Episode 6 of “Heavy” was different than all the others in so many ways. The clients were taken to a new facility (the Hilton Head Health in South Carolina) where they stayed for six full months rather than the usual one and then five more at home. Like “Intervention,” there was more of a focus on the health risks of obesity, yet the show lacked the in-depth look at the clients’ home lives, which is why this post won’t touch on them, like my others have. The clients were also allowed to email, text and use the phone and didn’t have their bags openly examined by the trainers, who were not David or Britny anymore.
Production-wise, the episode was pilot-level, at best. In fact, halfway through, I was convinced it was a knock-off of the show I’ve grown to love, some amateur film student’s attempt to recreate A&E’s popular new series. But despite the differences, one aspect of “Heavy” was business as usual: two very overweight people, Ronnie, a 437.6 lb. 44 year-old father of three, and Debbie, a 401.4 lb. 44 year-old virgin (Yes, you read that right.), were on the show for a reason: to change their lives.
Ronnie, much like Ashley and Flor before him, arrived at “the facility” in full-on “beast mode,” confessing before he left “I’m not even a hero to my kids anymore.” Ronnie was used to being everyone’s hero. Twenty-five years ago, he was a high school and college football star, a muscular, athletic man with the world in his hands. Then his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Ronnie’s world completely changed. He went from being a man the world, or at least his town, revolved around to being a man whose world revolved around a dying woman. Ronnie became his mother’s caregiver, managing all aspects of her life, including cooking for her. As he watched his mother dying, he began using food as a method of coping with her loss, remarking “[her death] changed my life…turned me into 450 lbs.” Once a coping mechanism, Ronnie’s eating quickly turned into an addiction, one that caused him to have alarmingly high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. His addiction was so bad he would eat until he threw up, but more importantly, it was affecting his relationship with his kids and his fiance Cara, a wonderfully supportive and loving woman, whose mother had been diagnosed with cancer, too, prompting Ronnie to become the caregiver for his kids and hers and supplying him with yet another trigger to eat. But Cara was at the end of her rope and threatened to end her relationship with Ronnie because she and her family were “tied to what he can’t do vs. what all of [them] can.”
While Ronnie basically had the support of his entire town, Debbie wasn’t so lucky. Not only was she a virgin, but she had absolutely no confidence in herself. Debbie became heavy at an early age, and once she was in high school, she learned quickly that there was no rejection in food, like there was with relationships. While her friends were out meeting boys, Debbie’s “boyfriend was McDonalds, Burger King.” She “didn’t feel worthy enough to have somebody love [her],” and as she gained weight, she began feeling more and more hopeless about her ability to find someone, saying “I just feel like my body is disgusting.” (Apparently, Debbie hasn’t heard Chris Rock’s thoughts on the negotiating powers women inherently have.) Debbie had become embarrassed by her weight, and it wasn’t only affecting her ability to have a relationship, she couldn’t even play golf anymore, something she used to do with her father regularly, because she couldn’t walk and struggled to swing a club. As Debbie said before arriving at “the facility,” it was time for her to make a “definite change.”
Now here’s where episode six of “Heavy” took a downturn for me. Upon arriving at “the facility,” we learn that Ronnie and Debbie will be there for six months rather than the usual one month with an additional five at home where they would further assimilate and make adjustments to their home life based on the healthier lifestyle they had been living at “the facility” with close monitoring by David and Britny, who were also gone in exchange for Amber the trainer, who we barely see working with the clients; Beverly, a tough-talking trainer/life coach who seems like the new David, just without all the muscle; and Adam, the fitness director who orchestrates the most awkward scene in the short history of “Heavy.” Neither Ronnie nor Debbie weigh-in with the trainers present, establishing a disconnected, less personal support system that made both clients resonate less with me.
Despite my qualms, Ronnie and Debbie still had weight to lose, and they both did it, but rather, well, differently (I’m sorry for making “different” the buzzword of this post, but, really, the episode was.) Ronnie, arriving in “beast mode,” was determined to lose 200 lbs., an amount of weight that seemed completely unhealthy to lose in six months. Within his first month at “the facility,” his “football mentality” inspired Ronnie to go hard, too hard actually, causing him to injure his knee. (I posted yesterday about my own competitive spirit and how that has caused me to overdo it, like Ronnie.) But, as Ronnie said, he’s “always pushed through injuries,” and he did, amassing a 97.2 lb. weight loss at the three-month mark. However, he wasn’t willing to address the underlying issues of his food addiction with the counselors at “the facility,” so when Cara visited him, she and Beverly teamed up on Ronnie, insisting that he talk to the counselor. Ronnie put up a fight, but Beverly got all David on him, accusing him of being in denial and saying, “You know how to lose weight, but you don’t know shit about keeping it off.” Ronnie finally relented and began addressing his addiction issues.
Debbie wasn’t quite as dedicated as Ronnie. From the first day, she fought Amber and Beverly, but not because she was necessarily combative, Debbie just didn’t believe in herself. She refused to do push-ups–even the granny-kind–because she didn’t think she’d be able to get up. After a few days, the trainers finally called her on it, but Debbie promised, “I’m doing what I can do.” Amber and Beverly pushed, yet not too hard knowing that, despite her lack of belief in herself, Debbie still needed to be in control. And by the halfway point, she had certainly made a dent losing 55 lbs. But Debbie’s weight wasn’t her only problem. Remember: she was a virgin at 44 and not because she was saving herself for marriage. Debbie says she just hadn’t met the right guy; however, after listening to her continuously doubt herself and be unwilling to push, it’s clear that the problem was her confidence. Debbie wasn’t willing to try because she feared failure. So Adam, the fitness director at “the facility,” got the bright idea to simulate a scenario where Debbie might strike up a conversation with a single man at a place she loves: the driving range. Unfortunately, there’s no video online yet, but trust me when I tell you: this scene was incredibly awkward, Adam trying to convince Debbie that she could pick up someone at the golf course by striking conversation about the person’s swing and Debbie finally insisting that she wouldn’t talk to anyone because “when you’re golfing, you concentrate on golfing. You don’t want talk a lot.” Obviously, this scene made me truly miss David and Britny.
The final weigh-in lacked the drama of previous episodes, as Ronnie and Debbie simply hopped on the scales and weighed in as they had at the 7, 90 and 150 day markers. Debbie’s final weigh-in was 269.8, a total weight loss of 130.6 lbs. She looked–yes, you guessed it–different, but, despite losing more than any other woman on “Heavy,” Debbie seemed like the same person, lacking the quintessential shine of someone who lost about a third of their body weight. Of course, Ronnie’s final weigh-in was–here it comes!–different than Debbie’s. He finished his six-months at “the facility” at 264.8, a total of 172.8 lbs., the most significant weight loss yet. The final weigh-in may have lacked the drama of the preceding episodes, but Ronnie was sure to step it up by following through on the pledge he made when he arrived: to run a minute for every pound he lost. And Ronnie did it, running three hours straight, and when he finished, due to both exhaustion and emotion, he choked up, realizing he’d come farther than the treadmill could even count.
Despite the dramatic reveals, episode six was, without a doubt, the most disappointing episode of “Heavy.” It lacked the sincerity of the previous episodes, but mostly, it missed the personal touch, either through the stories of how Ronnie and Debbie came to be so overweight (Debbie was a 44-year-old virgin. Are we really supposed to believe it was because she was socially awkward? There has to be much more to it than that.) or the personal connections each made with the trainers, who didn’t quite have the personality or the overall chutzpah of David and Britny. With six months at “the facility,” both clients had more dramatic reveals than in previous episodes, but that didn’t help them implement healthy behavior into their lives. The previous episodes made it clear that weight loss can be hard, but keeping it off is the real challenge, a point that really wasn’t made besides Beverly’s curt snap at Ronnie. Under the new fitness regimen, I really don’t think the weight loss for either Ronnie or Debbie will be sustainable, as evidenced by the follow-up at the end of the episode where three months later Ronnie and Debbie had simply “maintained” their weight loss.
“Heavy” producers, if you’re reading this, please bring back David, Britny and the original format of the show. It could change your lives, or, at least, save your show.
Brian McGuigan is a writer, performer and arts get-shit-done-er working on a one-man show about his own struggles with weight loss entitled “Fat Fuck.” He blogs weekly about A&E’s new docu-drama “Heavy” at brianwithani.com.