Does trembling with shame burn calories?
And what would those be? Hard question. Can I tell you the cube root of 58,998 instead? To start, there's tough-talking fitness trainer Harvey Walden IV, who has been tasked with carving the blubber off a cast of eight castaways. Walden, a former marine drill sergeant, is a parody of Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman. He barks and berates, speaks in ALL CAPS and exclamations. He spends a lot of time talking about the finer points of the relationship between his footwear and your ass.
There's no need for Harvey to embarrass the corpulent. The producers do that plenty well, thank you. The contestants box and run with rickshaws, activities that are sure to make them look like careering blimps with catastrophic punctures. It's no surprise that the show draws F-List celebrities: Phil Margera (father to the punk Peter Pan of Viva la Bam) is the only one of this crew who isn't exiled in reruns. Viewers probably have heard of Gary Busey and Victoria Jackson. Jackee Harris may be remembered for that superfluous and sassy "E." After that, the word "of" becomes increasingly important: Willie Aames (of Charles in Charge); Tocarra (of America's Next Top Model); Jani Lane (of Warrant). Then there's the Snapple Lady. While the British version of the program has the celebs donate their winnings to charity, the Americans will pocket $100,000 in prizes. When your Hollywood career has deposited you in suburban Kansas, as Aames's has, charity begins at home.
By the end of the hour, only viewers with a sclerotic heart can keep from feeling concern for these large, hapless, semi-famous Americans. I'm not saying that Dr. Ian Smith should take out extra malpractice insurance, but I don't know how many responsible medical authorities would recommend that a middle-aged man lose 80 pounds in 14 weeks--the weight regimen prescribed for Margera. (Big friendly Phil seems incredulous, and asks if 10 pounds a year wouldn't be healthier.) By week three, plus-size-model Tocarra has begun to gobble amphetamines, popping six diet pills to quell her hunger. (She collapses to the pavement during the rickshaw challenge.) Last season, Biz Markee flirted with colonics.
A novelty rapper irrigates his bowels for pride and profit while a nation watches? Yes, Celebrity Fit Club, like everything else on VH1, is camp. But though it masquerades as fluff, viewing this psychodrama at home can be a heavy trip. The contestants are reluctant masochists, playing their part in the producers' puppet show, submitting to Harvey's weekly belittlement. We pity them and we resent them for their foolishness. We identify with their girth and we want Harvey to punish them some more.
The so-called celebrities shed 40 pounds while they binge on a few more moments in front of the camera. At home on the couch, beneath a feedbag of Fritos, the rest of us carry the weight.