When it comes to reality television, there are few shows more unusual than The Biggest Loser. This hugely popular program has been entertaining audiences for years now, with contestants being put through their paces each season. However, former participant Kai Hibbard unveiled some dark secrets about the series in January 2015.
The Biggest Loser made its debut on NBC back in 2004, and went on to last for 17 seasons. More recently, a revived version of the show aired on the USA Network in January 2020. In addition to that, the program has spawned more than 30 iterations around the globe, too, which highlights the popularity of the premise.
Participants would compete against each other to shed as much weight as possible, with a winner being crowned at the end. It really caught on with viewers, but the show has always skirted a somewhat controversial line. For example, Rachel Frederickson weighed just 105 pounds by the final episode of the 15th season, which drew quite a bit of criticism.
Around a year on from the Frederickson controversy, a different contestant hit the headlines. Her name was Kai Hibbard, and she’d competed in the third season of The Biggest Loser. She came in second during the finale, after shedding more than 120 pounds to reach a weight of a little over 140 pounds.
Prior to Hibbard’s appearance on The Biggest Loser, she’d weighed 265 pounds, which prompted a pal of hers to speak up. Following a frank discussion between the pair, the former then decided to get in touch with the program. As we mentioned earlier, though, she shared some troubling tales about her experiences in January 2015.
But before we dive into Hibbard’s story, let’s take a closer look at some of the other behind-the-scenes drama on the show. Over the years, certain participants have pulled back the curtain and revealed tidbits of information. Nicole Michalik was one of them, and she spoke to the A.V. Club website in November 2013.
Michalik competed in season four and noted that the tone of the workouts would change if they were being filmed. “We did have iPods and music when the cameras weren’t there,” she recalled. “But when the cameras were actually on us, we just had to get our asses kicked with no music, which was miserable.”
And while the workouts were certainly difficult, the application process proved to be just as tough. According to Michalik, she first needed to travel from her Pennsylvania home to Virginia in order to speak with the program’s production staff. And that wasn’t the only requirement that she had to fulfill before being recruited.
“I did this two-hour, on-camera interview with two of the casting directors,” Michalik recalled. “Then, for the next six weeks, every day was like, ‘Send pictures of when you were at the prom. Send pictures of when you were eight. Do you know how to swim? Do you have any tattoos?’”
“It was a million questions and a million phone interviews, and that went on for about six weeks,” Michalik continued. “And this was before smartphones, so my poor mom and dad had to go to CVS to scan pictures and send them in. They really make you jump through a lot of hoops.”
A participant from the Australian iteration of the series also shed some light on the challenges he faced away from the camera. Andrew Costello competed on the program in 2008, shedding just over 110 pounds in the end. But when he wasn’t working out, Costello faced a somewhat unusual situation.
Indeed, Costello and his fellow contestants were barred from accessing any kind of news from the outside world. So over a period of nearly five months, he wasn’t allowed to switch on the television or pick up a newspaper. In his mind, it was like spending a prolonged spell in a jailhouse.
But the biggest issue seemed to occur when the holiday season rolled around, and it pushed Costello to his limit. As it turned out, Christmas didn’t afford them a break from those tough restrictions. To explain more about his experience, he penned an article for the news.com.au website in February 2014.
“When it was the Christmas break, the crew and producers all took ten days off,” Costello explained. “Everyone left, everything stopped. So while they enjoyed Christmas with their families, all the contestants sat in the White House with a security guard and supervisor. We were not allowed to leave the house.”
“We only got five minutes each to call our partners on Christmas Day,” Costello added. “We only got to speak to our partners three times during the whole series. It was a very sad and depressing ten days, but I signed up for the TV show so I can’t really complain.”
Going back to the American series, Michalik revealed another interesting tidbit during her conversation with A.V. Club. She claimed that The Biggest Loser usually portrays the contestants in a certain light for the audience. In her case, she was painted as a care-free singleton with one goal in mind.
“[The show] typecasts every season,” Michalik explained. “You have the mom who wants to be a better mom, and you have the dad who lost his father to alcoholism and doesn’t want to be the same kind of dad. I was the single girl who wanted to lose weight so I can come home and s*** it up around Philly.”
“I was the typical single girl that was living in the city and working on her career and just wanted to be hot, basically,” Michalik added. “My whole thing was that I wanted to wear skinny jeans.” To round things off, she also noted that the program gave each of the contestants daily stipends of $100.
While Michalik ultimately enjoyed her experience on The Biggest Loser, though, the same can’t be said for Hibbard. And she finally felt compelled to share her stories about the show in January 2015. The former participant sat down with the New York Post newspaper, and she opened the interview with a bang.
Hibbard said, “The whole f****** show is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in. [But] you just think you’re so lucky to be there that you don’t think to question or complain about anything.” Off the back of that, the third season’s runner-up then began to reflect on everything that she’d experienced during filming.
After Hibbard earned her spot on the program, she took a plane to Los Angeles, California, and made her way to a hotel as instructed. From there, she claimed that the show wouldn’t allow participants to go out of their rooms unless they were needed for the cameras. In her opinion, the restrictions were put in place to stop the group from speaking to each other.
However, a fellow contestant believed that there was something sinister going on during that part of the process. The individual, who didn’t reveal their name, told the New York Post that their computer and phone were confiscated on the first day. Once the items were returned, the participant was convinced that the devices had been “bugged.”
Following almost a week at the hotel, Hibbard and her fellow competitors were subsequently transported to a location called “the ranch.” That would be their base of operations for the rest of the season. And much like Costello’s experience in Australia, there was a strict limit on how long they could talk to loved ones.
If that wasn’t enough, Hibbard and company also had to wait for more than a month before they could even pick up the phone. “You might give away show secrets,” she explained to the newspaper when asked about the producers’ motives. As for the actual conversations, they were restricted to just five minutes – with program staffers listening in.
On that note, Hibbard recalled a particularly troubling incident. “I know that one of the contestants’ children became very ill and was in the ICU,” she said. “He was allowed to talk to his family – but he didn’t want to leave, because the show would have been done with him.”
At that stage in the conversation, Hibbard then switched her focus to the show’s exercise regimens, which proved to be incredibly brutal. “There was no easing into it,” the former contestant revealed. “That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.”
The unnamed competitor went through a similar experience, too, as they revealed during their interview with the New York Post. But according to them, the lengthy workout routines weren’t just physically exhausting. In addition to that, the competitors apparently had to deal with plenty of discouraging words from their coaches as well.
Hibbard concurred, adding, “[The trainers] would say things to contestants like, ‘You’re gonna die before your children grow up. You’re going to die, just like your mother. We’ve picked out your fat-person coffin.’ That [last one] was in a text message. One production assistant told a contestant to take up smoking because it would cut her appetite in half.”
Alongside those issues, injuries also proved to be a big problem for Hibbard and company. Due to the intensity of the process, she ended up suffering with a bout of shin splints. Furthermore, another participant had to deal with a painful ailment in both her legs, which led to a shocking moment.
“One contestant had a torn calf muscle and bursitis in her knees,” Hibbard informed the paper. “The doctor told her, ‘You need to rest.’ She said, ‘Production told me I can’t rest.’ At one point after that, production ordered her to run, and she said, ‘I can’t.’ She was seriously injured. But they edited her to make her look lazy and b***** and combative.”
Unfortunately for Hibbard, though, she had some additional problems to deal with throughout the show. “My hair was falling out. My period stopped,” she told the New York Post. “I was only sleeping three hours a night. [My knees] sound like Saran Wrap. My thyroid, which I never had problems with, is now crap.”
Meanwhile, Hibbard wasn’t too impressed with her diet, either, as she was handed “Franken-foods” from the show’s promotional partners. Under normal circumstances, a healthy individual should consume in the region of 1,400 calories daily. But for The Biggest Loser participants, they were reportedly eating under 1,000 calories.
As a result of that dip, some of the contestants lost as much as 30 pounds in just seven days. However, according to an expert from Bowling Green State University, those figures were dangerously high. To explain more, Professor Lynn Darby joined the discussion with the New York Post in January 2015.
“Safe weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, and most people find that hard,” Darby said. “If you reduce your calories to less than 800 to 1,000 a day, your metabolism will shut down. Add five to eight hours of exercise a day – that’s like running a marathon, in poor shape, five days a week.”
“Just calorie restriction in and of itself has to be supervised,” Darby explained. “I mean, people die. Then add that exercise load on top of it. The joints of someone who has never exercised absorbing the force of 300 pounds of jumping or bouncing? It’s just not safe [for them].”
But despite everything that Hibbard went through on the show, one moment in particular really got under her skin. At a certain point in the season, the participants were told to wait inside the horse stalls at a race-track. Then, they were all instructed to start running once a bell sounded.
Unlike a standard race, though, the group then had to lift up heavy bags, which represented the pounds they’d shed, while making their way along the track. In an act of defiance, Hibbard opted to walk through the course instead, highlighting her frustration. Due to that, she claims that the show made her look “lazy.”
Hibbard also had to contend with another issue, which she relayed to The Guardian newspaper in January 2016. “[We] women weren’t allowed [to wear] a shirt until we lost enough weight to ‘earn’ one,” she revealed. “You had to wear a sports bra. It was freezing at night when we did the weigh-ins.”
Hibbard added, “[When] we asked for shirts, they gave us pasties instead to hide our nipples.” In spite of all that, though, she still managed to finish the season in second place. However, Hibbard wanted to make something perfectly clear at the end of her interview with the New York Post.
“If I’m going to walk around collecting accolades, I also have a responsibility [to tell the truth],” Hibbard concluded. “There’s a moral and ethical question here when you take people who are morbidly obese and work them out to the point where they vomit, all because it makes for good TV.”