Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition Premieres with a 400-Pound Contestant

Courtesy: ABC/Greg Zabilski

Now that Olivia Ward has won The Biggest Loser, fans of weight-loss series can follow the journeys of eight courageous, “super obese” people who, in an unprecedented 365 days, set out to safely lose half of their body weight when Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition premieres tonight.

In the premiere episode, trainer and transformation specialist Chris Powell takes on Rachel, who has been able to accomplish nearly everything she has set out to do so far in her young life — except the one goal that eludes her, to lose weight.

At only 21 years old, Rachel weighs nearly 400 pounds. While living at home surrounded by her fit siblings, she feels she’s the “elephant in the room.” As a result, she believes she can never make her parents truly proud, until she loses weight.

Rachel will get the opportunity of a a lifetime when Chris surprises her at school where, ironically, she teaches young children physical education. But first we talk to Chris about how he got chosen for the series, what it is like working with super obese clients and how this show differs from The Biggest Loser.

Do you watch The Biggest Loser and how is your show different?

Chris Powell: I would watch it if I could but I have been on the road for 10 of the last 12 months so there is very little TV for me. The show is different in that there is no competition. I wanted to remove that. A lot of people say, “There is no competition? Why? And there’s no fear factor?” I wanted to have people think, “If they can do it, I can do it.” The people that were selected for this were selected because they really want to lose weight. And even though they mess up, they don’t get voted off the ranch. If you are chosen, you were chosen. Everyone was told at the beginning: You write your own ending. Whether you gain 10 pounds or lose 300 pounds you write the ending to your show.

How did you get involved with the show?

Chris Powell: I was the tiniest kid in school growing up. I grew to 5-feet 8-3/4-inches after high school, but sure enough, I was bullied a lot as a kid because I was so tiny and it’s easy to pick on the little kid. But my parents bought me a weight set when I was 14. I came home one day after school and they had stripped out the living room and I found a weight set in the middle of the living room floor. After a couple of weeks I started using it and felt empowered. There was no turning back and it has fueled me ever since. I went on to Arizona State and was No. 2 in exercise science and got my degree with concentrations on physiology and biomechanics. I got every certificate you could possibly think of and was really into sports and performance.

Courtesy: ABC/Greg Zabilski

Do we see the transformations in one single episode?

Chris Powell: Yes. There are eight episodes and each one is one hour and encompasses one individual’s weight-loss journey over the course of the year and all the struggles they go through. That’s the other difference, it’s a year. I wanted time and this is the longest-running production that ABC has because I needed time to do this.

How much of each of the loser’s backstory will we see?

Chris Powell: A lot because really the backstory is to where they start.

Do most of these people have backstories?

Chris Powell: That’s the common denominator absolutely: abandonment, death, divorce — all these different things have led to where they are. They don’t become 400, 500 or 600 pounds because they like food. It is that they are trying to fill a void by eating their emotions. Their drug of choice is food. It’s human issues they’re dealing with, and that’s what makes it relatable. So many people will choose work, or alcohol or sex, whatever the addiction may be and these people just can’t hide their addiction because they’ve chosen food.

Do you do the therapy aspect also, or is there someone else?

Chris Powell: There is somebody else because I am the coach. It extends beyond that and become such a personal friendship. For therapy to become truly impactful they have to be removed from the process. The individual needs to be able to work with them and talk openly. Even though I am their friend and the trust is there, all too often I advised that they should talk to the therapist about certain topics. I advise that they help them work through this struggle of that struggle. I am brutally honest with them and it’s important that I am.

Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition premieres tonight at 10:01 p.m. on ABC.

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