Having difficulty losing weight is an experience most people can relate to. NBC’s The Biggest Loser has been helping people reach their goals for 16 seasons now and while the show is often touching, some past contestants claim it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
On-screen, we watch the stars of the show battling to regain their health and take control of their lives by taking advantage of the industry’s most elite athletic trainers. Yes, the trainers can be harsh at times, but they get results. Contestants often become emotional and reveal their own very personal reasons for wanting to lose weight and viewers cry right along with them.
For every Biggest Loser winner who praises the show for saving their life, there’s another competitor who isn’t as happy with what went down during their participation. We see the triumphs and tribulations as they unfold before us on the neatly packaged show, but what we don’t see is the scary, gross and sometimes sad things that happen behind the scenes of the program. Several former contestants have pulled back the curtain on what they claim really happens during production and some of it is just downright crazy.
Here are some of the harshest things contestants say they have endured.
1. They are cut off from their families
Season 3 contestant Kai Hibbard says that she wasn’t allowed to call home for six weeks at a time, according to The Wrap. When she was finally able to speak to her family, it was a five-minute phone call.
2. They’re not allowed to leave production for holidays
“When it was Christmas break, the crew and producers all took 10 days off,” 2008 contestant Andrew Costello told an Australian news outlet last year. “Everyone left, everything stopped. So while they enjoyed Christmas with their families, all the contestants sat in the White House with a security guard and a supervisor. We were not allowed to leave the house and we only got five minutes each to call our partners on Christmas Day… It was a very sad and depressing 10 days, but I signed up for the TV show so I can’t really complain.”
3. They’re aren’t allowed to be part of the outside world
The show aims to maintain every contestants focus strictly on weight loss and it’s something that’s strictly enforced. “Four-and-a-half months is a long time to go without reading a paper, watching TV, driving a car or using money,” Costello said. “In fact, it’s very similar to being in prison, except the inmates are fatter.”
Season 1 winner Ryan C. Benson admits that he wanted to win so badly that he resorted to starving himself by only existing for a prolonged period time on the master cleanse, which is basically consuming a mixture of water, maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper and nothing else. Benson says he was in such bad shape by the show’s end he was urinating blood, according to The New York Times.
5. Forced to exercise until they collapse
Hibbard calls the amounts of time that contestants are forced to exercise extreme and unhealthy. She also claims that the show’s trainers take joy in the competitors’ pain. “They’d get a sick pleasure out of it,” she told The Wrap. “They’d say, ‘It’s because you’re fat. Look at the fat you have on you.’ And that was our fault, so that was our punishment.”
6. Public scrutiny
For some contestants, the misery doesn’t end once the show is wrapped, and some former contestants say people can be cruel when it comes to their weight loss. “I have people that come in to speaking engagements and the only reason they came, they don’t want to hear what I have to say, they just want to see if I gained the weight back,” Ken Coleman of Season 3 told weightymatters.ca. Hibbard has had similar experiences. “I’m a grown adult and it’s been almost seven years [since her season] and literally less than a month ago, I had a complete stranger come up to me in the grocery store, look at my cart, and ask me whether I should be buying the ice cream that’s in it.”
7. Unfair editing
When contestant Jeremy Britt met with lawyers on-camera in 2008, he didn’t know that the footage would quickly circulate the internet and portray him in a not-so-great light. “I mean honestly, I kind of felt like they made me out to look kind of dumb, if you will,” Britt told Digital Spy in 2012. “That was far from how it actually [was].”
8. They’re only allowed to eat foods provided by the show’s sponsors
According to Hibbard, you are very specifically told what you can and cannot eat. “Your grocery list is approved by your trainer,” she said to The Wrap. “My season had a lot of Franken-foods: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, Kraft fat-free cheese, Rockstar Energy drinks, Jell-O.”
9. They have to work out with no music!
“We have iPods and music when the cameras aren’t there, but when cameras were actually on us, we just had to get our asses kicked with no music, which was miserable,” Season 4 contestant Nicole Michalik said to A.V. Club in in 2013.