Pig Nation: Binging and Purging with the Stars

The Biggest Loser: Couples, Diners Drive-ins and Dives, Meat and Potatoes, Fabulous Cakes, Hell's Kitchen

By , Columnist
On Tuesday night The Biggest Loser will shine the primetime light on 11 formerly fat people who have shed a combined 2,700 pounds. Now in its 11th season, NBC's reality-based tribute to contrition, will power, and compulsive behavior has become an enduring hit by packaging tales of redemption in ill-fitting spandex tights. 

The show feeds a ravenous appetite for so-called "aspirational" stories that inspire home viewers with the thought bubble: "If only I could pry myself off this couch and hire a slave driver with rock-hard abs who would push me to exercise and eat sensibly, I too could slim down."

The weight-loss-equals-comeback narrative plays out this spring in ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Contestant Kirstie Alley, who starred in a 2010 cable show devoted to the question of whether or not the ex-Cheers star could make it through the day without getting crazy with a bag of hamburgers, popped up on The Tonight Show last week to discuss her fondness for caramel-covered marshmallows.

It's no wonder that network programmers have hooked a captive audience on obesity-themed fare, given the flip side of primetime's purge/binge split personality.  

Getting fat in the first place is, let's face it, half the fun.  

An entire genre of reality-based television now revolves around the spectacle of watching people on TV stuff themselves silly.  

Consider FoodTV's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Host Guy Fieri is a talented chef in his own right but rarely showcases his own skills. Instead, the affable kibbitzer visits restaurants that specialize in deep-fried down home cooking. After kitchen staffers shares the secret to making a pastrami-layered triple cheeseburger topped with onion rings and guacamole, Fieri delivers the money shot. He stares at the bulging creation. He opens his mouth wide and takes a huge bite. Juice  dribbles down Fieri's cheek. Score! 

Quick to spot a trend, the network recently added the self-explanatory Meat and Potatoes, in which Rahm Fama gulps heaping mounds of beef, pork and lamb.

And for dessert? "Let them watch cake" would seem to be the programming mantra. So many primetime series now star cakes, cookies, cupcakes and assorted pastries that David Letterman delivered an unscripted tirade on the subject when FoodTV host Rachael Ray appeared recently as a guest on his Late Show program.

Gordon Ramsay, the expletive-spewing British restaurateur, may have resolved the contradictory fascinations with eating food and losing weight. On his FOX series Hell's Kitchen, Chef Ramsay responds to unskilled cooks who present bad food with a four-act exercise in humiliation. He starts to eat the offending morsel, grimaces, spits the food onto the floor, and utters his bleeped-out verdict: "This tastes like shit." 

Bon appétit! 

The Biggest Loser: Couples airs  9 p.m. / 8 Central Tuesday on NBC.

Diners Drive-ins and Dives airs 9 p.m. / 8 Central Mondays on Food Network. 

Meat and Potatoes airs 8 p.m. / 7 Central Mondays on Food Network.

Fabulous Cakes airs 9 p.m. / 8 Central Mondays  on TLC.

Hell's Kitchen returns this summer to FOX.

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug black…

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