in, Coach Mo carried the fate of the purple team on his back, since Tracey was still in the hospital. Success! He lost 19 pounds. The former college football/basketball double threat felt like his old self again (and became my number 1 seed for ultimate victory). Julio and Alexandra fell below the yellow line (mostly because of Julio) and had to each plead their case to a jury of their fellow losers.

The debate came down to a peculiar Catch-22. Alexandra was clearly a more energetic competitor, but for some people, that meant she should go home, because she’d be more likely to lose weight on her own. Whereas Julio, who had lost far fewer pounds, clearly needed to stay on the show. Julio ratcheted up the sympathy by playing the “I have daughters who love me” card.

Thus, Alexandra was sent home because she was too awesome and childless. Was anyone else shocked and offended by this? Julio has a lot to live up to, but I’m not too optimistic about his chances.

The people I AM optimistic about: Coach Mo, Shay, Rudy, and Dina (henceforth RuDina or DiDy), and Rebecca. The people I think won’t last long: Julio and Amanda. The person I don’t like but who will probably stick around for a while: Agent Orange. Person who’s guaranteed to be this season’s inspirational tearjerking “Chariots of Fire” sensation: Abby.

Episode Recaps

The Biggest Loser

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