Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Biggest Loser Review: Season 14, Episode 8, "It's all about who can kick whose a**"

I have not finished my grading but decided to give myself a break and do this review anyway. I had a distracted, crummy work day yesterday so I thought that giving myself a fun task to do might get me started off on a better day today. As always, spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

A former colleague used to say, "It's all about who can kick whose a**," when trying to explain guy culture to me. Guys, he said, needed to size each other up, decide their relative rankings, and then they could work together. My husband confirmed this for me.  Women don't tend to physically fight each other, or even imagine doing so, and they have different ways to determine their Alpha Female status. Male attention, unfortunately, is one of those ways.

This, to me, explains a lot of the drama of this week.  All along, former NFL player Joe has felt pretty secure in his position as top dog, so he has gotten along with the other men in the house.  There is no one who could even remotely threaten him at this point -- Jeff? Jackson? -- as the top male contestant.  Jeff seems like the kind of guy who has always felt comfortable in the sidekick role, and Jackson has his position as funny gay man, so all the men are happy.

Gina, however, is not happy. She is a lawyer in real life, a top dog position if ever there was one. The other women left on the ranch are all prettier and younger than her, and she doesn't seem to be a natural in the mother role. She is this season's Heel, whether she realizes this or not -- this is the role that she was probably cast to play, as a matter of fact.  Casting is extremely competitive, so it's unlikely that Gina, who is abrasive and insecure, ended up there by accident. I'm sure that in casting, the producers could see that Gina could be relied upon to provide drama.  She does, however, have two things going for her.  She is the current Biggest Loser in the house. That definitely confers its own status on the show. And she has figured out how to get plenty of attention from the male trainers -- she fails on purpose so she can throw temper tantrums. She blames a really minor comment Joe makes for making her feel bad, when it's obvious that she is jealous of him because of his unchallenged position as Big Man on Campus.  Dolvett and Bob, for some reason, rush to prop her up, making the other contestants dislike her more but making her happy because she is getting their undivided attention.  Jillian, to her credit, is having none of it.

Alex and Gina both exhibit similar behaviors, but for different reasons. Gina fails on purpose because she needs attention and has figured out that failing is a way to get Self-Esteem Champions Bob and Dolvett to lavish her with praise and individual training.  Alex fails, it turns out, because she has never felt good enough for her family and has become accustomed to her Loser role. 

Interestingly, in the Self-Compassion book I'm reading, author Kristin Neff gives an explanation for why people denigrate themselves in front of others. As social beings, we need to feel that we belong. Being top dog is one way to win acceptance, but taking a submissive role also guarantees us a spot at the table. In clips from Alex's audition tape, we see her in her bathing suit next to mom and sister in bikinis. I think that Alex realizes that her mom and sister are going to feel threatened by her if she comes home pretty and thin and is no longer bottom dog.  Jeff, in fact, may have the same issue. Jeff and Francelina, we find out, are having a little romance, so he seems to have decided that if he can't fit in with his former wolf pack, he will just start a new one.

All of these group dynamics are in the spotlight this week, because the players can all stay on the ranch if they manage, as a group, to meet a pretty high weight goal. It starts at 70 pounds (10 pounds per person), but the kids come on the ranch to help them win a lower goal through a calorie quiz and a physical fitness test.  The kids do pretty well with the calorie quiz, but it's fun to see them smash their past performance record in the physical fitness tasks.  Biingo crushes his situp and pushup records, Lindsay aces the pull-ups (more of a jump-up) and the shuttle run. Sunny beats her former mile time by 3 minutes.  The goal becomes 61 pounds.

The contestants also get to win another 10 pounds off by working together in one of the Biggest Loser's favorite kinds of challenges, a digging challenge in giant sand piles. The contestants manage to work together pretty well, mostly because Gina decides she can best help by staying out of the way. At one point, she falls down (again, I think she's faking) and Joe picks her up. Joe used to play in the NFL, so I'm sure he worked with plenty of primadonnas and drama queens in his time and has had plenty of practice putting aside his personal feelings to serve the team goal.  

One of the most exciting parts of this episode is the high ropes challenge, an activity ostensibly introduced to build team spirit, but really there to take advantage of the various dramatic situations unfolding on the ranch. The challenge involves two people balancing on high wires who have to lean into each other to keep from falling.  The challenge gets harder because the wires get further apart, forcing the pair to lean harder and further into each other.  Bob and Dolvett, rival male trainers, get to try it together. We know from past episodes that Bob hates heights, and we also get the sense that he's not sure he can trust Dolvett. Jillian and Alex, who have had some conflicts but have seemed to resolve them, get to work together. Francelina and Jeff, romantic partners, have to trust each other to provide support -- nice metaphor, eh?  I know from my own experience that when you are overweight, you are desperately afraid of leaning your weight on anyone for fear that it will be too much, and that seemed to be their biggest problem. And, of course, Joe and Gina get matched up. Gina seems surprised that this would happen.  Of course it did. Joe takes it in stride. I think that it is probably harder because Gina is extremely short and Joe is a tall guy.  They do pretty well and it does seem to, at least temporarily, improve their relationship.

What has become apparent in this episode, however, is that this group of people is not working well as a team. The power struggles and drama seem to have sabotaged the group's weight loss -- the numbers are lower than expected for all of them.  I wondered, actually, if there were people who threw the weigh-in in the hopes of getting rid of a troublesome team member. If that was the goal, though, it doesn't work. As usual, it's one of the nice, supportive people who goes home.  The good thing is that the eliminated player seems happy and successful and is pursuing some ambitious goals.


  1. 8:58 AM

    I'm glad you took a break from grading because I loved the review. Generally I feel bad and tend to side with the victim. A role Gina tends to throw herself into at every chance (falling, crying, "but he said he hates lawyers" talk). But her doing this is so obviously transparent that it's actually annoying.
    At the beginning of every episode she seems to have an emotional breakdown that requires an immense amount of attention and by the end of the episode she seems to have a revelation about how she is in fact worth it. Making for good TV, I'm sure but I can only imagine how her cast mates must see her.

    1. 11:00 AM

      I agree, and thanks for the comment!

  • 1:06 PM

    I agree with all you wrote and think you did an outstanding job. I have one thing to add. I think Gina also has a HUGE immaturity thing going. I think this is true for most of us. We are no immature in all areas, but we have some areas where we just did not move on in our developmental process. My therapist talks about this a lot. Again not talking in all areas. Just talking about specific unresolved, not fully developed issues. I think it is also true that in other areas we had to mature too much or take on more responsibility than we should have had to at that age. I also think that Gina probably needs to be on meds to even her out. I suspect that she is probably bipolar to some degree.

  • 4:16 PM

    P.S. For viewers wondering about that memorial at the end of the episode, with the name David Gibbs and a photo of a man standing in front of a helicopter with "The Biggest Loser" logo on it: Gibbs was one of three people killed earlier this month when a helicopter crashed during filming of a Discovery Channel reality series. He had also worked on "The Amazing Race," "Monday Night Football," and "Star Trek: Insurrection," among other projects.

    1. 5:12 PM

      Oh, I did wonder. Thanks for posting that.

  • 6:42 PM

    Jen what a brilliant review! Such great insights here. I liked that they showed a lot of the nitty gritty with Jillian going bonkers in the gym then talking to Alex about the WHY of her behaviour. That's a lot more deeper stuff than they've showed before.

    1. 7:43 PM

      I really liked that too. But I'm a total Jillian Fangirl, of course.

    2. 7:10 AM

      I was still watching the episode as I left the above comment (I couldn't wait til the end to come read what you'd written ;) ) so after i wrote that came the Weigh In scene. i liked seeing a united front from the trainers there, although i'm sure the recipient thought they were being picked on!

      but it felt like we got to see the passion and effort these trainers put in. and i also felt we got to see that compassionate side of jillian that you really get from her podcast. like, actual sentences with many words in the them, not just tiny wee soundbites! even dolvett seemed less soundbitey, which is quite interesting!

  • 11:57 AM

    Great review! I haven't watched this week's episode yet (I plan to tonight - we DVR it and watch it together as a family the first chance we get) so I sped right by that review - I didn't want to accidentally read any spoilers!

    Gina's antics are really old. She seems to be the only one determined to make the program as drama-filled as possible. Of course, the show is edited to make it as intersting as possible and maybe what we see isn't a fair representation. Maybe. :-)


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07