The Strangeness of the Biggest Loser

Sometimes when I really want to serve Jen I’ll watch The Biggest Loser with her.

The concept of the show is a good one. I like the idea of helping those who are morbidly obese and in danger of a young death. It’s incredible to see the total body transformation that takes place in each of the contestants, and I see a lot of God’s common grace in the show. Sometimes, however, the drama, the crying, and the action movie music during the weigh-ins gets to be a little too much for me. I mean, come on folks, this is a weight loss competition. No one is defusing a nuclear bomb or interrogating a terrorist. Let’s leave the intense music to Jack Bauer.

But it’s not even the music or the drama or the crying that seems odd to me. What really strikes me as odd is the mixture of Christian and post-modern values.

The concept of the show is thoroughly Christian. It’s all about the strong helping the weak, the healthy helping the sick, and the loved helping the unloved. These are all wonderful, God-honoring concepts, and I think they are what give the show its enormous popularity. After all, how can you not be moved when you see someone on the edge of death be given a new, vibrant life? God loves to meet the needy, the poor, and the broken, which, in some ways, is what the show is all about.

But just when everything is reaching it’s climax, and everybody is crying and hugging and winning lots of money, the show goes all therapeutic on me. The most common refrain throughout the show seems to be something along the lines of, “I’m doing this for myself. I’ve finally discovered my self-worth and now I’m going to live the life I was always made for.”

There is no acknowledgment of God or gratefulness to God. Ultimately everything circles back on the self. I think this is why I get so frustrated when I watch the show. I see God blessing these people in incredible ways and yet they never once acknowledge it. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not condemning them. I would be the same way apart from Christ. It simply is an indicator of the culture that we live in.

Our culture celebrates some Christian values, but these values don’t ultimately connect to and point us to God. In our culture all these values connect to and point us to ourselves. I find this quote by David Wells to be insightful (read it slowly):

Modernity obliges us to turn inward, to relocate the sources of our satisfaction and fulfillment from these connections in the outer world to sources within ourselves…the Enlightenment posits ultimate authority in the self, and modernity severs the self from any meaningful connections outside itself. (No Place for Truth, pages 142, 143)

In other words, when we turn away from the truth of God and his word, we will be forced to look inward for satisfaction and fulfillment. Our culture thrives on the idea of self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment, and self-expression. As Christians we need to be aware of this tendency and stand firm against it. Our ultimate authority and satisfaction comes from something completely outside ourselves.


  • Count me in as another husband watching TBL with his wife. What I come back to time and again are the gospel identity issues behind why the contestants are on the show. Where's it's fear of man or idolatry of food or idolatry of self, all the contestants have substitute idols. And I can't believe that in 13 seasons with 20 contestants per there wasn't one who was a believe and on the ranch identified their false God and repented. That would make for some powerful TV and an even more powerful witness.

  • Elaine says:

    I have to admit it – I'm seeing TBL in a different light! Thanks for pointing out its redeeming principles and the warning against looking to self. It's a tendency that is so insidious – I don't realize I've fallen into its trap until I'm there.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Stephen.

  • Patti says:

    I had also seen this problem and just cringe whenever they get into "doing it for myself" thing. Actually, as part of the "sandwich generation" where we have been caring for my mother-in-law who hasn't walked in 8 years due largely to being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle, I am motivated not to be a burden on my family later through anything preventable on my end. I know that God may have other plans as far as my health, but my mother-in-law has nothing physical wrong with her (age 90), and yet she is debilitated by her previous lifestyle choices and therefore is dependent on others to care for her.

  • Yeah, there are huge gospel identity issues at work. Whenever I watch the show I just want to be able to tell these people about the security found in Jesus! I hope God saves them!

  • There are definitely redeeming qualities to the show, and I hope I didn't come across as harsh. I love seeing the common grace of God at work in people's lives. It's just sad to me that they don't know the true freedom and hope of Christ.

  • That's a good point. I want to be motivated to be healthy so that I can serve the Lord and my family effectively.

  • Great point Louis. Wow, that is incredible how much weight you lost! Congratulations. I love how you have turned your weight loss into a testimony of God's strength in your life.

  • Elaine says:

    You weren't harsh at all; it came across as caring to me! It is sad when you see people struggling and in some cases, running away from the very One Who can set them free.

  • Congratulations!! I celebrate along with Stephen. What a testimony. I am sure the strength, perserverance and self-control it took to lose the weight has spilled over into all areas of your life. I have interviewed a few BL contestants and at least one has given God glory for being able to lose weight. I have known of one Christian on the show. The difficult thing is we get edited versions of shows like that so in the end the one gal may have been expressive and intentional about God's work. I'll ask her. Great thoughts Stephen. I don't watch the show consistently for a number of reasons but I do love the concept that people can change their habits. Praying God can redeem their weight-loss for his glory.

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