[09/16/08 - 12:08 AM]
Interview: "The Biggest Loser" Host Alison Sweeney & Executive Producer Mark Koops
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

NBC's "The Biggest Loser" enters season six tonight with a family edition that pits husband and wives against parents and kids for a cash prize of $250,000 and the prestigious title of "Biggest Loser." Host Alison Sweeney and Executive Producer Mark Koops offered up their personal experience with diet and fitness as well as revealed what to expect with the new season with our Jim Halterman.

First up on the agenda each season is picking the contestants, which Koops said is anything but an easy process. "We have a great casting team to narrow it down but they say it's the hardest day of the season when we sit in there with the finalists and have to pick the people who go on to the show and unfortunately tell many others that they're not going to be selected. There's a lot of criteria we base off of but [we're] equally looking for a great mix of people and a great mix of story. And, as I say, it's always heartbreaking to tell those who haven't made it."

Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels are also back this season not only to help educate the contestants on fitness but also to function as driving forces and motivators when the contestants need an extra push. Koops commended the trainers on their diligence with the contestants as he cited "their dedication to the contestants goes far beyond what we could ever have expected. And I think that comes through. And so I think people really feel that Bob and Jillian are speaking to them even if they're not at the ranch... and every time I'm out with them in public, it's... an amazing sort of draw they have and I think it's a testament to the effort and the heart and the warmth they put into the show."

With this edition spending much time on how relationship dynamics can affect weight gain, Koops said whether it's parent/child or husband/wife, the enabler for one person's weight gain is something else that is definitely confronted this season. The contestants, he explained, "often come here with their biggest enabler, whether that be their parent or someone who's their partner. It's definitely the way of the show to force them to confront not only their weight issues but also the other issues in their life. And I think seeing it play out... really forces them to address their relationships and how they're going to move forward."

Being a mother herself, Sweeney said that the relationship between parent and child often has more to do with childhood obesity than some parents want to admit. She explained that, "something that strikes my heart very closely is the parents and their kids and seeing how parents take responsibility for being the role model that brought their child to this point. And seeing how they deal with, you know, I am sort of part of why you're here. I'm part of the problem. Now let's both see part of the solution." She added that it often times is not easy for either side to confront this problem head-on. "Obviously emotions run high and these feelings go extremely deep in all of the people involved. And it creates a really interesting environment for everyone."

"The Biggest Loser" prides itself on heralding the contestant who loses the most during the course of the current season but what about after the season ends and the contestants are sent back to their real lives? Koops admitted that there naturally exist some ups and downs with the weight of some of the contestants after they depart but the experts at "The Biggest Loser" are a phone call away. "[The contestants] do have fluctuations. They do have times when they try [to] refocus and reenergize their efforts. And I have to say that's where the trainers and the medical staff behind the show always keep a very open door to the contestants in terms of providing ongoing counseling and support." Koops further explained, "The show is phase one and that's helping them get back on the right track. And then phase two is the much more important part, and that's the rest of their lives. And we tell them every day you try and learn the tools and the skills you need to do it in real life."

Continuing with Koops' point, Sweeney brought up previous contestants Matt and Suzy, who recently had a baby together and serve as an example of how life can intersect an individual's weight goals. "So you've obviously gained weight... and now you've got to shed those pounds again and it's just one of those things where we've given you those tools. And whether you choose to... live the rest of your life at that goal weight that you had at the finale or you choose to allow it to even out at some other clothes size or whatever it is, we're not here to tell you what your ideal weight is or what you should look like because that's not what our show is about."

Also returning to "The Biggest Loser" this season is famed chef Rocco DiSpirito, who will work to continue to bring a nutrition element to the show. Koops said, "Rocco comes back and definitely gives a lot of valuable information [and provides] just more insight to both the show and online of how to make better and healthier choices." Rocco does much more, however, than merely give healthy recipes, Koops added. "One of the things we've always heard is we don't have much money. How can we do it? So Rocco takes the contestants shopping on the average American budget and prove you can live healthy and that you can eat healthily. So we're really looking to address issues and topics [that] can relate to everybody."

The weight loss regimen and work out tips don't stop with the contestants and, for that matter, the audience. Sweeney, who has always been very open about her own weight issues since joining daytime serial "Days of Our Lives" as a teenager, is also influenced by the team of experts surrounding her. Alison remembered when she first joined the show and "I first started seeing Bob and Jill at every meal and sitting down next to them and hanging out with them, and knowing they were going to even just see me at the end of the week at weigh-in I was like Yeah, I better make sure I hit the gym again."

And what about the cash prize the winner receives? Sweeney said that the cash prize is not something that the contestants ever really forget about even when they are increasingly focused on the task of losing weight and the competition at hand. "I think [the contestants] always think of it with the motive of wanting to lose weight, wanting to get healthy, wanting to change your life," she explained. "But the money is a nice incentive, too, and I find that the reason the show works the way it does is because I'm a super competitive person, if you know anything about me, and I get it."

The new season and the subsequent one air back-to-back this year with the finale of "The Biggest Loser: Families" airing on December 16 and the next season premiering in early January. Koops predicted that even though the next season will focus back on couples, "Definitely look for family to come back in the future because definitely in terms of story and exciting and results, [the families edition has] far exceeded our expectations. And hopefully the audience will go on the same incredible journey we feel we've been on with these contestants."

"The Biggest Loser: Families" premieres tonight in its regular two-hour time slot beginning at 8:00/7:00c.

  [september 2008]  


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