You Can’t Cut Corners, Biggest Loser

I enjoy watching/making fun of/rooting for the chubby contestants from The Biggest Loser, but this show really knows how to piss off an athlete. In last night’s episode, previous contestant Tara (the girl with the weirdly spaced teeth who won more challenges than any other contestant in show history) returned to tow a car alongside the current season’s cast of shrinking folks. She mentioned a new charity she set up and then dropped the bomb that she would be competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona this fall.

I’m all for these folks feeling empowered and strong and getting into good shape, but fast-tracking Biggest Loser contestants into elite races is ridiculous. Just because they’re a quasi-celebrity doesn’t mean they should be able to bypass the stringent qualification requirements or shouldn’t have to throw their name into the lottery and hope, like thousands of other athletes do every year, that they get chosen. To me, letting a Biggest Loser contestant do Kona or “run” the Boston Marathon is a slap in the face to the hard working athletes who bust their butts to train and qualify for these races.

I know the argument is that they’re inspiring people to get off the couch and get in shape, but the same point can be made by having them sign up for a regular Ironman event or marathon. The majority of these alumni can’t qualify for Boston or Kona. Hell, most fit people can’t qualify, yet NBC is telling us that all we have to do is become morbidly obese, get on a TV show and let a couple of melodramatic trainers scream at us while we struggle to do box jumps and lose weight, and then we can move to the front of the Kona or Boston line? Screw the 3:10 qualifying marathon time — all my boyfriend has to do to race Boston is gain 100 lbs and he’ll be invited to power walk it in a Biggest Loser t-shirt while tens of thousands of hard working, serious athletes run by him.

The triathlons are even worse. The Biggest Loser recently invited some alumni back to do an Olympic distance triathlon and awarded the winning male and female each $25,000. Yep, $25,000. For an Olympic distance race. Do you know in which place you would have to finish at the Ironman World Championships to make as much as these stupid contestants made for finishing their crappy race?

2nd place, which pays out $30,000.

Yeah, that’s right, the 2nd fastest Ironman triathlete in the world only made $5,000 more than a Biggest Loser contestant who wouldn’t even be able to win his or her age group in a typical Olympic distance triathlon.

Former Biggest Loser winner Matt actually raced Kona in 2010, and guess how he did? He didn’t make the official cutoff and instead finished after 17 hours. With proper training and barring any physical or mechanical malfunctions, there is practically no reason you can’t finish an Ironman within the cutoff time. It’s a formidable distance, sure, but they give you an extremely generous window in which to finish. Matt wasn’t in good enough shape to do an Ironman, let alone the World Championships, plain and simple. Yet millions of viewers think, “Wow, Matt is an Ironman and a hardcore athlete because he competed in the World Championships!” Well, not really. He didn’t make the cutoff time. He cut corners to get there, and look what happened.

I think Tara will do better than Matt — she seems like she’s in better shape and can actually finish Kona in under 17 hours, provided she puts in the training and takes it seriously. But do I think she should be racing Kona in the first place? Unless she qualified, got a lottery slot, or bought a charity slot (and by “bought,” I mean that she bought it, not NBC), no, she shouldn’t be participating in the World Championships. These races were designed for the best of the best, not the least fat of the formerly fat.

The Biggest Loser is so focused on making overweight people feel better that they’ve disrespected and overlooked those who train not just to be healthy and fit, but to be the very best among the majority of the field. As a middle of the pack athlete who will probably never be fast enough to qualify for Kona and who would have to work really hard to qualify for Boston, I think it’s pretty ridiculous how quickly and easily these contestants can achieve the dreams and goals that so many legitimate athletes desperately try to reach every day.

9 Responses to “ “You Can’t Cut Corners, Biggest Loser”

  1. Brad Hammond says:

    Do they actually have charity slots that you can buy to race Kona? I wouldn’t have thought so… I am totally against people getting into elite races because of their celebrity status!

    • Rebecca says:

      I saw a forum thread talking about how you could buy a charity slot for a ridiculous amount of money.

      • Sean says:

        You can buy a spot in IMC and Boston, but I don’t know that the same holds true for Kona. That being said I would be surprised if it wasn’t accurate.

        Contributing to a charity and racing to raise awareness for that charity though sits alright with me, even though it means that you don’t have to qualify in the normal way.


  2. Beth says:

    WTC needs to publicize their big race and the best way to do that is to evidently get quasi-celebrities who don’t seem to have the sense to say no to this type of race.

    I am guessing normal celebrities would say “Hell No” once they realized the time commitment involved, the distance of the race and the heat…and the win…and the chance of pants pooping :).

    It isn’t just BL contestants either – they get people from the Bachelor series as well. I remember that Ryan guy had never done a triathlon before WTC invited him to Kona.

    The only point of contention is that we can’t really judge why this BL guy Matt didn’t finish in time (it looks like he missed it by 3 minutes). Many people don’t finish Kona within the 17 hours for a number of reasons…fat, skinny, in shape, out of shape, drunk, stoned…who knows.

    In the end – they aren’t taking a lottery spot or your roll down spot…and hopefully raising some money for charity.

    As an aside – can you imagine all the type A ironman athletes dealing with the laid back Hawaiian customer service during race week? I wonder how that works out.

  3. heather says:

    was watching that episode….when i heard that, I can honestly say i thought exactly the same thing. how many of our friends bend over backwards to try to qualify and beat the heck out of themselves for years on end. makes me wanna eat oreos endlessly, and send a youtube plea to NBC to help me out. GRRR.

  4. Allison says:

    I am a huge fan of the biggest loser. As an athlete myself, I have enjoyed watching people see the power within themselves and see what sports and fitness can do to fuel not only someone’s body but also their mind and spirit. But I totally agree that at some point, the message and/or expectations became unrealistic or too ambitious. I felt that it would be reasonable to ask once obese contestants to compete in a 5 or 10k. Not run marathons as final challenges when it was clear some or most of the contestants were not physically capable or ready. I felt contestants should be asked to do what was reasonable for them as individuals. And typically a marathon was not the right fit for those people. And on top of it, I think it sends poor messages that unless you go BIG (and as you said, post show get to go big for free and probably without even being prepared b/c of their celebrity status), it’s not impressive what they have accomplished. Their weight loss, fitness improvements and mental strength changes are more important than an extreme distance challenge that regular fit people would find challenging. So I completely agree with what you are saying and think ego is the problem. I was glad to see no marathon at the end of this season. Maybe they have realized it’s not necessary for the contestants to be successful (but Tara sort of coming on and gloating she was doing Kona rubbed me the wrong way as an age grouper triathlete who would never qualify…)

  5. marc says:

    Wow, I totally agree. Awesome post! It’s so true. While I give the people big kudos for losing gross amounts of weight, they put themselves there, and their accomplishment was losing the weight. They are a long way from an elite athlete. I would have to turn my training up about 3 levels from where it is now to make boston or Kona, and am not sure I even want to put in that time committment. I’m happy with my 3:40 Marathon and 5:30 half, but pissed they mock the sport by putting in these people who have not met the standard. I have to remind myself that it’s hollywood and they’ll do anything to get rating including putting on intellectual shows like Jackass. Thanks for the post.

  6. Patrick says:

    Tere has ok times for BL contestants doing ironman events she did Kona in 13:56 and then Lake Placid in 14:24. Kona does celebrity entries every year last year it was Hines Ward and Gordon Ramsey (although I have heard from an athlete he was pretty sure Hines cheated and took a ride in a car for a portion of the bike). This year its Apollo Ono.

    As far as Boston and New York go no they have to raise money like anyone else. I know a BL contestant who did NYC and he didn’t meet his charity goal and he had to pay the difference out of his pocket. Anyone can go to Boston if they do charity Kona doesn’t do as many charity spots.

    I am torn between how I feel about BL contestants I was 415 pounds myself before losing 220 all on my own. I don’t get all the special treatment and celebrity status they do and I know for a fact I am a far superior athlete than more than %90 that come off the show. The quasi status they receive is kind of ridiculous and I am kind of over the show as I can’t relate to any of the contestants anymore.

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