The trainers catch up with the remaining four at home and then make them run a marathon

By Darren Franich
Updated December 02, 2009 at 05:00 PM EST
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Credit: Chris Haston/NBC
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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:

Rudy

”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

Liz

When Liz arrived back home in Chapel Hill, TN, there was a gang of cheerleaders screaming her name, and her husband, Jimmy (who, it must be said, looks exactly like Dr. Phil) gave her a big hug. I was all set for some fun southern times with Grandma Cuss.

Instead, we saw Liz talk to Jimmy openly about the marital problems she’s been hinting at all season. ”We had issues,” she told him. ”I had become so bitter, so resentful, so angry.” Jimmy, who seems like a man of few words, said simply, ”I want you to fall in love with me again.” He told the camera, ”That’s all that really matters when you get right down to it. We don’t have a lot…” but then he shook his head, and stood up.

This episode was full of little moments like that; half-finished phrases that the boom mikes seemed to miss on purpose. Especially in Liz’ scenes, the whole thing started to feel a little bit like a Raymond Carver short story.

That’s about when Jillian showed up, looking completely out of place in the woods. The trainer seemed completely flabbergasted that Liz drove out to a gym that was hours away. ”You do a road trip to the gym? You’re a better woman than me.” The show made it look like (and Jillian clearly believed) that Liz was living by herself on Mars. ”You’re totally isolated, you’re in this bubble, you’re all by yourself,” Jillian said.

To the camera, Jillian chalked up Liz’ marital discord to her new health: ”It’s tough for anybody in a couple dynamic that gets healthy when the other one isn’t on the bus.” I love that phrase: a decades-long marriage is ”a couple dynamic.” On Jillian’s spin-off show, they need to give her a gorilla sidekick, and the gorilla needs to be dressed up in a tweed jacket and nerd glasses, and it needs to be able to use sign language to teach children about the importance of proper nutrition, but it also must occasionally fly into a gorilla rage and scare children into exercising. Because that is Jillian Michaels’ spirit animal.

Amanda

I’m putting down the Haterade: I thought Amanda emerged last night as a charming human being. Certainly, she was a million miles away from the evil-eyed, weepy-voiced android we’ve gotten used to lately. I thought that Amanda would be the first person to fall off the weight wagon when she got home. I was wrong.

I went for an easy joke last week about Amanda’s tearful letter-writing to Bob, but something about her excitement at seeing him again during his visit won me over. ”What’s it really been like, being home?” he said. She breathlessly laid out the troubles of the everyday: ”Everything counts up real quick, and everything adds up on your shoulders, but I try every day, four to six hours of working out.” Where was this charmingly manic person all season?

I think that Bob has become a kind of therapist-mentor for Amanda, sort of a combination of Mr. Miyagi and Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting. Amanda and Bob’s chirpy-perky factor can sometimes be unbearable (there’s a reason why they’re always paired together for the Extra Gum product placement), but seeing her run religiously during the long sixty days at home, rain or shine, I grew to respect her. Am I crazy, viewers? Or did we see a more human side of America’s Choice last night?

NEXT: Danny’s changing mindset

Danny

Did anyone watch the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? I was with my family in a semi-abandoned restaurant that was probably just playing the game because there was nothing better on. It was the Boise State Broncos versus the Oklahoma Sooners, two teams I had never heard of before and would never notice again.

Oklahoma was favored, but Boise State leapt out the gate with two touchdowns in the first quarter. The rest of the game was a kind of hyper-real back-and-forth that usually only happens in great sports films or highly unrealistic sports videogames: there were interceptions, there were questionable flags thrown, there were trick plays that aren’t supposed to ever work. I’m not explaining it well because I barely understand football (check out the wikipedia entry). Just understand that, by the time that the game went to overtime, our entire restaurant, waiters and bartenders and families, was watching with rapt attention.

There was something magical and perfect about the game; it was possible to root for both teams, to feel joy and yet anger about every madcap play. After the game was over, the running back who scored the final decisive two-point conversion walked over to his head-cheerleader girlfriend, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry him. It was like all the entropic chaos of human existence had, in this one random College Bowl game (brought to you by Tostitos!), achieved an impeccable order. It felt like the perfect commixture of luck and fate, like seeing God in a mathematical proof.

That’s the vibe that I’m getting from Danny in these closing episodes. He’s never been a freakishly competitive speedfreak like Allen or Rudy, but also unlike them, he didn’t spend most of the game protected by friends. Recall, there was a time when he was just one immunity challenge away from being expelled by the Orange/Pink Youth Mafia.

At the same time, Danny’s scenes in last night’s episode were incredibly emotional without every dropping into Shay-level mawkishness. As he greeted all his well-wishers at home in Broken Arrow, OK, he kept the focus on his family: ”I left on a journey, and my wife held down the line while I was a kite and flew high.” (I demand a season finale Danny concert! Demand it!) He held out a box, and through tears, asked his wife to renew their vows.

Danny’s the one contestant this season who’s described his obesity as a back-and-forth lifestyle. ”I was an obese child to thin, to obese, to thin… I’ve gone back and forth a few times through this.” That may lend him a slightly more mature air. While Rudy can glory in the fact that he’s never been this thin since high school, Danny has to skeptically note that it’s ”not just about losing the weight, it’s about getting your mind right.”

I’m pulling for this guy. He was open, when Jillian visited, about the troubles he was facing in everyday life: ”Here, I’ve got to integrate my family into my life. I’m coming back, but I’m still in The Biggest Loser.” His wife, for her part, seemed to be struggling with the newer, thinner, brown-haired Danny: ”I never felt like I was searching for validation before now.”

What did you think of that moment, viewers? It’s obviously not in the show’s best interest, but I like that the producers are pretty open about just how much being on The Biggest Loser can upset your personal life. At times, the contestants (especially the older ones with families) almost seem a bit like war veterans, who actually miss all the emotional and physical turmoil of the ranch when they have to come home.

But I think Danny and his wife are strong. When the trainers called Danny a hero for his weight loss, his wife turned to him and said, ”They said you’re a hero, but you’ve always been that. You’ve always been that.”

NEXT: Bringing the big numbers

The Marathon

Was anyone surprised by the marathon? When Ali announced that the prize would be the same for everyone ($10,000 to charity for finishing the race) any hint of competition left the room. But even though what followed wasn’t surprising, it was pretty moving.

Rudy was predictably galactic in his expectations. ”I don’t want to have to walk. I would like to finish jogging, and I would like to do it in under five and a half hours.” He pulled away from the other contestants almost immediately. At Mile 13, his old Blue teammate Dina showed up to finish the second half with him. ”You’re on the left, you’re always on the left,” said Rudy, like his old partner had never left. RuDina forever!

With a few miles left, the big man’s spirits were flagging, but Dina wouldn’t let him break his pledge: ”Rudy’s not a walker,” she said. ”Pretty soon I am,” he argued. ”Oh no, you’re not.” And he wasn’t. He reached the end at 5:12:41. Bob, summing up Rudy’s marathon and his season: ”Dude. Unbelievable.”

Amanda continued her last-quarter surprise by posting a pretty, pretty good showing in the marathon. At one point, she seemed ready to quit: ”I can’t even feel my legs. I can’t even feel them.” But waiting for her at mile 25 was Bob, ready to talk her through the last miles. She finished the marathon at 5:28:27, which is only sixteen minutes behind Rudy, which leads me to believe that most of Amanda’s struggles were all in the editing.

Danny and Liz were with each other from the start. Liz explained that they had an understanding: ”If I’m holding you back, you go on.” Yeah, right! On the long run from Marathon to Athens, these two old teammates spoke of old times: ”First two weeks on the ranch, you were so scared!” Danny remembered. They complained about failing bones. Danny: ”My hip won’t let me.” Liz: ”My knee won’t either.”

There was a lot of talk of quitting. They stopped off at the hydration station, iced their knees and tied their shins. They got back on the road, and the whole world shrank to two people and a few long miles. Danny: ”The day you picked me as your partner was the day we were gonna stick together through the end of this.”

Danny and Liz locked arms to cross the finish line. 6:55:22 for the both of them. Not too shabby, Brown team.

The Weigh-In

Liz and Amanda both lost 16 pounds, the definition of not bad. Danny lost a monstrous 59 pounds: I believe he screamed ”Killed it!” That’s about one pound per day. I think Danny’s transformation is the most vivid of the remaining contestants. I mean, people! The man has grown a square jaw!

Rudy’s showing was, by comparison, merely awesome: 43 pounds. ”I worked for every one of them,” he said, though he admitted, ”I’ve got a lot of work to do before the finale.”

That left Amanda and Liz under the yellow line, begging America for clemency. What did you think of their speeches, viewers? Were you swayed by Liz, who showed quite a bit more energy than she usually has in her many, many Yellow Line speeches? Or, like me, did this episode go a long way toward humanizing Amanda for you? I still haven’t decided who to vote for, and I don’t quite care; I think this is a Rudy/Danny battle all the way, and I’m pretty excited to see it go down next week. How about you?

Episode Recaps

The Biggest Loser

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