If you thought contestants of The Biggest Loser had a hard time, wait until you read what they had to go through just to get on the show.
Julie Ana Kim from Orange County, CA, seemed to be the ideal candidate for this intensive weight-loss program. She told POPSUGAR, "I was almost at 290 pounds" when she auditioned to be on the show. "I was nearing triple the weight I was supposed to be at. TRIPLE. I could barely breathe because of the fat around my neck; instead of walking I started to waddle. I had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And worst of all — this is the first time I'm admitting this anywhere — I found out I had diabetes. I was so embarrassed, I didn't tell anyone." She kept it a total secret. "None of my friends knew, and my grandpa and dad found out one day because I left my medication out (my dad and grandma were diabetic and took the same meds). I didn't tell a soul, and worst of all, I didn't acknowledge my disease. I didn't take my medication, I didn't change my diet, and I wasn't exercising. I was on a destructive path and ruining my health."
She went through a grueling and anxiety-riddled process over the course of nearly three months in an attempt to get on The Biggest Loser, which she considered to be her only hope at getting better and gaining control of her health. With so much adversity in her way, access to resources like constant training and a regimented diet — all on TV — felt like a beacon of hope. Yet the show's audition process shed some light on the fact that it might not be all it's cracked up to be (as you'll soon see). She found strength outside of the show and took away some really positive learnings from her experience.
It takes a long time.
"Casting was grueling," she said. "I was back and forth to LA for two to three months."
It's crazy stressful.
"The worst part of the application process," she said, "is the waiting. The anxiety of waiting is awful." At any moment, Julie Ana said, "you can be dropped from the audition process and not make it to the final auditions with the executives, so every time you meet with someone, you're thinking 'Will I make it to the next step?'" There's also no clear direction or communication for the applicants. "They don't give you a timeline, so you don't know when to expect the next call that you're moving on. Sometimes it's a day, sometimes it's weeks. I think the process took about two to three months of high stress, anxiety, and uncertainty."
There are a TON of steps.
"The audition process was like this for me," she told POPSUGAR. "Open casting call, video submission, in-person camera interview, psych test, interview with psychologist, physical testing, interview with casting directors, and finally the final casting audition: camera interview with all the executive producers of The Biggest Loser and some executives of NBC (pretty much the higher-ups and the most important people to impress)."
There's a "weird" psych evaluation.
"The questions were weird, but I think it was to find your weaknesses and play off that for reality TV," she said. Julie Ana told POPSUGAR that applicants are required to take a "50-page Scantron-style evaluation" that "took about an hour to complete" and asked questions like: "If someone offended you, would you most likely A. Ignore them; B. Confront them; C. Hold a grudge, etc." She said, "I remember there were questions like, 'Have you ever had the urge to harm someone or yourself?'"
You might be "too normal."
The psychologist told Julie Ana that she was "too normal for reality TV." Though he told her she had the potential to win, he warned that she would be very likely to gain the weight back due to her emotional issues. "He recommended some books on positive thinking and wished me the best of luck. I honestly didn't think I would make it past the interview with the psychologist, but I did receive another callback."
Talking to the producers is like therapy.
This part of the process helped Julie Ana realize one thing: "that I needed healing." She told POPSUGAR, "I never realized I had hated myself until they pointed that out." During the interview, she said, "I kept calling myself disgusting, worthless, and I never even noticed. . . . It was normal to me." The producers were so alarmed, they stopped the camera. "They asked me, 'Do you realize that you hate yourself? Would you ever think about saying to someone else what you're saying to yourself?' And I realized no, I would never think someone was disgusting or worthless because of their weight, yet I thought of myself that way." It was a huge wake-up call for her. "I hated everything that I had become, and I really thought of myself as worthless. I had been told that all my life, so I believed it without even realizing that I believed it." She said, "Talking to the producers woke me up. They told me even if I didn't get on the show, they truly believed that I needed to start loving myself again. They recommended that I start saying one positive thing about myself every day."
You go through medical tests — but you don't get to see the results.
"They do an extremely intense physical and medical examination with Dr. H, who is the doctor on the actual Biggest Loser show," said Julie Ana. She described this process as "really cool," mentioning that she liked working with the doctor and trainers. "They did a whole scan of my body to see how much body fat I had; it took almost 15 minutes and was like a CT scan of the body. They hooked up wires all over me while I ran on the treadmill and did tests. They did a breathing test. Some of the trainers (the ones who train when the cameras aren't rolling) made me do certain movements to see my flexibility. It was interesting; the only thing is we never got to see our results."
The interviews are scary.
"The final interview with the executives was extremely scary," she said. "It's a group interview on camera, and [there are] about 10 executives sitting in front of you on their phones looking disinterested. I was intimidated. I was second to go in that interview, and I noticed the executives asked me so many follow-up questions, while others got no questions at all. I thought I had it in the bag."
Even the experts on the crew are wary.
Julie Ana told POPSUGAR that the psychologist she interviewed with "warned me that The Biggest Loser wasn't all it seemed to be . . . that there were a lot of behind-the-scenes issues and that some people lose weight in unhealthy ways. In the long run, they endure really negative long-term effects. The fact that the psychologist warned me about that was very odd and should have deterred me from wanting me to be on the show, but I was so desperate to lose weight I was willing to still be on the show."
They might tell you to try again next year.
"Finally a casting producer called to say that I came very close, but I didn't make it. . . . I didn't fit the puzzle of what the executives wanted," she said. "The casting producer said I had a great chance to make it in the future, and although they would hope that I lost weight by the next year, to try out again if I am still struggling. And that was my plan. To wait for next year."
They sometimes cast in groups.
A year went by, and Julie Ana was ready for her solo audition. "I gained 35 more pounds," she said. "The Biggest Loser announced they were casting for groups, not individuals. I had gained so much weight within that year that I qualified to be on Extreme Weight Loss, so I auditioned for that instead. I got a callback for that as well but didn't make it past the in-person interview."
You can lose weight without the show.
After the final letdown, Julie Ana said, "I was at a loss. I honestly believed that the only way I could successfully lose weight was through a reality TV show, because it would motivate me to work harder and they had structure." She fantasized about what the show would be like, thinking, "I would be working out 24/7 and would be eating what the trainers gave me. I thought I needed this. This was my only chance to lose weight." But then she got a reality check from her mother. "My mom was the one who changed my mindset; from the moment I told her about The Biggest Loser, she told me that I didn't need it. She supported me, but she truly believed I could do it on my own. She was the one who pushed for me to try it on my own, to get a personal trainer, and see where things go." Today, Julie Ana has had massive weight-loss success from the BBG program and is down 72 pounds of her 150-pound weight-loss goal.