Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The Biggest Losers" have left my building

Meeting and interviewing famous folks is one of the perks of my job. Highlights: talking with Rob Zombie for 45 minutes as he articulated the purpose of extreme and grotesque violence in his films. Sitting 10 feet from Mason Jennings for what I liked to refer to as a private concert as he warmed up for a show. Singing along with Carole King when she visited Gustavus (strong-armed into singing while she had a terrible cold). Sitting in an empty classroom with Peter Krause, discussing, in part, my favorite show "Six Feet Under." Sitting one on one with Elizabeth Edwards in a Mankato family's den, when she was helping her husband campaign for vice-president on Kerry's ticket.

What I love most about these moments is the constant rediscovery of what tends to be a letdown for others when I explain my takeaway each time: People are people are people are people.

In person, or on the phone, when it's just you and Famous Person, all pretense melts away. FP becomes just another friendly (usually) human being that you meet along the way. I love that about my job. I love realizing over and over with each person I interview, famous or not, that we all have so much more in common than we realize. That we all, pardon the cliche, put our pants on one leg at a time. What a great testament to the human condition.

Not that these two are humongously famous, but I found myself having these thoughts again when Rebecca Meyer and Daniel Wright stayed the night at my house. Daniel was a contestant on seasons 7 and 8 of "The Biggest Loser," and Rebecca was on season 8. The two of them met on the show and fell in love. Daniel, from North Carolina, moved to Des Moines, where Rebecca is from, and the two have since made numerous speaking appearances and have otherwise been planning a life together, unsure where they'll end up, but happy to be seeing the country in the meantime. They were in town to run the Vikings 10K (at Mankato Marathon) for Rebecca's campaign to run 50 races in 50 states by the time she's 30.

It didn't take long to learn a lot about the two. They're both open and kind -- not at all guarded, despite the world being a Google search away from seeing so much of their lives on display to judge at will. And you would think, staying in a journalist's home, of all people, would tighten those lips even more. But I found them to be candid and trusting, knowing I wouldn't splash secrets around if they chose to share one or two.

It was fun to gain some insight into the show and to learn what is "staged" and what's actually real. They confirmed my suspicion that, before the weigh-in at the end of each episode, the contestants are weighed-in behind the scenes so producers can order the on-camera weigh-ins in the most dramatic fashion for viewers. But the contestants themselves aren't able to see the results until it's filmed. They also told me that, while they don't know for sure, they think cameras throughout the house and in the bedrooms are monitored to find out when contestants get "deep" into emotional stuff so the trainers can be alerted and the camera crew can film those compelling moments in the gym when the trainers get to the bottom of why certain contestants overeat.

Other items of interest ...

1. Before the weigh-in, if contestants are dehydrated, they make them drink a ton of water, despite the extra weight registering on the scale.

2. They aren't allowed to listen to headphones in the gym, so some contestants in season 8 would sing to each other.

3. The food is provided on the ranch, but the contestants are solely responsible for preparing it and for what they choose to eat.

4. The show never shows how sore and stiff the contestants are in the beginning of the show, but THEY ARE. Rebecca joked that they practically cry when they just try to sit down at the beginning.

As far as Rebecca and Daniel's lives have been after the show, they seem pretty happy. Rebecca, as you may recall, won the $100,000 at-home prize. She bought a Mini Cooper and paid bills. Both get paid to come to towns and give talks, which helps pay bills. They live with Rebecca's parents right now, but are planning to buy a house. And they also are starting their own personal training business. They each have clients they're working with now, one of whom has lost about a hundred pounds. They seem so excited to be passing on what they learned at the Ranch and afterward to other people.

Both admit also to continue to struggle with weight. They always will. They've had lifelong habits that they finally were able to combat just two years ago, so naturally, they continue to learn and there will never be an "end point." With a lifestyle change, each day's renewed goal is to make healthy choices, which isn't always easy.

Rebecca got down to a very thin 140 pounds to win the at-home prize at the season 8 finale, and she has found that weight wasn't healthy for her, so she's found a happy medium, and she will always be "playing with about 15 pounds" up or down, she said. Daniel's goal is to lose about 30 more pounds. But needless to say, that's a far cry from the extra 100 or 200 they had before they started the "Biggest Loser" journey.

Over lunch at the Tav on the Ave on Saturday (I tried to give them the Mankato experience by keeping it local -- dinner at Number 4 the night before helped, too), they were eager and passionate about bringing up my own "fight to be fit" this year and help me pin down areas where I did things right and where I may have veered off track. It was nice of them to offer me their insight and also to offer me a discount to "The Biggest Loser" Fitness Ridge Ranch in Utah, although I have a feeling the price tag would be far greater than I could afford.

When they left Saturday afternoon to go camping with friends in Mapleton, I felt like I'd made a couple of new friends. And truth be told, had they just been a couple of kids I'd met in Mankato who weren't ever on a TV show, they'd be just the kind of people I would want to hang out with.

So while it's probably not what most people would consider the "best story," here's my takeaway from hosting a couple of "Biggest Losers" at my house this weekend: Rebecca and Daniel are a couple of nice, normal kids, who, as Rebecca put it, "just happened to be on TV."

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