Wednesday's New York Times pulls the curtain back on NBC's ratings juggernaut "The Biggest Loser," the "reality" game show which features overweight contestants competing to lose the most pounds.
Just in time for this week's reunion special, the Times reports that Season 1 winner Ryan Benson, "who lost 122 of his 330-pound starting weight, will be absent. Mr. Benson is now back above 300 pounds but he thinks he has been shunned by the show because he publicly admitted that he dropped some of the weight by fasting and dehydrating himself to the point that he was urinating blood." (Read the full story here.)
Safety concerns have been raised since the show debuted in 2004, and several contestants over the years have been shown collapsing or needing medical assistance on-air. But no fatal or life-threatening episodes, such as a heart attack, have been linked to the show.
"Biggest Loser" producers and supporters say the program is giving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to people who desperately want to shed weight, while at the same time inspiring millions of Americans to improve their health.
That said, NBC severely restricts cast members from talking openly about their experience on the show. The Times notes:
Getting contestants to talk openly about the environment of the program is difficult. Shortly after a reporter started contacting former contestants to interview them about their experiences, a talent producer on the series sent an e-mail message to many former contestants reminding them that "serious consequences" could ensue if they ever talked to a reporter without the show's permission.
To do so could subject them to a fine of $100,000 or $1 million, depending on the timing of the interview, according to the e-mail message, which was obtained by The New York Times. The show's producers did provide an opportunity to interview several former contestants, but the interviews were conducted with an NBC publicist listening in.