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Season 8 of 'The Biggest Loser'
Everett Collection

For 18 seasons, The Biggest Loser presented viewers with the emotionally charged weight-loss journeys of obsese or overweight contestants. Each seasonwhich typically ran for 30 weeks and followed contestants as they worked with trainers on personalized workout and nutrition regimens—ended in confetti and a $250,000 cash prize for the person who had achieved the highest percentage of weight loss relative to their body size. In season 8, Danny Cahill was named the winner after losing 239 pounds, a stunning number that marked, at that point, the most amount of weight ever lost on the program. But by 2016, seven years after he joined the series, Cahill had gained back more than 100 pounds. His experience was not abnormal: a study published in the journal Obesity and detailed in the New York Times revealed that most of the contestants from season 8 realized it was impossible to maintain the changes they made on The Biggest Loser because the weight loss methods used on the show actually made their metabolism worse. Far from living out the promise of the show—that anyone could lose weight and stay healthy—Cahill was one of many who proved that The Biggest Loser offered an unachievable dream. The news came following years of mounting complaints from past contestants about their treatment on the program, and the study cemented the deeply harmful legacy of the show—interrogating an assumption that viewers make about extreme makeover shows more broadly: that if a reality TV show appears to be helping people, it must be true. —Annabel Gutterman

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