Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Too Fat to March?

I just finished watching the pilot season of a new reality TV show, Fat March. I actually watched the whole thing on streaming video from ABC's website, and I highly recommend it. This post contains spoilers, so watch it before you read beyond the third paragraph if you don't want your experience spoiled.

From what I understand, Fat March is based on Too Big to Walk?, a reality show produced by Channel 4 in Great Britain. I wanted to watch the British version, but Channel 4 doesn't even offer clips for free. I tried to pay to watch it, but they won't even allow you to do that if you don't live in the UK.

The show begins in Boston with twelve people, ranging in weight from 225 to 500 pounds, all classified as morbidly obese by their body-mass indices. Accompanied by a staff of forty people, including two personal trainers, production crew and medics, they set out on foot for Washington, DC, a distance of over 550 miles. The show was filmed over a ten-week period, divided into seven "stages," and an episode was broadcast devoted to each stage. The marchers slept in tents every night, but every stage featured a "challenge" where the participants had a chance to win additional prizes, usually including spa services and a night in a hotel.

Every marcher who made it to DC on schedule received a share of the prize money, and at the end of each stage the participants had a chance to "vote people off"; anyone who got at least one vote had to leave the show. The twist was that the prize money decreased by $10,000 per person for everyone who left the show, so the marchers had an incentive to cooperate.

I found the show to be entertaining and inspiring, and I'm hoping that ABC continues it, but there are a few things that I hope they do differently next season. The first is that the producers seemed to see interpersonal drama as a necessity to keep viewers hooked, so every episode devoted a significant amount of time to squabbles within the group. I was interested by the challenges of building and maintaining a team that could last through challenges like this, but I wasn't too interested by the "romantic" angles or the bickering. I would rather have seen less of this.

The next is that the guys who left the show were all the heaviest ones. I think that undermines the message of the show, and gives a contrary one: that some people are "too big to walk." Two of them had legitimate health problems that prevented them from participating, but the other two were voted off because their teammates thought they wouldn't be able to keep the pace set by the producers. To me that suggests that the pace was too tight. Can we imagine a show like this where the only reason people leave is because they're lazy or disruptive?

I've got a lot more to say about the show and long-distance walking, but this post is long enough, so I'll write about that soon.

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