The Biggest Loser: Singles is almost here (that’s 7pm tonight Mon Jan 23 on Network TEN) and this season is set to be the biggest, the most intimate and of course, the most life-changing experience yet! To get you all excited, Courtney got to catch up with show trainer, mentor and new author, Shannan Ponton!
Courtney: Thank you for taking this time to do this interview; we really appreciate it!
Shannan: Yeah, pleasure!
Courtney: Shannan, this is the seventh season of The Biggest Loser which I believe is your sixth as trainer. What is it that has kept you and the crew going all this time?
Shannan: It’s a funny thing. We work flat out for five months and at the end of it, the contestants are so good; they’re ready to go and they’re ready to take life and you walk away with your head held high. You’re so happy and for the next six months you lull yourself into a false sense of security and you really look forward to coming back to work. You’re thinking, ‘how good’s this gonna be!’, and you walk in on day one and whack! It’s just like hitting a brick wall because you forget how broken and how in need of attention and love these contestants really are.
This first part that we’re filming now is no doubt the toughest part of the year; it tests every part of you as a trainer because when the contestants are at their worst, the trainer has to be at their best. The contestants are so broken.
This year, I have the 18-30 year old guys and at that age, they’ve had their life squashed out of them. Some of them have never been on a date; some of them have never even been apart of a team before and at 20 years of age, some of them are ready to hang up their boots and call it a day. It is frightening to realise that someone can have their life squashed out of them like that.
C: I can see how that would be great motivation!
S: It definitely it; just to see the transformation; it’s phenomenal. In all honesty, I have people coming up in the street, bursting into tears and going ‘Shannon, you changed my life, I’ve watched The Biggest Loser’ or, ‘I’ve read your book’ or, ‘I’ve done your online challenge’ and these are just randoms, so it is quite incredible.
The power of The Biggest Loser transcends TV.
C: The Biggest Loser is definitely one of those shows that give reality television a good name. It does so much and helps other people.
S: Yeah, there are no losers on The Biggest Loser, nobody’s ever made to look bad; nobody’s ever made to sell their soul. It’s all positive and it’s a wonderful thing and I think that’s why it has had good longevity to this point.
C: Yes, seven seasons is great for a show like this. It remains popular with the viewers but with every reality television show, as we go along, there becomes added pressure sometimes to make bigger twists, or in Loser’s case, tougher training routines. Do you find that is the case with this show, or is the focus still very much on the weight losses?
S: You know, the results we’ve achieved on the show are pretty close to the limit of what the human weight loss is. People can lose 52% of their body weight in that time and I don’t think results like that are going to be eclipsed by too much. As far as weight loss goes, it pretty much stays the same (from season to season).
What is really cool this year is the dynamic. All of our contestants this year are single; none of them are in relationships. All of them are looking for love, but up until this point, they have never had the confidence, the ability or the trust in themselves to even approach getting into a relationship. So what we’re doing this year is teaching the contestants to learn to love themselves in order to find love, which is wonderful. It is such a good dynamic. I think, because of that dynamic, it’s taken a lot of pressure off the trainers because love is such an amazing motivator.
C: One of our questions was, in fact, whether or not love and romance was going to play a big part in this season and whether the ‘Singles’ tagline also alluded to the fact they are all single.
S: Without stepping too far out of my bounds, we’re seven weeks into it and there is already love in the house. There are two couples who have hooked up in the house and they’re the people that I would have thought least likely to be able to get into a relationship and it blew me away! I’ve got the young blokes, and it is one of my boys (in one of the relationships) and to see him in there and actually communicating with a girl which he’s never ever had the confidence to do, after seven weeks, is just top stuff! That story is so strong and I think it’s going to engage the viewers. There are a couple of people who have been scorned by love in there as well and those people have lost confidence and their weight has spiralled out of control and some of them have just started clawing back the years that have gone by.
C: When I look at the promotions on air currently, I feel like they’re very intimate and somewhat emotional. Is it going to be an emotional and intimate season this year?
S: Haha, I don’t know what there is more of this year; sweat or tears, but there is a lot of water on the floor by the time we’re finished. I think sweat and tears can be measured in equal amounts coming out of the contestants, haha.
I think love is a very powerful emotion and as a powerful emotion, I think it is a powerful motivator. I think already, the relationships that have blossomed have been jeopardised by contestants possibly going home, and it has led the contestants to be able to get more from themselves. I mean, we have eliminations every week and when love is threatened, the contestants have lifted to unimaginable proportions to get themselves secure and live in the house for another week with their new romance.
C: You mentioned that you were taking the 16-30 year old boys (Tiffiny Hall will be taking the 16-30 year old girls, Steve ‘The Commando’ Willis will have the 30+ guys and Michelle Bridges will be taking the 30+ girls. There will be four contestants per team). Have you formed strong emotional bonds with them yet and if so, does it help getting them to shed the kilos?
S: Hmm, yeah, we’re still right at that critical point at the start of the show where the contestants are so broken, and what they need is tough love. Unfortunately, that puts a strain on our relationship because at the moment, our contestants see what I’m doing as something weird, something foreign, something crazy. They’ll say ‘you can’t expect me to be on the treadmill for three hours a day’, when the reality is, that is what I expect from them. I think as you move through the show, you forge your relationship at the coal face and by the end of the season, your relationships have been forged and they’re strong. At the moment, they’re still critical.
C: Speaking of the tough love and the training routines, the show does attract quite a lot of criticism for its rapid weight loss method and the extreme training exercises. How do you respond to that?
S: Mate, I sit back and laugh. I absolutely sit back and laugh. I believe that as a society, we’ve become so soft, and mediocrity reigns supreme. These do-gooders want to throw up that rapid weight loss doesn’t work when it actually does. On The Biggest Loser, there is nothing artificial. There are no drugs, there are no shakes, nothing. These contestants eat good food, train hard and lose weight and I think it is absolutely attainable for anybody who would want to put that level of effort in. We have no secrets, no amazing machines. We eat well and train hard. If anyone in the world wanted to dedicate three hours a day to training, they would get the same results. Some people say ‘oh, well it’s not realistic’, well, it really is; you’ve just got to have a commitment of time and a real desire, some guts and courage to get on with it. Most diets fail because they’re not successful enough and not maintainable enough. What the contestants eat on the show is what I eat every day of my life.
C: The thing is, I think, is that people find these routines a little confronting.
S: Yeah, and it’s just breathing mediocrity. The more moderate you are, the less of a threat you are to everyone else; whereas the more extreme you are at something, the more people want to chop you down which is a really sad dynamic. The less of a threat they are to you, you know, and the less of a threat that you are that you are going to have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and do something extreme to obtain those results. You’re better off sitting back, throwing stones at it and trying to break it down then actually having a crack yourself and realising ‘oh hang on, this really works’!
C: Going back to the format itself and this year, we’re going back to the original formats. There are no couples, there are no families. I notice the reversion doesn’t happen on international versions where they usually stick with the newer formats. Is it easier as a trainer to help contestants and train them when they enter the competition alone?
S: It’s much easier for us as trainers to divide and conquer when they are singles because they are that much more vulnerable and they are accountable and out of their comfort zone. The unfortunate thing about the families edition (which aired last year) was that, in my team, we had Sharlene, who was one of the biggest enablers. She allowed her entire family to get fat without wanting to take responsibility for it. I remember how Sharlene would allow her family to eat fruit at night. They would have fruit and she would say ‘yep, you can have it, it is just fruit’, when they knew damn well that you shouldn’t eat fruit at night (something they learnt from Shannan) but because she let them do that all their life, the behaviour was perpetuated. But when they are singles, I can just say ‘don’t do that’ and they will listen.
C: So less backchat then. Well, I guess there will be some backchat- we’ve seen it in the promos!
S: You know what, you’ll see it in my team! There have been more tears and more dummy spits and I myself have spat the dummy more this year than ever before. I’ve been so frustrated by my boys; sleeping in, not doing their morning training and even getting to the point of lying to me. My relationships are built on trust and respect. Respect is the number one rule for life.
C: In previous seasons, we’ve had the ‘oldest’ contestants or ‘heaviest’ contestants. Are we going to see any of these boundaries pushed this year?
S: Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me, on my team, I’ve got the biggest ever contestant ever on any Biggest Loser series anywhere in the world. He is in excess of 240kg. At one stage, as a reality check, we placed on a table what he ate in a week. It was in excess of 47,000 calories. An average male needs 14,000 calories. The quality of the food was that of a ten year old’s party. The scene is quite confronting.
C: Those scenes always get to me- they put things in perspective.
S: People always want to know how they get so big and the answer is right there on the table. It’s not rocket science.
C: One of the biggest things for me about The Biggest Loser are the weigh ins and transformations. Are we going to see bigger weight losses, bigger transformations?
S: As far as the statistics go, yes. The statistics are pretty good; each year we try to improve statistically on what we were last year. That’s the goal for everybody. The biggest stand out this year, for me, is the dynamics. I have the young guys and The Commando has the old guys so on paper, my guys should be red hot favourites because they are younger, they are more resilient to injury and they have less chance of getting injured in the first place whereas the older guys are more prone to injury and they take longer to recover. But what the older contestants have going for them is their mental strength. My guys are so weak in terms of their heads whereas the Commando’s guys are so strong. So it really is quite an amazing battle between brains and brawn. That’s really stood out. Commando’s boys have to be smart about their strategy as they have to look out for their body whereas my boys can just bash themselves but it isn’t always the best way of doing things as they lack life skills.
C: So how can you sum up what the viewers are about to see?
S: Umm, I think Monday, the viewers are in for a very emotional experience. Now, I say this without having seen the final cut. Right from the beginning, there are contestants who you will genuinely fall in love with. There are contestants where you’ll go ‘oh that’s my mother’ or, ‘that’s my father’ or, ‘I know someone who’s been through that’. I think that’s the stand out point.
C: So, talking about the first few weeks, last year you were introduced to the contestants by living with them and eating what they ate and all that. What are you going to be doing this time around to introduce yourselves to the contestants?
S: This year is different. For the first time, we get to go and inform the contestants ourselves that they are on the show. They are in their day to day lives, at work or doing whatever they’re doing around the house before we show up and say ‘right, we’re here!’. We open the fridge, see what’s there and live a day in their life. Haha, again we had to eat their bloody food! But thankfully, it was only for a day. But when you have four contestants to visit…
C: So when you go visit them on that day, they genuinely have NO IDEA that you are coming!
S: Absolutely NO idea. They all think they’re still in the audition process. We turn up there on their doorstep.
C: So, outside the show, there’s a bit going on. You have a new book, Hard’n Up. How has the public reception been? Can you tell us a bit about it?
S: The book came out just before Christmas. The public reaction has been wonderful. It is a labour of love and it is something that has taken me a bit longer than the other trainers.
I just wanted to bide my time and get it spot on and I just wanted to make sure that the philosophies I use on the show are adequately explained in the book. I wanted the book to have a point of difference.
In the book, I’m not talking at the reader, I’m talking with them. I’m not telling you to do ten push ups or anything. I’m explaining what happened in my life to get me to this point. Every couple of pages, there are anecdotes from my life. So I’ve actually bared a bit of my soul to the reader as well as about what has happened to me when I was growing up. It gives people an insight into my life as so I can grab their trust before talking with them through eating, through the emotions of weight problems and the diets and the last chapter is about never giving up.
It’s a really nice point of difference to be able to talk with the reader and not at them. I think if you give a little of yourself, you get a lot back.
C: So have you yourself been through any weight issues? Or have you always been a fitness fanatic?
S: I get asked this quite a lot. There’s a reason why I’m a trainer, it’s something that has been in me since I was a kid and I’ve loved exercising since I was five years old. That’s why I’m a trainer. You don’t have to have been on a weight loss journey to be a good trainer. I’m a trainer; they’re the student. It’s a point of difference.
The reason why I’m not obese or overweight is because I’ve always trained and always taken care of myself and I’ve always been proud of what I’ve done. So I think, for that, it’s a more powerful point to be a trainer that has never let themselves go or never will.
I mean, I have time off and put on a few kilos but then when that happens, its game on! Always address what’s going on and always address what’s going on. I mean, I love a beer and people ask if I eat anything bad and I say, yep, twice a week. I have something bad, like going out for a night with my wife or going to my mum’s. I also love a beer on the weekends but the difference is, I will be up the next morning training because one of the philosophies from the book is that if you play, you pay.
But everyone should have a ‘cheat’ meal once in a while, everyone. And to help, we’re doing an online personal training thing now. We did the first one back before Christmas which was amazing. All it is, is all my philosophies and all the training exercises from The Biggest Loser put on one website that is accessible for everybody. So everybody now has to get rid of all their excuses like ‘oh, I don’t know what to do’ because for $100 for two months, you can transform your mind and your body and have me as your personal trainer.
C: So how is the best way to start with a weight loss journey?
S: The excuses. Get rid of them, get fair dinkum and go for it. You will have to realise that you’re going to have to sacrifice a bit of your life to get to where you want to go. Some people say ‘oh, I love my two glasses of wine, I love cappuccino and I love avocado on my salad’. Uh, stop it, you have to make changes.
C: Well thank you so much for taking this time to talk to us and we can only wish you best for what should be a great show.
S: Thanks for the support your giving to the show!
Shannan’s book, Hard’n Up, can now be purchased in any good bookshop and online.
The Biggest Loser: Singles debuts at the new time of 7.00pm tomorrow (Monday January 23) on Network TEN.
Courtney will be providing recaps for each and every episode of The Biggest Loser: Singles here on Throng.
During the week, Courtney also got the chance to catch up with former MasterChef Australia 2011 contestants, Kumar Pereira and Rachel McSweeney. You can view their respective interviews by clicking their names.