TV

Ruben Studdard Talks ‘Biggest Loser’, Second Chances, and Maintaining Health

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

The 15th season of The Biggest Loser premieres next week, on Tuesday, October 8th at 8:00 PM ET/7:00 CT on NBC, and the new season will once again focus on Second Chances. Contestants will compete to win the $250,000 prize, which will be awarded to the contestant with the highest percentage of weight lost, as always. However, this season will be a bit different, as the competition adds a fairly well-known contestant in the form of American Idol winner Ruben Studdard.

Studdard participated in a conference call along with executive producer Lisa Hennessy and trainer Dolvett Quince to discuss the new season, second chances, and the challenge of achieving and maintaining good health.

Ruben, on his experience with vegetarianism:

Ruben Studdard: I really enjoyed being – I was actually a Vegan. I really enjoyed it for the time that I was one. I’m not one any longer. And you know … that’s just because I’ve changed my diet and it’s really particularly hard sustaining the kind of workouts we have with being on a vegetarian diet.

On whether he went to the Biggest Loser ranch wanting one trainer in particular:

Ruben Studdard: Did I go to the ranch wanting one trainer? Actually, I had no really preconceived desire to work with any of the trainers in particular. I just went to the ranch wanting to get my life together and be healthy. As for Dolvett, he’s a wonderful trainer. Not just a trainer, but he’s a wonderful motivator. And not just the people that he works with, he motivates everybody around the house.

So having the opportunity to work with him has been a blessing, and I’m really glad that it worked out the way that it did.

On how Ruben sees this as a second chance, considering all he’s accomplished in his life:

Ruben Studdard: Well I’ve been really blessed to have a career that has done okay for a while, but the one thing that I have not been able to tackle consistently is staying at a healthy weight. And what I – you know, this show has given me a second chance to live a better life not just, you know, professionally but personally. And … it’s really given me an opportunity to put me first and not to put my career ahead of my health, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. And so … thankfully, the producers at the show and the trainers on the ranch have given me the opportunity to put my health first, and that is my second chance.

On what it’s like to let cameras in on this aspect of his life:

Ruben Studdard: Ruben Studdard: I guess the thing about being in the public eye, you know, just for the past 11 years … my life has been pretty much an open book with only one thing, and that’s been my struggle with weight loss. And so this is very different for me. I’m usually a very private and personal guy, and so do to this was – it was a lot to think about and I knew that it was going to be different for me, but I just wanted to get myself together and get myself on a track to getting healthy. And this show has really been that vehicle for me.

I know that there are cameras everywhere and I know that people are watching me all the time. But you know, I couldn’t really think about the fact that this was going to be a reality show. The only thing that I could think about going into this was that it was going to impact my life in a positive way. … And once I did that, it didn’t really matter that the cameras were there because I was there for myself and that’s pretty much how I look at it.

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

On the biggest challenges faced with going on the show:

Ruben Studdard: I think the most difficult thing for me was just the complete disconnect and no communication with family and the outside world. It’s really one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do just because, you know, I’m always on the road and I’m always away from my family but I’m never disconnected from them where I can’t see them or talk to them via Skype or Facetime or whatever. So not having that luxury at the ranch was I think the most difficult thing for me. And it never got any easier. It’s not something that you get used to. You just have to get through it, you know.

Dolvett on what convinced him and Lisa to pursue Ruben for this season:

Dolvett Quince: I think that was Ruben’s decision. I think like everyone on every season that we have, we have individuals who submit to say, “Okay. I’ve struggled with this long enough,” and they realize that Biggest Loser is a place that they can get extreme help. I think it was a decision on Ruben – for Ruben and himself to get healthy. Choosing Ruben was a no-brainer for me. Not only am I just a fan of his, but just in general, I knew that I could help him find his way. I think it was a good fit for me, it was a good fit for him, and I’d do it all over again.

Lisa on the season’s new twist, in which each trainer can save one contestant from elimination:

Lisa Hennessy: Well it’s two-fold. There’s the umbrella – the overall theme of the season is second chances, and so with giving each trainer a trainer save, that person was able to get a second chance, and deservedly so. In addition for the first time ever, the trainers were part of the casting process, and so we wanted to give them a much bigger role in this season. So if they were able to choose the contestants, they should be able to save a contestant.

And I think The Biggest Loser audience is much more forgiving. I mean, I think people actually get sad when people leave because they want them to be on the ranch. They want them to get healthy. And so it made it a much more emotional season because you have this moment where the trainer can say, “You need to be saved. I want you to be here.”

And so with this particular franchise, I think that it was a great added twist to an already very emotional franchise, and you know it worked out really well this year for us.

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Dolvett, on the stressful nature of the new twist:

Dolvett Quince: Well for me it was a bittersweet gift, you know? … Okay, if I see an opportunity where I can save someone, I can spend more time with them, that’s great. But then on the other hand I thought, “What if I don’t use it on that on that person and really save it for that person over there who’s really trying who I know really needs it and struggles?” So you really know week to week where the chips will fall. So yes, it was bittersweet. It was difficult for me, but I felt when I did use it and I had to use it, I made the right decision big picture.

Ruben on his thoughts about the twist:

Ruben Studdard: I think all the contestants were thrilled when they found out – when we all found out about the trainers having the ability to save one contestant. But at the end of the day, the trainers were very clear that we couldn’t really count on them ever using the save. So it is most definitely not – they do not build a culture where you can sit around and be lazy or become pals with somebody to bolster your ability to be saved at the end of the day. You know, everybody has to work as hard as they possibly can.

And then … if the trainers just don’t feel like it’s something that they want to use, then they won’t use it. But otherwise, you know, it’s really up to them. So, there is nothing that the contestants can do per se to make the trainer decide to use it. So … at the end of the day, what we have to do is continue to work hard and do as best we can to lose as much weight as possible with the time that we’re given without the save.

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Dolvett on what it was like working with Ruben:

Dolvett Quince: For me, it was great. I made the decisions. You know, Ruben is a great guy and it took me a couple of weeks to convince him mentally that he should be on the ranch and that he can do the things that … I know he could do. The difference from the perspective of working with different celebrities is that I went to celebrities as opposed to them being isolated to me.

So I think something very key that Ruben pointed out; I think a hard adjustment for him was not being able to talk to his family and do some of the things that he knew that boost his spirit and gave him energy to go on to the next thing. And I think when you isolate someone on the ranch the way we do, it makes the experience difficult for that person.

I enjoyed training him; however, I definitely ran into obstacles. Is that fair?

On whether the inclusion of Ruben has led to consideration for an all-celebrity season:

Lisa Hennessy: You know, Ruben came to us. It was a timely situation and our doors are open to anyone who needs help. And so, you know, if there are people – a housewife or a celebrity that in the future would like to come to us and be part of the show – our doors are open to anyone who needs to make a change in their life. But in terms of like an overall celebrity season … we haven’t discussed that yet. We’re still just dealing with this season.

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Ruben on how he thinks the show prepares its contestants for ongoing wellness:

Ruben Studdard: You know, they are pretty good at it actually. I mean, they really give us the education that we need to move forward once we are away from the ranch to be able to do this as a lifestyle. Now, honestly you know, it’s pretty much up to everybody. Like, you know, everybody that’s on the show is its own person. So if people fall or gain the weight back that they lost on the ranch, I don’t think that’s really up to the people at The Biggest Loser. That’s on the individual, but they do everything they can to prepare you for life.

On what the show looks for in casting its contestants:

Dolvett Quince: That’s a good question. I looked for, I guess, authenticity. People that didn’t just talk to you but you could see it in their eyes that they were ready and they wanted to actually move. They wanted to make a difference. I looked for compelling stories. You know as a dad, as a parent, I looked for people who not only struggled with their own issues, but it spilled over into their families. You know, things like that was what I looked for.

Lisa Hennessy: And we also – I’m sorry, I just wanted to jump in and – you know, offer a producer’s perspective. When we added the trainers in, they’re really the ones who know if someone has what it takes to really be strong enough to handle food rehab and to be able to come to the gym every day and make a difference.

And so you know, we were really excited when we added Bob [Harper], Jill [Michaels], and Dolvett into the process because they can look at that person, look them in the eye and be like, “Do you have what it takes?” Because this isn’t a normal reality show where people come on and there’s a vote and people are there for 30 days and then they’re out. I mean, these people have to … really want it and really want to make a change, and these guys know better than anyone that if someone’s ready to do that.

On whether the producers or trainers ever advise a contestant in the food industry to find a new line of work:

Lisa Hennessy: Well I think some of the contestants, once they’re on the ranch, I mean it’s a lifestyle change in a big way. You know, Tanya Winfield, she is the COO of a fried chicken franchise in Chicago. I highly doubt that Tanya is going to be going back to that particular line of business. And you know, she’s been talking about other things. About getting into the wellness business because this really jump-started a whole new her.

So … I think that people do make a change once they get on the ranch because they see another side of life.

Dolvett Quince: Not only that, I think people are inspired to make choices and make changes because they understand quality control, portion control. … You know, they can substitute things and make better choices and then switch their whole menu out and cater to a new audience. So there’s options out there to always improve.

Ruben Studdard: But also I think that the biggest thing about being on the ranch too is that you learn that your job doesn’t have to become you. You know what I mean? Like, I mean, just because you are a food scientist at McDonalds doesn’t mean you have to be fat. You know? It’s all about the choices that you make … and especially as it pertains to a lot of the contestants that are on this show this season that work in food industries. You know, they all talk about how they made the choice to over-indulge in certain things that they sell or make in that industry but they don’t have to. They just do.

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

On whether casting a celebrity makes it unfair to all the other people who would like to have the opportunity to be on the show:

Lisa Hennessy: Our door is open to anyone who needs help. You know, Ruben is a human being and came to us. We’d reached out to him and we had a Skype conversation and he had me at, “Yes ma’am.” You know, he needed to be here. He was our heaviest contestant at 462. And regardless of what your means are, you know to check into a food rehab, basically what Biggest Loser is. I mean, like you know, as Ruben said earlier, he had to disconnect and be part of this process. And … we opened our doors to him as much as anybody else.

Dolvett Quince: It is a process … for each individual to be a part of this show. That said, you know, there is not only medical approval, there’s psychological approval and then physical approval. Everyone has to meet a certain criteria in order to get on this show. So it takes different steps … for one person to even qualify to see us as trainers. So just because someone wants to be a part of this show doesn’t necessarily mean that they qualify for the show or they’re ready for the show.

Lisa Hennessy: You know, I just – I feel like it’s completely fair that Ruben is on [the show] due to the fact that he needed to be there, you know? And so, there are hundreds of thousands of people that apply. There are only 15 that get a slot on the show, and we choose people for many different reasons. And I think by Ruben having a celebrity fan – or a fan base, you know think about all of the people that he will inspire. … He will pay it forward. And this is a season of second chances. And so, you know, what better second chance to give Ruben a second chance at life and to get his health back?

On the concept of “food rehab”:

Lisa Hennessy: Well Biggest Loser … it’s not just a reality show. Once [contestants] get onto this show, they’re making a massive lifestyle change not only in terms of their nutrition but in terms of their working out. And when they come in – that was the biggest thing that … I talked about, “You need to be cut off from your agents, your managers, your family. You need to think only about yourself.” And that’s what we do at The Biggest Loser ranch. When people come in, they’re disconnected from the rest of the world, and so that Dolvett, and Jill, and Bob can strip them down to where they need to be in order to build them back up.

And so … [food rehab]‘s a term that we’ve used before. It’s making changes not only in terms of food, but their lifestyle changes. And it has to be a closed environment for the time that they’re at the ranch in order to make the changes that they can, and to keep that weight off in the future.

On how Ruben plans to incorporate his new health habits into his touring career:

Ruben Studdard: I am actually going to be in the process of recording my sixth album after the show and, you know, I’m signed to Verve Universal and David Foster is producing my next album. So I’m really excited about all of the stuff that I have going on. But it’s just going to have to … give every day of my life some “Ruben Time,” and that’s what I’m going to call it. You know, get up every day and give myself the two hours that I need to keep myself together, before I even get into any music stuff. And that’s just going to be how I do it.

Season 15 of The Biggest Loser premieres on Tuesday, October 8th at 8:00 PM ET/7:00 CT on NBC.

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