[09/15/09 - 12:18 AM]
Interview: "The Biggest Loser's" Jillian Michaels & Bob Harper
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

"I think Ernest Hemingway said it best," said fitness trainer Jillian Michaels in talking about the new group of "The Biggest Loser" contestants. "'Life breaks us all but you're stronger in the places that were broken.' Or you can essentially crumble, give up, and, you know, waste your life." Michaels, along with fellow trainer Bob Harper, recently talked to reporters about the new season, subtitled "Second Chances," of NBC's veteran reality franchise.

The "Second Chances" title came about, according to Michaels, by the fact that "every human being has gone through a tragedy of sorts. And the idea is that you have two paths you can take, you can find that alchemy that turns lead into gold, find that magic where you can see the loss as an entry point for learning and grow from it and become wiser and stronger. So we have these contestants that have been to hell and back, to be quite frank."

With the new season called "Second Chances," Harper explained, "I come from a world that if their second chance fails they're going to get a third chance and a fourth and a fifth and a 15th. I think that... I don't want anyone to ever put themselves in a box of I lost my second chance because life brings with you ebbs and flows and if you miss out on this second chance, guess what, you're going to get another one if you decide that you're ready to have one."

One of the more damaged contestants is Abby, a woman who lost her entire family in a car accident and is now struggling with being overweight and emotionally scarred. Not surprisingly, the trainers had a hard time not being emotionally impacted by Abby's story. "Working with Abby," Michaels said, "it brought about a lot of personal realizations for me which begin in Episode 1 [and] think it sends a message to America that we can overcome any tragedy and turn it into triumph with the right skill set and mind frame." She also offered that she never wants her own emotions to get in the way of the contestant's and showed that Michaels is just as tough on herself as she is on the contestants. "I had a personal identification with [Abby] and I had a reaction which I was disappointed in myself for doing because I don't want the contestant to turn around and feel like she needs to take care of me. And I was like goddamn it, Jillian, why did you do, you know, and it just... again it's like if we were talking about regret that would be one thing that I wish I could put more of a lid on."

Asked whether the contestants find the physical or mental aspects more taxing and Harper said that while mental aspects outweigh (so to speak) the physical there is also a vital question that is usually at the root of a contestant's weight problem. "I think that people come in and they expect it to all be about just diet and exercise. And Jillian and I are just so much more than that. We want to get to the why as opposed to just the how. And I think that for a lot of people that come onto our show that's like a very big eye-opening experience. They're going to come in and they're thinking 'okay I'm going to know how to workout, I'm going to know how to eat right.' And it's like 'no, we're going to be looking at every aspect of your life because by the time we have you, if we have you for 1 week or 12 weeks we're going to try to make a difference.'"

There will be a familiar face in the new group of contestants on season 8 and that's Daniel Wright, who was eliminated during the fourth week of the seventh season. Asked how they felt about having him return and, hopefully, last longer than he did before and Harper said that Daniel "is the face of what's going on in America right now; he is a 19 year old boy at 454 pounds. That is not normal but it has become the norm. And for him to continue on his journey coming back on for another season is going to inspire that generation that is in need of such help at this point." Michaels also revealed when they first got the news that Wright was returning, "we were excited. We were really happy that the show was taking responsibility and seeing his journey through, you know, finishing what he started; finishing what we started with him. So for that I'm very proud of the decision that 'Biggest Loser' made to do that."

One of the new contestants is Shay, who, at 476 pounds, is the largest person the show has ever had. Asked how they approached working with her and Harper said, "It was just really looking at again the why. Like why does someone get to this place? Where have they given up and where can we give them hope in that situation? I think that was the biggest challenge for working with Shay. This girl came with a lot of baggage and it was up to Jillian and I to take all of that apart ourselves and go through it and help her as much as possible. It was a huge challenge and so rewarding because this girl, I mean, you would just say one thing to her about having her look at her own life as opposed to anything else and she would just fall apart. And so it was like being able to get her to stand on her own two feet."

During the press call, Michaels was very upfront about her very evident feelings of not being happy during the seventh season and how the new season is going to be different for her. "I think it's no secret that I was very unhappy during Season 7," she said. "One of the [new] contestants actually said to me, she's like, 'Jillian I feel like you've come out of like a bad relationship. And, you know, you're not getting close to us and you're holding us at arm's length.' And they were the perfect cast to help me reconnect in that way. And the boys were no different. They really all are special exceptional people with a lot to share. And I think America is going to love them."

While so much of the drama in the series comes from the contestants' struggles, Michaels and Harper are clearly a part of the show's appeal due to the way in which they express themselves emotionally on the show. Harper, for one, does not apologize for any outbursts he's had in the past. "I'm the guy that's always going to have somehow some emotional breakdown and last season was no different. I think that we do take our jobs, like I said, so personally. And it is - it becomes a matter of life or death; not to sound dramatic, it's reality. I mean these guys are coming to us with one foot in the grave. And I think that like we do take it personally and we do want to make a change. And we do want them to really stand up for themselves. And so it's like it's hard for it to just be a job because it's not just a job for either one of us."

Finally, Harper also expressed that the contestants aren't the only ones who learn a thing or two during the course of the "Biggest Loser" season. "I learn so much every single season," he admitted. "But I realize that these contestants that come in and... the science of it all really worked and amazes me. It's the fact that like no matter how bad it's gotten the body wants to be healthy. The body wants to bounce back. And so when you do these changes, you do these small changes every single day and you trust the process of what you're doing. You really make lasting changes onto your body. So it's like every time we see the test results come back from the doctor and you get to see just what Jillian and I do really works."

Michaels also expressed that she couldn't imagine going on the journey without Harper by her side. "We have the same ideas and beliefs about where [the contestants] should end up. We have different approaches on how to get there. And I think that we are complementary to each other. And, in addition, there's only one person in this world that can understand this job and what it requires and the stresses that it puts on us as the trainers. And to have to compete with my number one ally and the person that I can go to for advice and feedback and support really sucks. And I think that that's been evident to America who see us struggle with that dynamic."

"The Biggest Loser" starts season eight tonight on NBC with a two-hour premiere beginning at 8:00/7:00c.

  [september 2009]  


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