The lure of being a 'loser'

Au­di­tions in North­east Philly for TV's 'The Biggest Loser' draw a hope­ful crowd.

From Left: Court­ney Ceth­bert, and sis­ters, Shy­eea and Claudia Cruz, use each oth­ers backs to fill out ap­plic­a­tion forms. The three ar­rived at 3 a.m. to se­cure a spot in line and have their chance at be­ing on the next sea­son of real­ity T.V. show, The Biggest Loser. (Brad Lar­ris­on)

A thou­sand happy, ex­press­ive, styl­ish, friendly people flocked to a North­east Phil­adelphia fit­ness cen­ter last week­end dream­ing of a chance to com­pete for a du­bi­ous-at-best title.

They drove for hours and waited in line overnight for a brief op­por­tun­ity to demon­strate their cha­risma to a Hol­ly­wood cast­ing agent, all with the com­mon hope of one day be­com­ing known as The Biggest Loser.

Such is the power of real­ity tele­vi­sion — and a $250,000 cash prize — to lure oth­er­wise private folks in­to air­ing their deep­est, most pro­found in­ner con­flicts for the world to see.

“I’m just kind of fed up with how I’m liv­ing my life,” said Anna Fox of Mech­an­ic­sville, Md.

Fox showed up for the cast­ing call at Plan­et Fit­ness on Roosevelt Boulevard wear­ing a black se­quined vest, a Kiss T-shirt (the heavy met­al rock band, not the el­ev­at­or mu­sic ra­dio sta­tion), a flow­ing black skirt and bright red lip­stick.

“They wanted to see our per­son­al­ity and this is me,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m clas­sic rock and punk and I wanted to show it.”

She also has a weight prob­lem, which is one of the main reas­ons she made the trek to Philly on Ju­ly 14.

The Biggest Loser is one of the most en­dur­ing so-called real­ity shows on net­work TV. Over­weight con­test­ants com­pete to see who can lose the most weight, re­l­at­ive to their body mass in­dex, while also com­plet­ing a series of phys­ic­al and men­tal chal­lenges, with the over­all win­ner earn­ing the $250,000 cash prize. About 20 con­test­ants start the sea­son, with the field shrink­ing week by week un­til one win­ner re­mains.

NBC de­b­uted the pro­gram in 2004. In 2008, the net­work began broad­cast­ing two “series” or com­pet­i­tions per year. Sea­son 13 ran for 17 weeks and con­cluded on May 1. Pro­du­cers are now search­ing for new con­test­ants.

Film­ing for Sea­son 14 will be­gin in Septem­ber and last four-and-a-half months, ac­cord­ing to Cast­ing Dir­ect­or Ian Young. Weekly broad­casts are to kick off in Janu­ary.

Pro­du­cers will con­duct 13 cast­ing calls throughout the coun­try. Last week­end’s loc­al event was the only one planned for the East Coast, so it at­trac­ted hope­fuls from Wash­ing­ton, D.C, to Bris­tol, Conn., and bey­ond.

About 900 people pre-re­gistered on­line. The cast­ing crew planned to se­lect about 30 for private fol­low-up on-cam­era in­ter­views that also were held last week.

“We look for the most de­serving, and that’s such a wide-open term,” Young said. “It de­pends on the people, their struggle with the weight and why they’re los­ing the weight.”

The rain didn’t ap­pear to de­ter many as hun­dreds of men and wo­men and their many sup­port­ers stood in line for hours, clus­ter­ing in­to chutes in the Red Li­on Plaza park­ing lot.

Terra Le­gette, 38, of Levit­town, Bucks County, avoided the crowd by ar­riv­ing at 9:30 p.m. the pre­vi­ous night, camp­ing un­der a fold­ing can­opy at the front door of the 24-hour workout gym. She was first in line. Her mom, An­ita, provided the emo­tion­al sup­port.

“She forced me here,” Terra said.

“It was on the In­ter­net and as soon as I saw it, I said, ‘Let’s go,’” An­ita said.

“We knew it would be crowded. This is not a game,” Terra said. “I want to lose 240 pounds.”

At 5-feet-11, Terra weighs about 440 pounds. She’s a single moth­er of three, with 8-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. She knows she’s al­lowed her weight to get out of hand.

“All my life, I’ve been chubby,” she said. “(That was) be­fore the kids. I think I got com­fort­able in a re­la­tion­ship — that’s what it was. Then the kids came. It wasn’t their fault. It was me be­ing lazy and not eat­ing right.”

All the while, she’s been a fan of The Biggest Loser.

“We love the show,” she said. “The best part is the last chance workout. That’s when they do all the ex­er­cise to lose weight be­fore they get on the scale. Then you see the weight come off.”

The show ac­tu­ally pro­motes a hol­ist­ic ap­proach to weight loss and health among its con­test­ants.

“The change is in­cred­ible, not just phys­ic­ally. They change emo­tion­ally as well,” Young, the cast­ing dir­ect­or, said.

Con­test­ants are coached on ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion and mo­tiv­at­ing them­selves to keep the weight off if and when they lose it.

“They nar­row (the field) down to the fi­nal two or three, then (con­test­ants) go home and con­tin­ue to lose weight,” Young said.

The sur­viv­ors then re­turn to the stu­dio for a fi­nal weigh-in. Win­ners are de­term­ined not by total weight lost, but by weight lost with re­spect to vari­ables like height and start­ing weight.

Amer­ic­ans seem to identi­fy with con­test­ants en masse.

“I think you see a lot of real people who are strug­gling with stuff,” Young said. “These people are deal­ing with real is­sues. Even if it isn’t your is­sue, you can identi­fy with them. You want to cheer them and see them suc­ceed.”

Fox is one of those people. In ad­di­tion to her un­healthy eat­ing and ex­er­cise habits, she says she’s cop­ing with oth­er self-de­struct­ive ad­dic­tions. She’s hop­ing to lose about 250 pounds. That would leave her at about 180 or 200 pounds on her 5-foot-11 frame.

“I’m in the pro­cess of a re­cov­ery and to fully re­cov­er, I have to be hap­pi­er,” she said. “At this point, I think I can’t do it my­self. And from what I’ve seen, The Biggest Loser really works.”

As a youth, Fox was a mod­el of fit­ness. Then about five years ago, at age 19, things changed.

“I played sports all my life. I played soft­ball and bas­ket­ball in col­lege,” she said.

She at­ten­ded Wash­ing­ton Ad­vent­ist Col­lege near Sil­ver Spring, Md., on an ath­let­ic schol­ar­ship. Then she stopped play­ing and work­ing out. But she kept eat­ing like an ath­lete.

“I star­ted gain­ing weight when I stopped sports,” she said. “I think just com­ing out here and put­ting my­self out here shows that I’m ready for change. If I make the show, I would want to help a lot of people who are deal­ing with the same thing.

“If I have to get in front of Amer­ica in a sports bra and Span­dex, I’ll do it.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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