'Biggest Loser' Contestants Clash Over Show Treatment After Lawsuit Threatened
A group of former contestants of the NBC reality series have alleged they were forced to take drugs, suffer from dehydration and lie about their weight, while others have refuted all claims of mistreatment.
Weeks after a controversial study published by the National Institutes of Health shed light on scientific reasons as to why contestants of NBC's reality series The Biggest Loser often regain all of the weight they shed during the program, the contestants themselves have spoken up.
On May 24, TMZ broke the news that season two contestant Suzanne Mendonca, who has gained back 150 pounds since the show's end, was in the process of filing a class-action lawsuit against the long-standing series for alleged abuse. She claims that the show forced its contestants to stay dehydrated, eat 800 calories a day and endure "emotional distress."
"They ruined us. They washed their hands of us and discarded us like yesterday's trash," Mendonca told TMZ. "They need to be responsible for this bullshit." She also told Fox News that Biggest Loser producers had told her she would need to gain an extra 20 to 40 more pounds before she'd be allowed on the show, saying, "The bigger the weight, the more numbers you’ll see [drop] on the scale."
"They did not address contestants throwing up on a daily basis. They created eating disorders," she said. "They did not try to provide any assistance or help to any of these people."
Other contestants have since echoed Mendonca's sentiments by sharing their own accounts of mistreatment.
Joelle Gwynn, who competed on the show in 2008, recalled to the New York Post a time when trainer Bob Harper offered her drugs to help her shed pounds.
"He goes away and his assistant comes in. He’s got this brown paper bag that’s bundled up. He says, 'Take this drug, it’ll really help you.' It was yellow and black. I was like, ‘What the f— is this?'" she said, adding that Harper had also allegedly encouraged her to lie about her calorie intake. "People chastise Bill Cosby for allegedly offering meds to women, but it’s acceptable to do to fat people to make them lose weight? I feel like we got raped, too."
But not all of those who regained weight after appearing on the program have a beef with it.
Speaking to TMZ, season five winner Ali Vincent called Mendonca's claims and impending lawsuit "preposterous."
"A TV show cannot ruin someone's life. She said [the show] didn't call her, so how are they making her gain weight? I don't appreciate [her] making it sound like all Biggest Losers are part of this class-action suit — or interested in that. It's not true," Vincent said, explaining that the show was not to blame for her own weight gain over the years. "How I gained weight was quitting and not applying the tools that I learned on The Biggest Loser."
Contestants such as Bobby Saleem (season 15) and Patrick House (winner of season 10) have also taken a stand in support of the show and shared their positive experiences via social media.
Saleem posted a photo of his dramatic transformation on Instagram, thanking Biggest Loser and refuting allegations made against Harper.
"I was never given or asked to take any supplements by Bob. Never," he wrote. "Have I gained weight since the show? Definitely, yes. I do not blame the show for that, and take full accountability for my weight and health, as any adult should. I think anyone who has gone through the show, will have a different opinion."
After reading and viewing interviews about @biggestlosernbc, I felt it necessary to share my experience. Before the show, I lived a rather sedentary lifestyle and only saw my weight increase year after year. The most I had lost at any given time was maybe 20-30 pounds. I would say that I was a "special" contestant, and I mean that as in I was a difficult case. I came into the show with a torn ACL; therefore, not only was I morbidly obese, I also had my limitations. The show worked with that injury, and I further believe I would not have made it as far as I did without @trainerbob. I felt he was the best coach I could have had because he modified every single workout to cater to the injury. In no way did I ever feel forced to do something I could not do. On top of that, I had a few medical issues and every time an issue came up, the producers sent me to the appropriate Doctor, specialist, or ordered a test. Finally, I was never given or asked to take any supplements by Bob. Never. Have I gained weight since the show? Definitely, yes. I do not blame the show for that, and take full accountability for my weight and health, as any adult should. I think anyone who has gone through the show, will have a different opinion. Perspective is key. The show has taught me so much about myself, and has given me the confidence through this phase of my life. I've now dropped 55 lbs since November, and I wholeheartedly believe, in part, that the show has given me the foundation for my current weight loss journey. #biggestloser #weightloss #fitfam #journey #mindset #fitspo
House called the recent upheaval from former contestants "flat out absurd" in a Facebook post, writing, "I'm just still having a really, really hard time grasping where NBC, The Biggest Loser, Bob Harper or anyone associated with the show has anything to do with the weight gain. The finger pointing needs to stop and settle back on the real problem.....the person in the mirror."
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the show's producers claim, "The safety and well-being of our contestants is, and has always been, paramount. Contestants are told at the start of the show that there is zero tolerance for any weight loss drugs. We prohibit the use of any illegal substances, in addition to the many other rules and procedures of the show that are designed to ensure safety."
Harper also issued a statement, which reads, "As the show's producers have said, these allegations are absolutely false and are also in direct conflict with my lifelong devotion to health and fitness. Safety is paramount in my training regimen and, while demanding, my approach has always focused on the overall well-being of contestants as they lose significant weight and educate themselves, for the first time, on living a healthy lifestyle."