The Biggest Loser was one of TV’s longest running and most iconic realty shows — depicting a group of contestants in a competition to lose the most weight over a period of time since it began in 2004. It’s been off the air since 2016, but when it returns at the end of the month, it returns amid a new culture that puts body positivity over weight loss, and brings new attention to pervasive culture of body shaming that particularly impacts women. On top of that, the show itself has been criticized for how it gets people to shed pounds so rapidly; In 2016, former contestant Suzanne Mendonca spearheaded a class-action lawsuit against the show, saying producers withheld water from contestants, forced them to overexercise, and “discarded them when the cameras stopped rolling.”
At the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday, longtime host Bob Harper and producers of The Biggest Loser revival on USA defended briniging the show back, saying they’re aware of the new culture and criticisms, and the new iteration will focus on overall health.
“Losing weight is the easiest part,” Harper said. “Keeping it off — you have to divorce yourself from everything in y9our past. We’re trying to approach it from every level — we want to give them everything at every level. We want you to succeed.”
Many contestants, he explained, have expressed gratitude for how the show helped them get off medication for diabetes and helped improve their lives in overall ways. “When you’re working with someone who’s morbidly obese it’s not because they like pizza,” but because of some underlying issue. The show, he says, wants to help people feel better about themselves.
Heather Olander, Senior Bice president of Alternative Series Development and Production at USA, added, “We did want to take a look at the format and make sure it’s reflective of health and fitness today. We want the message to be about getting healthy and setting them on a healthy path.”
The goal is to be inspirational, she said, to be able to watch people take a first step toward healthier lives. Critics and some former contestants said the show actually did more harm than good by having them quickly lose weight in a way that was unsustainable, they lost weight in dangerous ways and that, after the show ended, they gained it back.
Olander responded that producers and coaches will do more to ensure contestants have good follow up plans that include gym memberships, a nutritionist and access to a support group. “It’s not about a short term diet. It’s about getting healthy.”
The Biggest Loser premieres Tuesday, January 28 on USA Network at 9/8c.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS)