Just one workout into the newest season of NBC’s The Biggest Loser: Couples, and already there’s one ambulance, many frayed nerves and a river of tears. “You go from zero to 100 miles an hour in your first day,” says trainer Bob Harper, who adds that the cast—which includes the heaviest man, heaviest woman and oldest couple yet to compete—”have inspired us all.”
For this season, which began taping in September, some contestants will work out at home away from the show’s strict supervision. “When they explore what is psychologically motivating them to overeat,” says trainer Jillian Michaels, “they will have a much better chance to fix it.” Here, meet some of the show’s most intriguing stars.
THE BUBBLY BLONDES
HELEN PHILLIPS and SHANON THOMAS
MOM AND DAUGHTER, AGES 47 AND 29
“The greatest thing about my mom is that she is good at motivating me, but we drive each other crazy at the same time,” says Shanon, 283 lbs. Wisecracks (like mother calling daughter a “beeyotch”) aside, “you’re going to see love, compassion and support,” says Helen, 257 lbs., who is also trying to quit smoking. “Before I came here, 20 minutes on the treadmill was, ‘Boy, I worked out today!'” says Shanon. “My body is in second gear, but my mind is in fifth. I am ready to change.”
THE OLDEST COUPLE
ESTELLA and GERALD “JERRY” HAYES
MARRIED, BOTH AGE 63
The 369-lb. Jerry passed out during his first workout—but was cleared to continue with limitations. He and his 242-lb. wife of 41 years had to pass medical evaluations, including MRIs. “I’ve done senior aerobics, but it doesn’t qualify on the same level as elliptical trainers and treadmills!” says Estella.
THE HEAVIEST TEEN
DAVID LEE and DANIEL WRIGHT
FRIENDS, AGES 23 AND 19
At 454 lbs., Daniel is the show’s largest contestant ever. “I want to lose 200 lbs.,” he says. “I would like to fit at the desk in college, to start dating and living my life as a normal 19-year-old.” Says 393-lb. David of their workouts: “I’m about to pass out, but I see him still going, still kicking, and it’s a big inspiration.”
LOSING AT HOME
As a twist this season, one member from each of several teams is sent home to drop the pounds. That’s where Carla Triplett, 37—at 379 lbs. the heaviest woman ever to compete on the show—wound up after the Jan. 6 premiere. “There have been no hang-ups,” says an upbeat Carla, whose friend Joelle Gwynn, 41 and 309 lbs., stayed on the show’s ranch. Carla now trains at a local gym, and her husband, Lenny, has turned their basement into a rec room with an elliptical machine and a weight bench. “He makes sure I work out!” she says.