Season eight of The Biggest Loser is set to premiere on NBC September 15th at 8/7 central. Trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, along with executive producer Mark Koops recently chatted about the return of their exciting weight-loss series. This year's special theme is "second chances," and 16 eager contestants will get their second chances at a new lease on life. Here is what the team behind The Biggest Loser: Season Eight had to say about this year's upcoming run:
Jillian, let me ask you first, this season the theme is second chances. What does that mean and what does it mean to you in particular?
Jillian Michaels: Oh that's a great question. What it means essentially is that every human being has gone through a tragedy of sorts. And the idea is that you have two paths you can take, you can find that alchemy that turns lead into gold, find that magic where you can see the loss as an entry point for learning and grow from it and become wiser and stronger. I think Ernest Hemingway said it best. Life breaks us all, but you're stronger in the places that were broken. Or you can essentially crumble, give up, and, you know, waste your life. So we have these contestants that have been to hell and back to be quite frank. I think the most extreme result is a woman who lost her entire family in a car wreck. And they're coming to the campus, and the idea is that how do we heal these old injuries and rehabilitate these contestants not just physically but emotionally because ultimately, although we talk about diet and exercise, the philosophy of the show has always been about life. And what that means to me personally is exactly that. And, you know, I have found that there are many things in life that can be reasoned with or rationalized, and the loss of a loved one is something that I have always struggled with and never seem to overcome in my own life. Working with Abbey, who is the woman that lost her entire family, it brought about a lot of personal realizations for me, which begin in Episode 1. So you may have seen that, and that might be why you're asking me the question. I think it sends a message to America that we can overcome any tragedy and turn it into triumph with the right skill set and mind frame.
Bob, after seven seasons, what do you find is more difficult for the contestants? Is it the physical aspect or is it the mental aspect?
Bob Harper: Well I think that it's all about the mental. I think that people come in and they expect it to all be about just diet and exercise. And Jillian and I are just so much more than that. We want to get to the why as opposed to just the how. And I think that for a lot of people that come onto our show, that's like a very big eye-opening experience. They're going to come in and they're thinking, "Okay, I'm going to know how to workout, I'm going to know how to eat right. And it's like, "No, we're going to be looking at ever aspect of your life because by the time we have you, if we have you for 1 week or 12 weeks, we're going to try to make a difference.
What was it like training together this season?
Jillian Michaels::I think we both feel that everything evolves in the way that it should. And it feels very natural to us. I think that this is how the show should have been since its onset. But I can't imagine not working together. I also learned something about Bob that I never understood, you know, we are very...We have the same ideas and beliefs about where they should end up. We have different approaches on how to get there. And I think that we are complementary to each other. And in addition, there's only one person in this world that can understand this job, and what it requires and the stresses that it puts on us as the trainers. And to have to compete with my number one ally and the person that I can go to for advice and feedback and support really sucks. And I think that's been evident to America, who sees us struggle with that dynamic. And so I personally never want to see it go back another way. I think the competition exists between the contestants and should not exist, should not involve the trainers whatsoever.
Bob Harper: That's exactly what I think. I just think that working with Jillian, she is my number one confidante. She is the one person that I can go to and have always been able to go to. But like in seasons past, you never really got to see that. Now all of the sudden you see our two forces really joined together. And I really think that there was magic there.
Bob, you had a pretty big blowout last season with Joelle. Can we expect any of those this season?
Bob Harper: I don't think that I would as much as I did last season. I think that, you know, everyone asks me about that incident. And I just think that I am extremely passionate about what I do. I do want people to rise above and really look at what their true potential is. And I've always said I can't do anything until somebody is ready to make a change. And I think for Joelle, she just found herself in a place of wanting, to find a comfortable place to stay in. And there is nothing comfortable about that house. These guys, they come in and they get their asses handed to them on a daily basis. And it makes them stronger and it makes them never ever forget what it was like to be able to make this transformation. And Joelle just wasn't ready for it.
Having Daniel back on campus. Were you guys surprised by that news and what do you think is different this time around?
Jillian Michaels: You know, I think that we had been given the head's up prior. And so, you know, we weren't surprised. We were excited. We were really happy that the show was taking responsibility and seeing his journey through, you know, finishing what he started; finishing what we started with him. So for that I'm very proud of the decision that Biggest Loser made to do that. What's different? I think I can illustrate it seeing that you've obviously seen the first episode, you know, here was a kid that came in last in every challenge. And the very first challenge he comes in first. So, I mean, that's the best way I can illustrate the changes.
Bob Harper: It was the best thing also because here Daniel was, he is the face of what's going on in America right now; he is a 19 year old boy at 454 pounds. That is not normal but it has become the norm. And for him to continue on his journey coming back on for another season is going to inspire that generation that is in need of such help at this point.
I'm curious if you took any of the heart from previous seasons and brought it into this season? What changes have you made in yourself, and the way you work with the contestants this season?
Mark Koops: Bob gives 100% to these contestants on a daily basis. And He continues to do that well after they've left the show. I think at times they're all consumed with the contestants and that's part of the success of the show. They've had a few fallouts with a few contestants.
Jillian Michaels: I could go on and on. I learn every season. I grow every season, and sometimes I wish I'd handled Felipe and Sione differently. I wish that hadn't triggered me personally. I wish that I hadn't allowed my insecurity to come out in that particular instance. I looked at it, I evaluated it, and I've grown from it. I'm always growing as a trainer, as a person, as a life coach. And so, you know, there's always room for improvement. I incorporate the lessons I learned from my mistakes and move forward.
Mark Koops:: Yeah, but even that's what's interesting this season. Going back to the training together is so fresh, and I think it adds another new layer to the show. And, you know, I think it further elevates the show. Watching Bob and Jillian, who I believe to be the world's two best trainers working hand in hand...These 16 people who came to the ranch this season are the 16 luckiest Americans in my mind. They are trying to get their health back in shape. They got the benefits of both trainers as many contestants haven't. I'll think you'll see from the results that they really benefited from that.
One of the appeals of this show is definitely seeing how you, Bob and Jillian react to the different contestants. Was there ever a time when you kind of thought you had to keep your emotions closer instead of just letting them out? How do you guys deal with that?
Bob Harper: I'm the guy that's always going to have some emotional breakdown and last season was no different. I think that we do take our jobs personally. It becomes a matter of life or death; not to sound dramatic, it's reality. These guys are coming to us with one foot in the grave. I think we do take it personally and we do want to make a change. And we do want them to really stand up for themselves. So it's hard for it to just be a job, because it's not just a job for either one of us. Jillian and I are extremely passionate in ever aspect of our careers. So to keep our cards close, it's not the easiest thing to do.
Jillian Michaels: I come from the school of being (stereotyped) since I was five years old. And I know that I should not be putting my personal issues on the table or letting them effect my work with the contestants; that I should be sort of a blank tablet for them to project the good parent, the bad parent, whatever issues they're having and work those issues through. I try not to, you know. But as you'll see in Episode 1, when Abby is talking about losing her family, I had a personal identification with it and I had a reaction which I was disappointed in myself for doing, because I don't want the contestant to turn around and feel like she needs to take care of me. I was like, "God damn it Jillian, why did you do that again?" It's like if we were talking about regret, that would be one thing that I wish I could put more of a lid on. Having my own emotional response to the things that happen there and to the contestants, I worry that I could jeopardize their growth or their process. I could have transference like I did with Felipe and Sione. I'm working on containing that as best as possible. I've yet to be successful.
Bob Harper: It's like I've learned to be more of that anchor for the contestants when they're going through whatever it is they're going through, that they know they can rely on me when the going gets tough. And that's why I loved working with Jillian, too. Because they had two anchors. That's why it's like it's so great and refreshing to see the two of us working together, because the competition gets put back into the contestant's hand and it leaves Jillian and I just to focus on what we need to do, and that is to help these guys get their lives back.
Jillian Michaels: One of my favorite parts of working with Bob is sort of like an analogy that I used. I feel like we're two leopards on the Serengeti, and they're like a herd of animals. Okay, I'm going to split off this one and destroy them. Bob will sort of wrangle the herd, and then I can peel one person off or the other way around. Whereas when we have to train teams we don't have the time to do that deeper work. I don't have him training my other five contestants, so I can destroy one of them and break them down. But if Bob's in the room, he'll handle 11 people and I can take care of one and get to the root of the issue or vice versa. I really think that was the biggest benefit. We could rely on each other so we could take that personal time with each person. And we can't do that when we're training separately.
Tell me about working with Andy and Sean?
Bob Harper: I loved working with them. I just saw them at this little boot camp for the past contestants. They did such a great job. I think Sean has come such a long way.
Jillian Michaels: I have really nothing bad to say about any of the contestants this season.
Mark Koops:: And that may be a first.
Bob Harper: Right.
Jillian Michaels: All of them are troublemakers, and Bob sort of forces me to deal with that, which you'll have to continue to watch. But I think that they were all really lovely people. I think it's no secret that I was very unhappy during Season 7. One of the contestants actually said to me, "Jillian, I feel like you. You've come out of a bad relationship. You're not getting close to us, and you're holding us at arm's length." They were the perfect cast to help me reconnect in that way. The boys were no different. They really all are special exceptional people with a lot to share. I think America is going to love them.
In the season premiere did you feel like you and Bob egged each other on?
Jillian Michaels: Yeah. I definitely think that it was probably bloodier and more vicious than previous seasons.
Bob Harper: Because it was relentless, I mean, just think about it.
Jillian Michaels: It was, yeah.
Bob Harper: I'm working with one person, and all of the sudden I'm literally taking every amount of energy this one girl has got when she thinks she's done. It's all of a sudden Jillian's turn. It was unbelievable. I really felt sorry for the contestants some times.
Jillian Michaels: They definitely were getting it from all angles; it was awful.
Do the contestants try to play you against each other?
Jillian Michaels: They don't know what is going on. Everybody needs a fan, and the support and the encouragement. We're human beings; that is an essential part of the equation. When that fan is not there and when you're in a situation that triggers you on a historical level, you behave impulsively. You can destroy years worth of work professionally, personally, in a moment of being triggered by that. I'll come in and play that role of bad parent, and be confrontational with them so they have an ability to work those issues through, understand them, bring about a different outcome, gain some awareness and have the tools to apply in their everyday lives when those things happen. I think that we both complete the circle. And that's something that I really came to understand in working with Bob this season. Both of these elements and dynamics are necessary. It's kind of like every kid should grow up with his mother and his father, you know. They had a full education and they experienced every range of emotions and information and knowledge. A lot of times, being their friend is not necessarily helping them do the work that they need to do. I'm not there to be their friend. I don't need to have my ego validated in that way. I'm there to create awareness for them. That can be painful. And, you know, they don't fully understand what's happening at the time so it's like God, why is she always in my face and why is she always, you know, attacking me? And they can - they can sort of go back to a victim mentality that you have to bring them out of. And it's complicated but I definitely am the bad parent.
Bob Harper: By default I am the good parent. I've used my own personal experience. I came from a world where I was in need and starving for the good parent, so it's like I'm bringing my own persona issues into that. I am the parent that I always wanted to have; that's how I look at my role.
Since the theme of this one is second chances, how are your approaches to training different when you're dealing with somebody who you already know, like Daniel? Was it more psychological or physical?
Jillian Michaels: God, I don't believe that it differs at all. I don't think it's based on second chances, because to be totally honest, we know we're always dealing with contestants that have tragedies like this. They're just not making it onto the show. I think that the differences in the training styles exist. I think we have evolved as professionals. I think for that reason again, you know, every season we continue to set new records. But, we have the benefit of our collective knowledge, and the dynamic where we can work off of and play off of each other. But I don't think it has anything to do with second chances necessarily with the training.
Bob, how do you work to ensure there's not a third chance?
Bob Harper: I come from a world that, if their second chance fails, they're going to get a third chance, and a fourth and a fifth and a 15th. I don't want anyone to ever put himself or herself in a box of, "I lost my second chance!" Because life brings you ebbs and flows, and if you miss out on this second chance, guess what, you're going to get another one if you decide that you're ready to have one.
There's no last shot deal kind of thing?
Jillian Michaels: No. It was very funny, we were shooting the Super Ts and, you know, sometimes they decide to write lines for us. And one of them was, "You only get one second chance." And we both had a fit. We're like, "That's ridiculous. They get unlimited chances." They took the line out. We don't believe in that. It's never too late to change your life.
You were saying that you were really unhappy last season. What was the decision to come back? How did you make that decision?
Bob Harper: I was going to kill her if she wouldn't come back.
Jillian Michaels: You know what it is? It becomes a matter of looking at this situation. I may not be getting along with these contestants or I might not be in love with them this season, but how is the show contributing to the betterment, to the health and the happiness, of human beings on a global level? That's something that you don't walk away from lightly. But, you know, it was hard. I definitely struggled with it on a lot of different levels and then I was like, all right, you know, what is the lesson that this is bringing me? How can I grow from this? I will tell you that I definitely think I am different. I won't get all the way in because getting all the way in, you get too involved and it's just not healthy. That's the part about not allowing your emotions to affect their transference and their process. Right now, I'm trying to get in that place of being: This is a job; you do your job. You don't get triggered emotionally. It is not personal. You get in and you do your job. The show is an iconic bit of pop culture that I think, you know, helps to change the world. And it gives me a platform to do so. You'll watch both Bob and I, we are human, and we go through ebbs and flows with it. There are days when we both never want to go back, and there are days when we're like, "We're the luckiest people on Earth!" It's like anything. There's good and bad with everything.
Bob, what do you think you have learned with each passing season?
Bob Harper: Wow, I learn so much every single season. But I realize that these contestants that come in are knocking on death's door. The science of it all really worked and amazes me. It's the fact that no matter how bad it's gotten, the body wants to be healthy. The body wants to bounce back. When you do these changes, you do these small changes every single day, and you trust the process of what you're doing. You really do make lasting changes onto your body. Every time we see the test results come back from the doctor, you get to see that what Jillian and I do really works. That amazes me every single season to just think, "Wow, look, it does work. You don't need all this medication." What you need is to take charge of your life. And it's like I love seeing that every single season. I love seeing these guys get healthier than they've ever gotten by what Jillian and I do with them on a daily basis.
You have the biggest contestant this season, and you have a contestant who lost her entire family. What are the struggles you guys face specifically as trainers in these instances with these contestants?
Jillian Michaels: Jesus, Bob, you want to start?
Bob Harper: Well, she's 476 pounds. For both of us, it was just really looking at the why. Why does someone get to this place? Where have they given up and where can we give them hope in that situation? I think that was the biggest challenge for working with Shay. This girl came with a lot of baggage, and it was up to Jillian and I to take all of that apart ourselves, and go through it and help her as much as possible. It was a huge challenge, and so rewarding because this girl, I mean, like you would just say one thing to her about having her look at her own life as opposed to anything else, and I mean she would just fall apart. It was like being able to get her to stand on her own two feet. And I mean to look at her, to look at that lost look in her eye but still having so much hope, I mean, I have chills just talking about it, because this girl needed us. This girl needed to be on this show. This girl was going to die. It was something that really affected me personally and emotionally on a daily basis.
Do you guys do any outreach to the contestants that have kept the weight off, or who have not been able to continue? Do you stay in contact with them? Do you continue to support them? It's an every day thing for most people.
Jillian Michaels: We're always available to them. But whether they make the choice to reach out falls on their shoulders. I've told them very clearly I am busy. I do not have the time to check in on you; you need to throw up the white flag when you're in danger. Call me, email me, let me know what's going on and check in. Some of them do. Seth from Season 2 has put all his weight back on, and we've been talking. Some of them don't. Some of them go back into that place. They go back into an environment that is unhealthy. Sometimes you're putting them back in that environment and without the support system it's very easy for a relapse to occur. But we do run an extremely high success rate of about 55%. Bob and I don't have the time to be checking in on 200 contestants every single day. We are busy. So the onus falls upon them to reach out for help. And when it does we're there and so is the show. The doctors stay with them, follow up with them. The casting people follow up with them. Mark gives them jobs. We are there for them, but they have to ask for the help.
Mark Koops:: Yeah, and I think they form friendships and bond-ships with each other. A number of them just completed a race in San Francisco. I think that's something that's special about the show. They really form bonds. Not only with their class, but also with all the other classes that have been through.
Bob Harper: This is what I try to tell people from the very first day that they come onto the ranch. It's going to be easy to lose weight at the house relatively speaking. As hard as they're going to be working, they're in a controlled environment and they have Jillian and I up their ass on a daily basis. But what they've got to learn is to stand on their own two feet and get out there and live in the real world like we all do. And talk to the people, like Jillian or me, or anybody in their lives that have a body that they admire or they a look that they like. And you're going to talk to any of these people and they're going to all tell you it's a conscious decision that they have to make on a daily basis. I have to think about what I'm going to eat every day, how I'm going to fit working out in every single day. And that's what I have to do for the rest of my life. And that's what we try to teach them. That they're going to have to do this for the rest of their lives. There's no finish line. There's no quick fix here. These guys have to take responsibility of their lives and take the tools that Jillian and I give them to live a better life, and realize that it's hard.
Season eight of The Biggest Loser will premiere on NBC September 15th at 8/7 central.