After a four-year hiatus, NBC's weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser" is back. Beginning January 28, a new 10-episode season of the series will show 12 contestants facing off to see who can lose the most weight for a cash prize.
The 30-week competition kicks off with a weigh-in to determine each contestant's starting weight. Then, the participants are divided into two teams, with red and blue uniforms. During the course of each episode, contestants participate in a variety of weight-loss activities, including a timed one-mile race, group therapy, and lessons on nutrition and food preparation.
Along the way, viewers learn more about each participant, including their background, personal life, and motivations for being on the show. For example, PhiXavier Holmes ("Phi") is a school counselor in Washington D.C., who began using food to cope when her father passed away, according to her bio on the show's website.
Domenico ("Dom") Brugellis is a dad, former chef, and food manager with the New York City Department of Education who's "finally ready to find balance between his love of the Italian food he grew up with and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle," according to the website.
At the end of each episode, one contestant is sent home, based on which team lost the most collective weight, as a percentage, relative to their starting weight. The person who lost the least weight on the losing team must leave.
Previous seasons of the show faced backlash and criticism for its premise which experts have said is fat-shaming and harmful as well as for the reported health problems suffered by former participants.
A 2016 study, published after the then-finale of the show, looked at 14 former contestants over six years, finding that nearly all of them regained weight after the show and experienced problems with their hormones and metabolism. Those issues were proportional to how quickly the participants lost a large amount of weight, researchers found.
Some of those former contestants have spoken up themselves. Ryan Benson, winner of the 2005 season of series, started his own show to address the ongoing issues he's faced since then, including regaining the weight and then some. Bernie Salazar is a frequent guest on registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield's "Body Kindness" podcast, where he discusses his journey from having disordered eating behaviors and body image problems to embracing that "his true, happy and healthy self was always meant to have a fat body."
Experts have also said that the rapid pace of weight loss depicted in The Biggest Loser is up to seven times more than what is safely recommended. Contestants are shown losing as much as one to two pounds per day (or more), compared with the usual one to two pounds per week typically suggested for safe, sustainable weight loss, Insider previously reported.
According to the official description on the USA Network website, the new series will be a "360-degree view of what it takes to make a serious lifestyle change, rather than focus solely on weight loss."
Press materials also note that contestants will be working to address what brought them to the show in the first place, including any physical, emotional, or social issues in their lives.
"Skinny does not always equate to being healthy," host Bob Harper told the Washington Post. "This is about getting these contestants on the right course to living healthier lives physically and mentally."
The reboot is also reportedly taking extra precautions to make sure contestants are medically safe, including by enlisting nutritionists to create individualized meal plans, trainers to vet each workout, and keeping doctors on set to monitor contestants' vitals.
But some experts are skeptical that the show has really improved, including Scritchfield, who's also author of "Body Kindness," a book about developing healthy habits and a positive body image without dieting.
While the changes to the show do reflect that our culture has become more body-positive, she said, the new version's so-called holistic approach is just lip service, as long as the scales and money continue to be involved. "The best change they could make is to not air a weight loss show, period," Scritchfield told Insider.
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