Two former contestants from NBC’s The Biggest Loser have admitted their drastic weight loss was only short-lived, and that ‘just about everyone’ they know from previous seasons have since piled the pounds back on.
Suzanne Mendonca, a 36-year-old New York-based police officer who lost 90lbs when she appeared on season two in 2005, told The New York Post: ‘NBC never does a reunion. Why? Because we’re all fat again.’
Ms Mendonca, along with 44-year-old Rulon Garner – a former wrestler who walked off the show during season 11 having lost 173lbs – also both echoed recent allegations from other contestants over NBC’s ‘abusive’ treatment of its participants.
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Didn’t last: Suzanne Mendonca, 36, lost 90lbs in 2011 after appearing in the show’s second season, pictured (left) in the finale, but has since regained the weight, pictured (right) in 2012
Too extreme: In a new interview, Ms Mendonca, pictured before she appeared on The Biggest Loser, echoed recent allegations from other contestants over NBC’s ‘abusive’ treatment of its participants
Both Ms Mendonca and Mr Garner claim to be in contact with other former contestants from The Biggest Loser via a ‘private alumni’ Facebook group, which is how they know that they too have regained the weight they lost.
These revelations are hardly surprising given the extreme and seemingly unsustainable regimes the contestants were put through during their time on the show.
NBC’s hit show, which launched in 2004, pits obese competitors against each other in a televised race to lose the most weight. Around 200,000 people audition for it every season.
Netting an estimated $100million annually in advertisement sales, the program boasts an average weekly viewership of seven million people, in a country where two-thirds of the population is overweight.
Gave up: Rulon Garner, 44, pictured (left) when he joined The Biggest Loser in 2011, walked out after 16 weeks and now claims producers threatened to ‘destroy his name’, pictured (right) in 2013
‘I was eating baby food,’ Ms Mendonca, who weighed 229lbs when she joined the show, told the publication.
‘I’d wrap myself in garbage bags to sweat. We’d use the sauna for six hours a day… We would work out for four hours a day.
NBC never does a reunion. Why? Because we’re all fat again
‘People were passing out in the doctor’s office.’
Mr Garner, a Greco-Roman wrestler who won an Olympic gold medal in 2000, stunned viewers and NBC staff when he left the 2011 show after 16 weeks for ‘personal reasons’.
Speaking about his departure now, he claims producers warned him that if he were to ‘mess’ with The Biggest Loser, they would ‘destroy [his] name’.
Both Mr Garner and Ms Mendonca said the challenged were ‘rigged’ and the weigh-ins were ‘fake’.
Ms Mendonca now takes blood-pressure pills and is pre-diabetic, while Mr Garner suffered neck and shoulder injuries as a result of the show’s punishing workouts.
The interviews follow a slew of recent allegations made by other former Biggest Loser contestants, including claims that participants are routinely kept prisoner in their rooms to stop them leaking storylines, have their laptops ‘bugged’ and are banned from calling home for six weeks.
Speaking out: Former contestant Kai Hibbard, pictured at the start of the third series, said she is sad and angry that she bought into the hype of the show after being convinced by a friend to sign up
Transformation: ‘The whole f***ing show is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in,’ said Ms Hibbard, who dropped 121 pounds from 265 (left) to 144 (right) during the program, aired in 2006
‘Not worth it’: Ms Hibbard, pictured during season three’s live finale, said the show’s plot – to take morbidly obese people ‘and work them out to the point where they vomit’ – provoked moral and ethical questions
Speaking to the New York Post, former contestant Kai Hibbard said last week that she is sad and angry she bought into the hype of the show, after being convinced by a friend to sign up to its third series.
‘The whole f***ing show is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in,’ said Ms Hibbard, whose 5ft 6ins frame was carrying 265 pounds when she joined the program in 2006.
She added: ‘There’s a moral and ethical question here when you take people who are morbidly obese and work them out to the point where they vomit, all because it makes for good TV.’
Latest series: Ms Hibbard and other ex-contestants have claimed that competitors are kept prisoner in their rooms to stop them leaking storylines and even have their laptops ‘bugged’. Above, season 16 contestants
Intense: Scott Mitchell is pictured running (left) and cycling alongside other contestants (right) on the show
After she was selected for the show, Ms Hibbard said she was flown to Los Angeles, where a production assistant showed her to her room, took away her key card and told her not to leave.
If she dared to exit the room, the hotel would immediately tell the show’s producers, she claimed.
Ms Hibbard and her fellow contestants were also apparently made to sign contracts giving away rights to their own story lines and banning them from speaking negatively about the show.
They would say things to contestants like, “You’re going die before your children grow up.” “You’re going to die, just like your mother” [and] “We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin”
Kai Hibbard, 2006 contestant
Another participant, who wished to remain anonymous, said a production assistant took away her cellphone and laptop for 24 hours when she arrived at the hotel.
She suspects they were then bugged.
‘The camera light on my MacBook would sometimes come on when I hadn’t checked in,’ she told The Post. ‘It was like Big Brother was always watching you.’
In following days, 14 of 50 finalists were taken to a place called ‘the ranch’, where they were forced to work out in seclusion, while the others were sent home until later in the program.
During their time at ‘the ranch’, contestants were reportedly made to work out for dangerous lengths of time – up to eight hours straight – leaving their feet bleeding and causing some to collapse.
Once, they were even driven to a racetrack and housed in individual horse stalls, before a bell sounded and they were forced to run neck-to-neck, picking up heavy sacks along the track.
And despite their suffering, they were prevented from calling home for six weeks – and even then, they were only allowed to make a five-minute call that was monitored by producers, it is alleged.
Shocking weight loss: Last year, 5ft 4ins winner Rachel Frederickson sparked nationwide concern after losing 155 pounds in just months on the show. Above, Ms Frederickson before (left) and after (right) her weight loss
Progress: Ms Frederickson, pictured being weighed on the show, later admitted working out four times a day
‘One of the contestants’ children became very ill and was in the ICU,’ Ms Hibbard said. ‘He was allowed to talk to his family, but he didn’t want to leave – the show would have been done with him.’
The other former competitor said the trainers took a ‘sick’ satisfaction in seeing them collapse – a result of a mixture of intense exercise sessions and severe restrictions on their diets.
Ms Hibbard added: ‘They would say things to contestants like, “You’re going die before your children grow up.” “You’re going to die, just like your mother” [and] “We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin”.’
She said the one production assistant had even encouraged a contestant to take up smoking – because it would apparently help her to lose weight, impressing the show’s audience.
Meanwhile, one trainer even told her not to drink electroylyte-balancing liquids prescribed by an on-site doctor because it would ‘ruin her one last chance to save her life’, she said.
Exercise: At the start of the show, contestants are apparently made to sign contracts giving away rights to their own story lines and banning them from speaking negatively about the show. Above, season three
Struggle: Jen Widerstrom (l-r), Lori Harrigan-Mack and Scott Mitchell are pictured in show’s latest series
Participants’ extreme, daily workouts resulted in rapid weight losses – up to 30 pounds in just one week, compared to the ‘safe’ limit of two pounds per week, which is considered ‘hard’ to lose.
Indeed, the first-ever The Biggest Loser winner Ryan Benson, who dropped 122 pounds during the show (from 330 to 208), lost so much weight he reportedly started urinating blood when ended.
In an interview with Time magazine, he also said he regained 32 pounds within five days of the program finishing – simply by drinking tap water. His weight now hovers at around 299 pounds.
And last year, 5ft 4ins winner Rachel Frederickson sparked nationwide concern after losing 155 pounds in just months on the program. She later admitted to working out four times a day.
Concern: Also last year, one of The Biggest Losers trainers, Jillian Michaels (pictured), quit for the show for the third time, telling People magazine she was ‘deeply concerned’ about the ‘poor care of the contestants’
Ms Hibbard revealed her own health was affected dramatically by the show; she reportedly suffered hair loss, irregular periods and lack of sleep both during and after her participation in the program.
In total, Ms Hibbard dropped 121 pounds – taking her to just 144 pounds – throughout the program.
Also last year, one of The Biggest Losers trainers, Jillian Michaels, quit for the show for the third time, telling People magazine she was ‘deeply concerned’ about the ‘poor care of the contestants.’
In a statement to the Post, NBC said its contestants are ‘closely monitored and medically supervised’, and cited the successful health transformations of more than 300 contestants.
The Biggest Losers 16th season finale will air live on January 29.