Excess Baggage, the new Australian counterpart to weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser, claims to take the higher road by not relying on humiliation and shaming of contestants.
It focuses on overall health vs. mere weight loss, utilizing a psychologist to address mental roadblocks which obstruct a healthy lifestyle, and rallying people off treadmills and into nature.
And for added motivation (read: viewer ratings), each contestant is surprised in the first episode by being paired with a celebrity (i.e.: Keven Federline, Britney Spears’ ex-husband, who subsequently was rushed to hospital during filming as a result of signs of cardiac arrest).
Touted as the “feel-good series of the year,” the creators emphasize health vs. weight loss and use the clever marketing tactic of viewers casting their votes on which contestant will become the “healthiest.”
So, semantically, geographically, and methodologically it’s slightly different than The Biggest Loser, but that’s where the differences end.
I’m certainly not going to argue that obesity isn’t a real health issue and doesn’t need to be addressed, but as soon as obesity is dramatized and sensationalized, we have problems.
I’m also not casting judgment on the contestants. They are courageous to leave the comfort of their daily lives and try to make changes to improve their overall health. It seems many of them have positive motivations to change, such as wanting to live longer so they can care for their children.
Unfortunately, media corporations are banking off real people’s suffering – turning personal lifestyle habits, emotional pain, shame and guilt, into a spectacle for entertainment:
We certainly can’t take the creator’s quotes about “health promotion” at face value when large amounts of money are involved. Indeed, in a bit of a panic, newspaper The Australian has already reported that ratings dropped dramatically from 880,000 to 625,000 between the first and second episodes.
In the second episode, contestants were confronted with their stats (weight, waistline measurements, BMI) showing obvious signs of embarrassment (not unlike The Biggest Loser), which undoubtedly does nothing to increase self-esteem, and could potentially lead contestants and viewers to an increased obsession with obtaining “ideal” numbers. Health isn’t tied up in numbers.
So, thank you Excess Baggage, for your sincere efforts to one-up The Biggest Loser in the name of health, but I’m not buying it.