The Biggest Loser is coming back to TV and will be recruiting contestants in Philadelphia this week.
The extreme weight-loss competition, famous for its public weigh-ins and punishing workouts, ran for 17 editions on NBC, starting in 2004, with the most recent, The Biggest Loser: Temptation Nation, airing in 2016. The new season, to run on Comcast-owned NBC’s corporate sibling USA Network, is planned for 2020.
A casting call in Philadelphia is scheduled for Saturday, July 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Shops at Liberty Place, 1625 Chestnut St., but all would-be contestants are required to apply online first at www.BLCASTING.TV. Producers are looking for people who want to lose at least 100 pounds, are 18 or older, and who are legal residents of the United States.
Before anyone starts dreaming of his or her big “after” shot, consider that dieting Biggest Loser-style — quickly, with severe calorie reduction combined with hours of daily exercise — was shown to be less than a winning strategy in a 2016 National Institutes of Health study.
Nicole Michalik, a DJ at Philadelphia country music station 92.5 XTU and a former Biggest Loser contestant, has seen it firsthand.
“I loved, loved, loved the show and loved my experience. I made amazing friends," Michalik, who was on the show in 2007, said in an interview Friday. "It was very exciting, I was in L.A., I was on TV, I was losing weight. Like, it was a blast.”
But “what we know now about health and nutrition we didn’t know 12 years ago," she added, citing the New York Times report on the NIH study, “this really incredible article about how the contestants were gaining the weight back so fast. And it happened to me.”
In the study, researchers followed 14 of the 16 contestants from the show’s eighth season. Six years later, all but one had regained some of the lost weight. Four weighed more than they had before going on the show. Worse, the contestants’ metabolisms had continued to slow as time went by. One man, whom the Times called the worst off, said his metabolism “slowed so much that, just to maintain his current weight of 295 pounds, he now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size. Anything more turns to fat.”
“Probably up until about 2011, 2012, I was slowly gaining weight back. And I was working out all the time, and I’m like, this is really weird," said Michalik, who was known as “Nik the Web Chick” when she was on the air at Q102.
"And then once I started doing morning radio, and I started sleeping less and I didn’t work out as much, the weight just kept piling on really fast,” she said.
She asked her doctor, who told her that although she had no proof, she assumed that doing the show had hurt her metabolism. The NIH study appeared to confirm the suspicion.
“They say that the new way they’re doing the show is a very holistic approach, that it’s very mind-body-spirit, that it’s all about … overall wellness, which is exactly what it should be," Michalik said. And yet "it’s still a television show, right? So will it be that way? I’m not sure.”
In announcing the reboot in May, USA Network president Chris McCumber said, “We are reimagining The Biggest Loser for today’s audiences, providing a new, holistic, 360-degree look at wellness while retaining the franchise’s competition format and legendary jaw-dropping moments.”
If that still sounds like something someone would be interested in, Michalik has advice for how to stand out from the crowd of applicants.
“You have to be very vulnerable and tell your story,” she said. “Don’t just go in there and say, ‘I want to lose weight.’ You really have to tell the story of who you are, what this means to you, why you want to do it, who it’s going to affect.”
As for Michalik, “I said I want to be the single girl who loses weight and comes home and sluts it up around Philly,” she said, laughing. "I was in my 20s,” and she thought weight loss would change her life.
“But when I lost 105 pounds and came home, [I] realized I’m actually the same person,” she said. “I actually don’t like going out all the time .... so it really did have nothing to do with the weight, after all."
Weight loss can make some things better, she said. “You can fit in a plane seat, you can ride in a roller-coaster.” But other things don’t change.