People Staff
September 17, 2008 12:00 AM

The two-hour season premiere The Biggest Loser: Families kicked off last night with the same dignity-sapping formula: the contestants were forced to go shirtless to provide a clear view of tummies spilling over spandex, stretch marks glistening and man boobs jiggling unfettered while they walked to the dreaded scales for the first weigh-in.

The Moment of Truth: You had to feel for Heba, a 30-year-old from North Carolina, who bravely ascended the stage in her orange sports bra only to be told that at 294 lbs. she was the heaviest woman on the show. It can’t be easy realizing you’re the fattest woman on a show full of, well, fat women and men. And doesn’t she know it: “I’m the fattest girl here,” she observed in an interview afterward. But they also don’t mention she’s the tallest woman at 5 ft. 10 in., so in reality she’s probably no worse off than, say, Amy from the Purple team, who checked in at 5 ft. 5 in. and 239 lbs. The purest moment for a Biggest Loser fan is the first weigh-in of the new season. We watch with glee and relief and Schadenfreude knowing our size 14 is like a size two in Ranch land, that a size 16 is comfortable and a size 12 is positively skeletal. In only a few weeks, of course, the contestants will be dropping pounds and growing cheekbones at an alarming rate, and we’ll begin to feel like that person trainers Jillian and Bob hate as we splay out on our couches watching other sweat the pounds away.

On the D-List: The premiere also gave us a glimmer of these contestants’ personalities, because up until the weigh-in we heard a lot of shrieking as Bob and Jillian traveled to the teams’ hometowns to “surprise” them in front of the cameras with news they’d made it onto the show. Soon after we were shown the first contestant interviews … and heard the familiar last-ditch attempts which brought them on to the show: I’m doing it for my kids (wife and husband Vicky and Brady of the Brown team), I’m doing it for my dad (Jerry and daughter Coleen from the Yellow team), I’m doing it because I’ll die otherwise (pretty much all of them. Come to think of it, there were an inordinate number of references to dying in last night’s episode, with several contestants threatened with death due to heart failure, lung failure, liver failure or a myriad other causes. But to be fair, they were also informed that Bob, Jillian and Dr. Huizenga can save them).

Jerry, for example, was touted early on in the episode as one to watch … death watch, that is. It starts with Jillian, who tells him to stay on the treadmill as long as he’s still alive, before going over to shout at his poor self-described “shy” daughter Coleen as she pumps iron: “Think about your father who’s about to drop dead on the treadmill!” Jillian, as she promises early in the episode, is meaner than we’ve seen her in a long time.

Jerry, a 51-year-old police sergeant from Ohio, is not brimming with passion but we get the feeling he’s got heart. When he weighs in at 380 lbs., he makes no over-egged proclamations. He cries a little and says he knows he has to change: “Absolutely have to. There’s no doubt.” He looks beleaguered, and you get the sense he’s silently vowed to lay off the Cheetos.

It gets worse for Jerry when he’s granted an audience with Dr. Huizenga, who calls him “one of the sickest ever to be put on the show.” The doc follows that up with “we’ve got a wall of worry with you. You’ve got every risk factor known in medicine.” Perhaps Dr. Huizenga should be renamed Dr. Hyperbole, which turns out to be fitting because he doesn’t stop there. The goal, he says then, is to transform Jerry from “the sickest person ever into a healthy person.” The sickest person EVER? We aren’t told exactly what Jerry has, but it sounds positively alarming.

Sweat, Spit and Tears: From there they all hit the gym, and Stacey of the green team (along with husband Adam) shows a refreshing humility in an interview before going in: “I was about to pee my pants.” No one pees anyone’s pants, but Ed, who sounds like Putty from Seinfeld and proclaimed host Alison Sweeney “a little hottie” at the top of the show, does drool dramatically and spit up something white.

And if we still didn’t get how hard it was, Tom from Massachusetts informs us in a strong Boston accent, “This isn’t hahd. This is extreme.” And Phillip from the Red team tells us he’s getting through it by going to his happy place.

Onwards and Upwards: The contestants had to run a mile up a hill in searing heat to grab some flags … the loser got a two-pound penalty at the next weigh-in … and the Brown team lost handily. While they were losing, we got a glimpse of Brady’s unpleasant side. “I can’t breathe,” Vicky cried, while her supportive husband says it’s “irritating” he can’t go on without her. Charming. We make a note to watch out for this potential villain. Coleen wins the challenge, and therefore immunity, and it’s a sweet tribute to her dad when she collapses, exhausted, and uttered: “I did this for you, dad.”

Next they’re sent to Huizenga’s dungeon one by one. The doc shows Amy, a smoker, a set of pink plastic (we think) lungs expanding and contracting. Then he shows her a facsimile of HER lungs, which are apparently black and constricted by an endless, interwoven river of yellow fat. You’d never know it to look at her that she had a pulsating alien inside her, but if Dr. Huizenga says so… Then he drops the bomb: She may be 26 years old, but her true biologic age is 47. She looks horrified and we move on to the next victim.

LT (“Little Tom” from Massachusetts), we learn, lives on a Michael Phelpsian diet of double cheeseburgers by day and French fries by night, but without the benefit of vigorous swimming or eight gold medals. He smokes, too, which prompts Dr. Hyperbole to invoke the death threats again. But LT takes it all in stride, keeping his tone chilled and face expressionless.

The last-chance workout is full of standard-issue collapsing and dramatic exclamations. At the end of the day, it’s just another workout at The Ranch. The contestants, though, want us to know it’s especially bad. No doubt to the consternation of mothers everywhere, Heba compares bench pressing to the pain of childbirth, explaining, “There’s no epidural for exercise.”

The Elimination: At the weigh-in, most of the contestants experience double-digit weight losses usually seen in the first week. The Green and Orange teams fall below the line, and the elimination is swift, with Vicky voting for the Green team because they work too hard … 155% too hard, to be exact. From there it’s all downhill for Adam and Stacey when Red votes for Green “with heavy hearts.”

With Green disposed of, we sense a conspiracy if not an alliance brewing. Hmmm, they let the heaviest woman, Heba, stay on with her very heavy husband.

When we next see the Green team, Stacey down to 175 lbs. and her husband Adam is looking fit and handsome. She says their relationship was strengthened by the show and they love each other even more; they’re adorable, and we find ourselves wishing Brown had lost instead of them. –Sara Hammel

Tell us: What did you think of the premiere episode? Which teams are you rooting for? And did you wish Heba lasted longer on the show?


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