'The Biggest Loser: Couples' trainers not fans of viewer voting twist
By Christopher Rocchio, 04/07/2008
Home viewers might be happy that they'll play a role in determining one of The Biggest Loser: Couples' three finalists, however the same can't be said for the NBC reality weight-loss series' two fifth-season trainers.
"I was disappointed because The Biggest Loser's not a popularity contest. It's about numbers," Jillian Michaels told reporters during a Friday conference call. "I was just disappointed."
However instead of the two contestants above the yellow line voting to determine which contestant is eliminated, host Allison Sweeney will reveal that -- for the first time in The Biggest Loser history -- home viewer votes will determine the show's third finalist.
"I think that it's a really tricky thing because America hasn't seen everything that all these four contestants have gone through," said Bob Harper. "I'm kind of uncomfortable about it because they don't have all the information. I think we all talk about needing information, and it's just if they get all what they've seen on the show, it's just still so much more than that."
The Biggest Loser executive producer Mark Koops disagreed with Michaels' description of the home viewer vote as a popularity contest.
"This isn't -- in my opinion -- turning it into a popularity contest," said Koops. "We're laying out there -- as you'll see in the final show before the finale towards the end -- we're laying out the facts to the audience, the incredible journeys that the two people bellow the yellow line have been on. So we're laying it out there. I think from that routine it will be enough to make an informed decision, and I think equally there's not one of them that does not deserve to be in the final three."
Koops said producers are simply taking the final four -- Alison Vincent, Kelly Fields, Mark Kruger, and Roger Schultz -- and allowing viewers to be the ones to decide which personally inspires them.
"I think that's what this show is about. It is about inspiring not only themselves, but the public," said Koops. "Just because they had one bad week out 15, should that be the reason they go home? Because they're the biggest threat? Or should they go home because they haven't been as inspirational?... One bad week shouldn't necessarily determine your fate. So what better way than letting the people who have been watching the show -- who have been on that rollercoaster with them -- say, 'I want Ali, Kelly, Mark, [or] Roger -- they deserve that final spot in the finals.'"
However Michaels added she also wasn't pleased that the four finalists had no idea about the twist until it was revealed to them at the penultimate weigh-in, which will air during Tuesday night's broadcast.
"They didn't [know this twist], which is also disappointing because they're playing this game based on a set of rules that they didn't even know," she explained. "Maybe if they had known that, they might have played the game differently, they might have done different things, they might have used different strategies, they might have behaved differently. So for that reason I also didn't think it was fair. I don't get it, personally."
Michaels said the trainers were also unaware of the twist during the season -- so making it even "more disappointing" about the vote is that she and Harper were unable to use that knowledge as "strategy" to potentially help deliver The Biggest Loser's first ever female winner.
"Women need to use that strategy, and they've played under that pretense and then it's taken away from them without knowledge and that's why it's -- for me -- discouraging," she said.
Immediately following the conclusion of Tuesday's penultimate episode broadcast at 10PM ET, home viewers will have a 48-hour window to vote via NBC's website for one of the two contestants below the yellow line.
"With the America votes, I think after 15 weeks -- four weeks away from home -- you'd probably tell your fans to tune in because the results are incredible. It's an incredible story," said Koops. "I think the two people who fall below the yellow line, it will shock and surprise everybody and [they'll] get their chance to tell America why they deserve to make it... It's incredibly powerful and speaks to the effort they put in and gives them the chance to not be sent home because they were the biggest threat or may be the biggest threat. It gives viewers the chance to really make a positive decision as opposed to a negative decision."
The contestant who receives the most home viewer votes will then be revealed during the first five minutes of The Biggest Loser: Couples' live finale broadcast on Tuesday, April 15 at 8PM ET/PT.
After the identity of the third finalist is revealed, all three finalists will participate in one last weigh-in and the finalist who posts the highest weight-loss percentage since the start of the competition will claim the show's $250,000 grand prize.
"At the end of last cycle, did Neil deserve to go home in that final vote given the success he had, given the fact that he set records, given the fact that he considerably out-performed the three female finalists," asked Koops, who added that producers see the way viewers "passionately" watch the show and thus decided to give them a say.
"Let them have a place in the argument," he said. "I hear Bob and Jillian's concerns, but I have nothing but faith and belief that in the end, America will choose the man or woman who is most deserving, and I think it's going to make for spectacular TV [on Tuesday] and then a great reveal in the first five minutes of the finale."
In addition, Koops said the twist wasn't conceived during filming for the fifth season and was something that has been planned all along.
"We definitely did go in with a very clear direction. We knew we were going to do America's vote right from the start of the season, regardless of who the final four was," he explained. "Obviously there are times when we will change creative or maybe make a decision based off where it's going. Generally the reality is better than anything we could come up with. There were definitely twists that were going to happen that we took out because we have such an incredible dynamic."
For example, Koops said when Mark went home for the first time that was a "moment we couldn't have constructed" despite the fact it apparently wasn't supposed to play out that way.
"There was going to be a twist at that point, which we decided not to play because the reality was so much stronger," said Koops.
Michaels, who had previously cited her unhappiness with the show's editing as her reason for originally departing after the show's second season, said that's the sole reason she watches The Biggest Loser episode broadcasts -- to see if the reality of what occurred matches up with what makes it on air.
"I do actually watch the show for that very reason -- because I need to see how it's being edited," she said. "With that said, I think honestly for the most part, [the viewers] are getting an accurate interpretation. There are a few things that I had some issues with this year with regards to me. Like when I got upset this year defending [Brittany Aberle], there were other things going on, which I didn't feel were portrayed clearly. It is what it is. I learned my lesson. With that said, I think for the most part this has been a more accurate season than any other. I'm actually grateful for that."
One thing Michaels isn't grateful of is The Biggest Loser's strategic component, a fact that is well-known to viewers since she and Harper complain about it in various episodes. Michaels said it's "really hard" to balance The Biggest Loser's strategic elements with her desire to simply get the contestants living a healthy lifestyle.
"I absolutely hate the game component, and I think that's why when they split the [fifth-season couples] up, I was so upset," she explained. "I don't want to be a part of strategizing. I don't want to be a part of any of that. I want them to do all that and I just want to get them all healthy and go home."
However once Michaels found herself training what she described as a team of "underdogs" who were "getting picked off," she didn't really have any options when it came to succumbing to strategy.
"Then I have no choice. They're coming in saying, 'You've got to help us Jill! Help us! Help us stay here, we need to be here!'" she said. "Then you're invested beyond where you want to be... It's definitely hard. If I could do away with it I would."
Michaels also isn't a big fan of The Biggest Loser's sometimes painfully obvious product placement, although Koops said it is something that cannot be avoided.
"It is -- no pun intended -- part of the reality of where television has been moving to in the 21st century," he said. "I think there's always room for improvement. But at the same time, we also make sure the partners we pick -- who are also out there helping promote the show and promote a healthy and active lifestyle -- we're on the same message with them."
Koops described it as a "selective process" as to which sponsors are used and said both the trainers and contestants must "feel comfortable" if asked to pitch a product.
"It's all just part of trying to provide information to the viewer and from that they can make their own decision," said Koops. "The long and short of it is obviously you're often driven by the network in collaborating with who the sponsors are. I don't think I've ever sat down and told the contestants absolutely they have to do anything."
While that may be true, Michaels wanted to make it clear she and Harper aren't paid spokespeople.
"Bob and I do not get paid for the [product] integration. I don't want people to think that we are taking money for them," she said. "The reason we participate in them is because it's been explained to us that they finance the show. Without the integrations, there probably would be no The Biggest Loser. It comes back to the greater good."
Michaels gave the example of how she was hesitant when she learned Ziploc was a sponsor since she doesn't microwave food in plastic bags. While she told the producers, "I'm not doing it," they had her meet with a Ziploc executive who explained that using the product doesn't affect the food.
"They constantly are taking into account our concerns. If it's really something we don't like, I don't have to do it," said Michaels. "If it's something that's totally egregious, we won't do it. They won't be sponsors of the show. We do it to keep the show on the air. The show is also so much positives, nothing is 100% perfect in this world. You've got to have trade-offs."