No, I’m not talking about Arthur the Aardvark. If you don’t know what I’m talking about… then never mind. Ehem… moving on.
I saw one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen on TV last week and I can’t stop thinking about it. The list of TV shows I watch regularly runs pretty short, so perhaps scenes like this happen elsewhere in TV land… (here’s hoping) but I was blown away by the unexpected authenticity of the moment.
After the frenzy and awesomeness that was The Well this past Friday evening (btw, you can still donate! The campaign is ongoing.), I sat down on Saturday afternoon to relax and to catch up on my shows. First on the list: The Biggest Loser.
I’ve been watching The Biggest Loser for about 6 seasons now (that’s 2 seasons a year, so about 3 years) and it’s continued to remain one of my favorite shows on television. I’ve read about the controversy surrounding the show and have talked with friends in the medical field who are avidly against the methods/approach in the show. None of it has convinced me to stop watching. I’m fully aware that it’s a “reality” show, so there are inevitable elements of fabrication and dramatization… but underneath all the game-play, relational conflicts and incredible weight-loss, the show continues to unfold heart-transformation for many of its contestants – the kind of transformation that you don’t see that often on the tube. Perhaps, I expect too little from television, but I’ve come to believe that its primary purpose is to provide entertainment, a distraction or amusement of sorts, not profound ways of life transformation. But I get this from The Biggest Loser almost every single season. That’s how the show maintains my loyal viewership.
In order to explain what, I presume, will be the defining moment of the season, I have to set the backdrop for those of you who don’t watch the show. This season, there is one extremely heavy contestant (the biggest guy in the house – close to 500 lbs) named Arthur, who came on the show with his dad. Due to his extraordinary weight, his fellow teammates have been pulling for him and helping him in any way they can to keep him on the Biggest Loser Ranch. Each week, two contestants who fall below the “yellow line” (loses the least amount of weight, percentage wise) gets put on the chopping block, in danger of being voted off the show by his/her teammates. Arthur has been in this position a couple of times and his teammates have saved him each time, knowing that he desperately needs the Ranch to survive, and hopefully absorb more and become healthier, physically and mentally.
With the entire team pulling for him, you’d think the guy would be grateful and work to prove that he deserves to be on the Ranch. But Arthur, in his upbeat and comical ways, is all about trash-talking his opponents (the other team), talking up his weight loss (and always coming up shorter than expected), and oozing ego out of his head week after week. You just wanna tell the guy to shut up and get to work. This week he broke the camel’s back when he game-played by making the biggest mistake, 3 times in a row. In a temptation challenge, he ate the most chocolates and won the right to switch 2 teammates from his team with 2 people from the opposing team. And he could do all this anonymously. His mistakes:
#1 – He ate 35 pieces of chocolate to win the challenge.
#2 – He switched 2 of his strongest teammates with 2 of the weakest people from the opposing team.
#3 – Then he admitted it (b/c he felt guilty), when no one had a clue.
EVERYONE from both teams were LIVID. They had become close with each other and did not want their teams to be broken up that way. It was clear that Arthur acted out of fear that he or his dad would get voted off if they fell below the yellow line the next time, so he brought over the weakest members from the opposing team to sacrifice them. In all my seasons of watching the show, this is probably the dumbest mistake anyone has ever made. And to admit it? Wow, that just put a big target on his back because now everyone was against him, both his team and the opposing team.
The next day, they went into the gym to train with Bob & Jillian (the famed trainers from the show). Usually, Bob & Jillian (especially Jillian) do not refrain from showing their disappointment by going off and yelling at the contestants for game-playing and for giving into temptation challenges; for these trainers, the whole point of the show is not primarily to help the contestants lose weight, but actually to help them get at the root of the weight-issue by digging at the mental and emotional aspects of each person, which, in turn, effectuates physical weight-loss. It’s a marvelous thing to watch Bob & Jillian do this season after season, contestant after contestant.
Back to the scene. As the team was explaining to Bob and Jillian what had happened at the temptation challenge and what Arthur had done, Bob and Jillian both expressed their disappointment. Jillian then started to press in, and asked Arthur why he had done it. As he was explaining his rationale, her face started to fall, her eyes became teary and instead of reprimanding him, she walked over to him and just embraced him. Arthur broke down at that moment as they just stood there crying and embracing each other.
What happened? To me, that moment was a bit like the heavens opening up and a light shining down. Jillian recognized how much FEAR Arthur had in his heart, so much so that it drove him to do something that was completely irrational. In fact, by making those poor decisions, he had been acting out of fear and setting himself up for failure (assuming that he would not meet the weight-loss expectation for such a heavy man). He didn’t believe in himself for one second that he could do it. Fear and insecurity had possessed him – the same hindrances that had brought him to this point, to this show. He hadn’t learned a thing in 6 weeks.
I am floored by Jillian’s awareness. Her ability to recognize the anxiety in Arthur in that moment and then realizing that what he needs is an unconditional embrace, not punishment… that is a character of God that I witnessed. When Jillian embraced Arthur, he immediately broke down. He was grasping so hard onto something that was fleeting and it was clear that he realized his mistake. Jillian provided space for him to become vulnerable and that’s where he was able to see a bit of his true self.
I wonder about all the times I chastised someone or resorted to pointing fingers and lecturing when it would’ve been the most helpful just to embrace that person. I wonder about the times when I’ve been on the receiving end of reprimand. So instead of uncovering some of my true self underneath the fear and insecurity, I built up another defense to cover it all up even more.
I wonder how many of us walk around with armor on for self-preservation purposes when in fact, it’s doing the exact opposite and killing us off little by little, every day.
I wonder when I can start taking some of this armor off.
Maybe I’ve started to already.