Written by Olivia Ward
Sitting in the audience during NBC's live The Biggest Loser finale is one of the most exciting experiences I've had in my life...and I've done it four times. Not to mention I've actually had the awesome experience of being on stage and winning season 11. So to say, "It's not my first rodeo" is probably an understatement. Having been involved with the show for many years, I feel like I've seen it all...until recently. Of course, you know I'm talking about the live Season 15 finale, where 24-year-old Rachel Frederickson was crowned the winner at 105 pounds.
I will admit that when she walked out for the first time that night, there was a huge collective gasp from the audience. It was as if all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room in a single moment, and it wasn't because everyone loved her dress (although it was stunning). I think, more than anything, nobody thought it was possible to see a contestant get that small. Having been an avid Loser viewer for years, I always expect people to have huge transformations, but this was very different.
My first thought: What happened? Having been through the same experience, I knew Rachel would be small in the end. We both started the show weighing around 260 pounds, and we both left the ranch - as a part of the final four - around 150 pounds. I ended my journey on The Biggest Loser at 132 pounds, which at five-foot-ten, was really, really small. But I was fully aware of that, and I'll be the first to admit that I never expected to stay at such a low weight for long. Instead, I viewed it as my "prize fighting" weight. Why? I was training (and eating) for 8 to 10 hours a day, every day, for the seven weeks that led to my finale. I was essentially treating the finale like my job, and I was a professional athlete. It wasn't meant to be sustained for the rest of my life. It was a conscious adult choice I made because I was in a game, and I wanted to win.
Now, back to Rachel. First of all, I personally have never spoken to her (although I can't wait to meet her one day), but I do have a level of understanding that most don't. I've stood on that scale and I've worn the weigh-in tank top. I know what kind of outside pressure you feel at the end to win, along with the self-induced pressure of wanting to win so badly yourself. To train day in and day out like an athlete, you have to have tunnel vision and be extremely focused - clearly, those are things Rachel is extremely familiar with. So if you want my opinion, I think that when it came down to making a choice to really widen the gap between her and the other competitors, she did. By 10 percent. And therein lies the rub. The gap never had to be that big. Now, I'm not shunning her - or defending her - but as someone who's faced the same situation, I can confidently say that I wouldn't (and didn't) make the same decision Rachel did.
Out of this whole experience, though, the most shocking thing has been the public reaction and outcry. It has completely divided America - and you, FITNESS readers (just check out the comments on Facebook and Instagram). Some of you don't get what the big deal is, and others swear they'll never watch The Biggest Loser again. And you're all entitled to your own opinions, but I have to say, some of the language is disappointing. Words like "anorexic," "skeletor," and "disgusting" have been all over social media. I am in no way trying to skirt around the issue that most contestants on the show have an eating disorder, but to put labels on people when you have no personal understanding of them is not okay. I believe it is okay to voice concern for a person, but to publicly shame them is judgmental and cruel. If you remember, just a week before the finale, Rachel was America's sweetheart. And then all the outcry mentioned above poured out. But there's just one question: Where was the backlash when she stepped on the scale at 260 pounds in episode one? What is the difference? Both are seemingly unhealthy, so why is there outrage over just one?
As of now, my hope and prayer is that she finds balance inside and out. In a year, if she still weighs 105 pounds, then maybe another conversation needs to take place. This is a lifelong journey, and at 24 years old, Rachel is just at the beginning. Let's give her a hot minute to figure things out.
The big question on everyone's mind: What's next for the show? Oy. I believe there will have to be changes, and I have no doubt Loser will find a way to avoid something like this in the future. What those changes will look like remains to be seen - maybe they'll eliminate the "at home" portion of the contest, or at least shorten it significantly. I only had seven weeks to work with, but Rachel had three-and-a-half months. Remember, there has been no precedent for something like this. Honestly, did you ever think it was in the realm of possibilities for a morbidly obese contestant to finish their journey on the show at 105 pounds, over a period of seven-and-a-half months? Yeah, they didn't either.
I can't speak for everyone, but I truly believe that the creators of that show care about their contestants. I have never been treated like a pawn in a game, and I have always been loved and supported by the brand. While on the show, there is a closely monitored, strategic system in place that keeps contestants safe and on a healthy path. For years, The Biggest Loser has been a beacon of hope for millions of people, and I have no doubt that will continue. Hopefully this will become a moment in Loser history that, down the road, we can all look back at and be thankful that Rachel got us talking about some tough issues. Because let's face it: Fighting the weight loss battle goes way deeper than a number on a scale.
More from FITNESS: