A shot at a `Loser' proposition

Some wanted prizes

one wanted revenge. Mostly, the 250 overweight people in line to try out for NBC's weight-loss reality show wanted to end the humiliation and danger of being overweight.

February 14, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Michelle Robinson knows she needs to lose weight. A lot of it.

The 21-year-old Parkville woman has tried the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers and any number of diet pills. Now she's trying reality television.

Yesterday, Robinson and her father stood in line outside the ESPN Zone with about 250 other overweight people hoping to be chosen for the next installment of NBC's unscripted program The Biggest Loser.

"Being young and dealing with being overweight isn't fun," Robinson said. If selected for the show, she hopes to lose 110 pounds.

The first season of the show, which aired last fall, pitted a group of overweight Americans against one another in a contest to see who could lose the most weight in 10 weeks. The winner, Ryan Benson of Los Angeles, lost 122 pounds and walked away with $250,000.

Now, in a slight twist on that formula, NBC is looking for teams of overweight people.

"We want families who never learned to eat right," said casting director Allison Kaz. "We want military wives. We want couples who just got engaged, firefighters, police officers."

The show will be shot on location at contestants' homes and offices.

NBC is not saying what this season's "losers" will win. But the network will provide each team with a personal trainer for the 10 weeks the show is being shot.

That in itself is a reward, Kaz said. "You can't put a dollar amount on changing a person's life," she said.

In Baltimore, so many people showed up for the casting call that the producers tightened up the rules halfway through the day. Although they'd originally called for people in teams of two to five, they started requiring the teams to be three or more people. Many people didn't get in to be interviewed.

Each team was interviewed for five to 10 minutes by a two-person casting crew. They asked: What sets you apart from other teams? Which one of you is the motivator? Who is the tease?

Teams that impressed the casting crew were invited to follow-up interviews this week. They should know by early March whether they've been selected.

Yesterday, some sang songs. Some recited cheers. Others showed photographs of themselves during leaner years.

Contestants poked fun at themselves with team monikers such as "The Tempt-tations," "Fearsome Fudgies" and "The Tubinators."

Most people gave weight loss as their reason for trying out for the show - although other motivations were at work as well. A member of the Tubinators said in his interview that he hoped to go on television, become famous and "get back at all those people who made fun of me."

Others were financially motivated. "I really just want the $250,000 - but I won't say that to [the casting directors]," said Corey Gilson, speculating about the grand prize. The 19-year-old Bel Air native said he has made peace with his 310-pound frame but would like money so he can move out of his parent's house and buy a car.

Would-be contestants shared weight-loss tips.

"My next thing is the Mexican tapeworm," joked Shaunta Barnes, 35, of Aberdeen. She said it was possible to buy a pill filled with tapeworm eggs, swallow it and wait for a worm to grow.

What they didn't talk too much about was the prejudice they've experienced in a society that prizes svelte figures.

Pauline Sullivan, 38 - who hoped to lose 100 pounds - paused when this topic came up. Memories flooded back to her, and she was about to speak when a friend, sitting nearby, said "Don't do it. Don't you cry."

But it was a mostly cheerful morning. The Heart Attacks - a team of five health care workers - stood out. They wore heart-shaped costumes that they had fashioned out of red felt.

And, although they joked with each other, their reasons for auditioning were deadly serious.

"I want to live to see my sons' weddings," said Joan Wodarski, 50, of Baltimore, a registered nurse and mother of two teenage boys.

She knows there is heart disease in her family history and she knows that her weight is putting her life at risk. Her goal is to lose 63 pounds.

Another team member, Cindy Schultz, 44, said: "I've yo-yo'ed all my life," referring to weight fluctuations. She knows people who've had heart attacks and does not want to be one of them.

The Heart Attacks were asked to come back for another, longer interview.

Upon hearing this news, team member Kathy Osborne, 47, of Northeast Baltimore shouted, "Girls, pizza is on me!"

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