Monday, January 10, 2011

An Interview with the Biggest Loser Season 11's First Cast-Off

Photo by Trae Patton/NBC 

Season 11 of The Biggest Loser started last Tuesday and like all reality shows, someone had to be the first to go. It's an especially difficult position on the weight loss show, because the first to go acquires the fewest tools to continue their journey at home. But in just one short week Ana Alvarado, the first cast-off of the season, learned enough to lose 50 to date on her own after leaving the ranch. In a recent conference call interview, we spoke with Ana about what she did learn, the mystery trainers, the first workout with Bob and Jillian and leaving her daughter behind.

Q: Having been on the ranch for such a short amount of time, what did you learn?

ANA: Well, let’s see. What did I learn? I learned that I can actually work through a lot of pain and it was great that I had a lot of support. My daughter was an incredible support. But the people that were there with us, it’s amazing and in such a short amount of time it really felt like a family. I was only there for a small bit of time but the people that were there with us, there was no game playing. Everybody was helping one another and everybody was motivating one another and it didn’t even feel like we were competing, we were just all trying to stay there and get healthy and I learned a little bit of nutrition. I don’t think a week is enough to learn… I think it must be the most difficult when it’s the first person because you just haven’t quite learned how to work out yet and know what to eat or do. But you learn things a little at a time. So it was good. I’m just so grateful that I had one week.

Q: How surprised were the contestants about the unknown trainers and what determined the choice you and your daughter made?

ANA: Well we were really surprised. I know I was incredibly surprised. I thought before the process it was like, 'Oh, who are you going to pick — Bob or Jillian?' And I thought those were our choices. But when they completely said something else… I was incredibly surprised.

Well when I first heard the four-week immunity I told Irene, "I need the four weeks." I’m at a place where I’ve never worked out before. I don’t go to the gym. I go, “I need those four weeks to build strength.” And unfortunately… the team that was right ahead of us took that last spot for the immunity. But as people were choosing — and we got to know some people better then others because we really only had a day or so to really meet one another — but as I started to see Bob and Jillian’s team form, those were some of the people that we had bonded with the most or got to know a little more. So I thought, "Wow, even if we just go with Bob and Jillian, they have a great track record, even if I have to take a chance of getting sent home. I know that the people were great. And so it turned out to be the best thing because I had a great time there and the people that were there with us at the ranch were just great. I feel like I have a family there with them.

Q: How much do you think you were at a disadvantage because of the four-week immunity with the other trainers?

ANA: Well there’s definitely a disadvantage but I also come from a different place then most people do. I’m a letter carrier. Most everybody here had played high school collegiate sports and obviously there’s a gold medalist there. And he and his partner have a gym. I never really had been [in] a gym or never really been active other then my job. So I didn’t not just have the physical strength but even that mental strength that people have to push themselves through these but I just did the best I could and tried to do the best I could for my daughter. But just actually just being chosen as a contestant was to me just an amazing miracle that they saw something in my daughter and I to give us a chance for this. It’s just an amazing process.

Q: Because you guys were training with Bob and Jillian, did you get to find out what the identity of the unknown trainers were or are you still waiting like the rest of us?

ANA: I’m waiting like the rest of you. I didn’t have any idea where they had gone up until just yesterday when I saw the episode. I don’t even know who they are. I’ve never met them. Don’t know anything about them. So I’m actually going to be learning just like the rest of America is.

Q:  What was going through your mind during that first workout with Jillian and Bob? Are they as tough as they seem on TV?

ANA: Oh my God, it was tougher. It was so incredibly tough. You go to the gym and you work out with your trainer for an hour. You work out with Bob and Jillian, it’s four or five solid hours. And if they’re not working with you, if they’re working with somebody else, you’re still on that treadmill doing some kind of cardio. So it is non-stop and obviously I'm not at all mentally or physically fit for this. So I lost it there. I regained my strength and joined the group again. But it was very difficult, yes. But also very challenging and rewarding in some crazy way.

Q: When did you find out that falling below the yellow line meant that they were actually splitting up a team as opposed to sending home the whole team and what was going through your mind when you heard that?

ANA: Well I actually wasn’t sure what was going to go on until Ms. Sweeney mentioned it. I was worried. I thought, "Oh my God, I hope our whole team doesn’t go home," because I really wanted my daughter to stay. I wanted to stay, but I especially wanted it for her. So I was so sad that one of us was going to leave. But I was glad that it wasn’t going to be the whole team.

Q: And can you talk about the vote and how hard it was to leave the ranch knowing that your daughter wanted it to go in your favor?

ANA: Well I totally understand what [Irene's] talking about and she knows me and she knows my life. She knows that I work really long hours and that I do struggle with my health. And she also knows, of course, that I don’t go to the gym and that my life has been incredibly sedentary other then my job. So I knew that she was concerned that I would come home and not make any changes. But I promised her that I would make these changes and I’m just so glad that they voted for her to stay, because I knew that she would be able to last longer and that needed to take this at a different place and a different pace because even though I loved being at the ranch and I felt like a week wasn’t enough to learn, but it is what it is and you just have to go with what it is.

And I wanted Irene to stay because I knew she would be stronger. But I also knew that if I wasn’t there she would totally be able to focus on her challenge and what she needed to do at hand. And without me being there she’d be able to really focus on that. And I want her to succeed and do the best she can without having to worry about me. And so I’m so glad that it all turned out the way it did.

Q: When you think back, in hindsight, do you think that you could’ve done anything much different to secure your spot on the ranch?

ANA: I wish I would’ve been able to work through the pain more. I have really bad arthritis and I’ve had two knee surgeries, which has caused some problems with me even doing my job. And so I really struggled with that and I wish I would have been able to work through that a little bit more because I hadn’t realized how close Irene and I were... The other team… just lost two more pounds, 2 1/2 more pounds. I would’ve stood there at least another week. I didn’t realize it was that close. So if there’s anything I wish I would’ve been able to do that. But I was eating well. I was working out. Just I wish I would’ve pushed myself a little more. But I did the best I could.

Q: Who did you think was the biggest threat on the ranch?

ANA: Because we were in separate groups, I didn’t really get to know the other group as well. So the people at the ranch, I never felt threatened by anybody. We’re all working out. We all know what our strengths and weaknesses are. They were all very strong. I felt like I’m the one that was coming from a place — I had never been an athlete before and never really worked out. But it’s so weird because all of us kept encouraging each other. Even when I was struggling, they’re going, “Okay, Ana, keep going. Keep going.” And we all did that for one another and I just never felt like anybody was a threat. It didn’t feel like any kind of game playing at all. I don’t know what it’s going to be like as you get closer to the end because that’s when the chips get a little bit different.

But everybody there is just really the hard working group of people. The girls on our team are just incredible. And I know that my daughter’s really strong. The green team, Jay and Jen, they’re incredibly strong. The purple team is strong and Courtney and her mother are just great. Arthur works really hard. He struggles because he’s so big. But everybody’s just really working hard and we just encourage each other. So I never quite felt threatened I guess because I knew I was definitely one of the weaker ones there. But they were all so incredibly supportive and helpful and all of that.

Q: Can you tell us about your decision to try out for The Biggest Loser?

ANA: Neither one of us had really applied. Irene’s cousin on her dad’s side had made a video for The Biggest Loser and he lives in Seattle, Washington. And so I guess he submitted a video and they really liked him so when they did a casting call in Portland, Oregon, he got a VIP pass to go. And so he went with his college buddy who is also a big guy. So they really liked them and they told them, “Hey, come tomorrow… We’re going to interview you. Bring your friend.” He goes, “But this season we’re focusing on family so if there’s a person that’s overweight in your family bring them with you and we’ll see.” So he called me and I never responded. And he called his cousin, Irene, my daughter and she responded. So he told her, “I’m going to forward these questions that they sent me. Bring a bunch of pictures from when you were a child and now.”

And so she went with him. And it’s so funny because my daughter got off the phone with her cousin and said, “Mom, I don’t want to do it with him. I want to do it with you.” And I said, “Mija — mija means my daughter in Spanish — if you can get on anyway just go.” And she goes, “Well, will you come with me at least if I can’t answer these questions you know my life. You’d be able to help me.” And I go, “Absolutely I’ll be there.” So the following day I was there with her in the lobby and so I thought this lady — The Biggest Loser interviewers — were going to take Danny and his friend but they asked Irene and Danny if they were close and they said, “Yes.”

So they went upstairs and they really liked them both but I think somehow in that interview they saw that even though they were cousins they weren’t that close. They didn’t grow up together. So I think in that process they saw that I was in a lot of her pictures and they asked Irene what my story was and if I’d be interested. And my daughter’s going, “I’ve never seen the program but my mom has. And I know she would love to.” And so then they interviewed us and I really didn’t think I had a chance. And so we just thought, "Well, it doesn’t hurt to do this." And we just went on with the process.

So when they tell us that over 250,000 people applied and that they looked at 144,000 videos, I don’t know how true those numbers are. I thought, "Wow to be two of 22 people to be chosen is nothing short of a miracle." So I’m just so grateful for Danny and all because I would have never felt I could do this. So I’m just so grateful for it.

Q: Do you have any advice that you would give people who need to lose weight or anyone who feels unmotivated to lose weight?

ANA: I guess it’s just getting up and just doing it… People kept telling me that, or even my daughter kept telling me that, and until I guess it took something this public for me to finally do something. I think that really is the key, moving, because I don’t think I ate that much. It’s just I lived such a sedentary life. And what I did choose to eat was very high caloric, really high fast food. But once you make those modifications… just start walking… just moving. I can’t move very fast or very much. I can do more now but, even if you can’t be that active, even if it’s five more minutes then you did before or 20 more minutes, just add a little bit more, is just the way to do it.

Q: What advice would you like to other arthritis sufferers based on your experience there on The Biggest Loser?

ANA: I guess the biggest thing that I would say, because I’m an older person, Compared to all the younger people, and I’ve had so many physical problems and I had given up on myself. I actually didn’t think that there was any cure for me to be physically or mentally healthy or happy. No matter what age we are, no matter what condition we are, that there is hope, that we just need to believe in ourselves and take steps towards those goals even if they’re little steps. I never worked out in the gym. I hope that other moms or fathers that had never been able to afford to go to the gym or didn’t think they were important enough or they weren’t a priority that, we can and we don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money even if we go to the park and walk or we just try to make different choices. That just making slight changes in our lives and improving a little at a time, that we can take our life back and be healthy and that we’re deserving of a good life and that we can have that no matter what our age or what our physical conditions are.

For other Biggest Loser stories check out:
An Interview with Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser
An Interview with The Biggest Loser's Brendan and Mark

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