The Biggest Loser: The Television Show that Never Ends?

Curator's Note

Season finales play a key role in the all-important process of delivering viewers to advertisers by maximizing viewership for the last episode and by incorporating cliffhangers devised to bring viewers back next season. This delivery of viewers is, to some extent, a numbers game. But, as Henry Jenkins argues in Convergence Culture, advertisers are increasingly searching for more meaningful, emotional, long-term relationships with viewers. In other words, the name of the game is getting viewers to care about the show so that they are more likely to watch the commercials.

The Biggest Loser (NBC) gives the viewer many reasons to care about the show. It showcases the struggle to lose weight, something millions of Americans experience. Viewers get to know the characters better because the cast stays relatively stable. And plot elements like game play and contestant confrontations allow viewers to take sides. The show takes the idea of emotional connection one step further through its Biggest Loser Club, an on-line weight loss club that allows viewers to share, to a certain extent, what the contestants experience on the show. Club members receive Biggest Loser meal plans, exercise regimen, and the ability to communicate on-line with other Club members.

The clip is from the finale of Season Four, when the host announced the Biggest Loser Million Pound Match-Up, a promotion that allowed people to sign up with a partner to try to lose weight and win prizes. The winners won trips to L.A. to attend the season finale of the show. Promotional programs like the Club and Match-Up are an attempt to not only get viewers to care about the show, but also to demonstrate that the show cares about its viewers.

So, what does all of this have to do with season finales? As the title of this entry suggests, I think that the ultimate goal for this strategy of creating caring connections between show and viewer, at least for The Biggest Loser, is to transform shows into integral parts of the viewer's lifestyle. Sure, seasons come and go, but by becoming intimately involved in the weight loss efforts of millions of viewers, each season finale is only a moment for reflection and emotional encouragement (if these people can lose weight, so can you) in a bigger picture where show and viewer become partners in the unending quest to eat well and exercise.


Thanks for telling me more about a show I don't know at all but for the bits I've seen airing at the gym (convenient, that).  I'm intrigued by the notion of lifestyle television.  Do you see this as a continuation or break from the historical model of television as part of the everyday, the ordinary, the taken for granted?  In other words, does a push towards a more interactive engagement with television realize the rhetoric of two-way television from the earliest years of broadcasting's development or is this phenomenon a more unique reflection of the digital age?  

Also, I'm curious to learn more about the online component of the series.  Do the program's sponsors contibute content or products to the web-based version of the show?  Or do web users pay to participate in the contest?

This is a fascinating topic--thanks for sharing it. 

I have to say that I am feeling more 'outside' of this topic than ever.  Although in the UK we do have shows like The Biggest Loser, they are certainly not in the same rhythm that they are in the States.  We receive them on a small cable channel and they often run on a loop, negating the whole issue of a season finale for much of the time.

Does this affect the way we watch the series?  Probably.  And does it make a difference?  To me, probably not. 

Your article raises a very interesting point about the blending of reality television and real life. The Biggest Loser has done a great job over the years fostering a deep connection between viewers and the shows content. The Biggest Loser in many ways has become a brand on its own, with the production and marketing of work out DVDs and interactive video games from consoles like Xbox and Wii. It surprises me that there aren't more shows that have followed a similar model. When people are encouraged to better themselves it legitimizes the goals of the show and the genre of reality television as a whole. It creates new marketing opportunities and can create a new multi-fauceted brand. The notion of convergence culture is fascinating and something I believe will become more of the norm as we consume television and other forms of media in the years to come. Personally I don't partake in any sort of workout related to the Biggest Loser, nor do I watch the show regularly. Having said that however, I have a lot of respect for the type of campaign you write about in your article because it lets everyday Americans partake in the positive aspects of reality TV, on their own time, and in the privacy of their own homes/towns. 


 I think that shows like The Biggest Loser represent television that blends entertainment as well as self-help for the viewer. It is in a sense, positive television. When watching the show, viewers can become inspired by the hard work of the reality show participants. It can even be argued that shows like the Biggest Loser can counter dominant ideologies about overweight people in America; they are seen as people who want to make a lifestyle change in order to better their health and live longer and fuller lives. But that is not to say that everyone who desires to get on track with their health has the resources to exercise and eat healthily. Nonetheless, using reality television as a platform to better the lives of the  American public is extremely important. Heavy, a program on A&E, also works to provide entertainment while shining a positive light on those struggling with weight loss. Often, the participants went through psychological hardships, and the viewer forms an emotional relationship with those trying to better their health These shows are are a positive step in prime-time programming.


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