"The Biggest Loser" aims to put a controversial season in the rear-view mirror as it announced its Season 16 cast Wednesday featuring 20 former athletes who've let their fitness levels slide -- and a new gig for trainer Bob Harper.
The theme for the new season will be "Glory Days," and the cast will include former NFL players, Olympic gold medalists and standout high school and college athletes whose health took a hit since they left the sports arena. Among them: Former tennis star Zina Garrison, NFL players Scott Mitchell and Damien Woody, and former WNBA pro Vanessa Hayden.
There will also be two new trainers: Jessie Pavelka and Jennifer Widerstrom. Trainer Dolvett Quince is returning, along with host Alison Sweeney. The NBC weight-loss show sees obese players compete for who can lose the largest percentage of their body weight. The show is slated to return Sept. 11.
The show is known for the twists and turns thrown at the competitors, and this season is no exception: Harper is going rogue.
After each week's elimination, ousted contestants will learn that they are getting a second chance: They will be "whisked away" to a secret location called "Comeback Canyon." There, Harper will train them for another shot at the $250,000 payday waiting for the show's winner.
Still to be determined: Can this cast, and Harper's twist, eliminate the hard feelings many viewers felt earlier this year when Season 15 finalist Rachel Frederickson showed up at the finale in a shockingly thin condition. Frederickson would go on to win that season of the show, and her rail-thin arms and gaunt face led some fans to swear off the show. It also contributed to Jillian Michael's decision to leave the show. Again.
Here's a look at the Season 16 competitors:
Jordan Alicandro, 32, of Surrey, Canada, is a regional sales manager who was a multi-sport athlete in school, including baseball, football and wrestling. He began piling on the pounds after leaving school and sports behind. Today, the recently married Alicandro weighs 323 pounds, and says he has a new motivation to get healthy: "I have a baby due in October."
Rondalee Beardslee, 28, of New Lothrop, Mich., was a three-sport athlete in school, playing basketball, volleyball and softball. Today, at 280 pounds, she is blunt: "I am currently in a profession to be a nurse and I don’t know how to do that being fat. Also, I want to be married one day and can’t see that happening at this weight either."
Blake Benge, 18, of San Clemente was nicknamed "The Freight Train" by her high school soccer coaches. The college student said reality set in when the scale read 256 pounds. "I realized I needed to get healthy because I don’t want to live a life where I am unhappy."
Howard "Woody" Carter, 46, of Las Vegas. His sports career included a stint in a semipro football league and the Arena Football League, and earned a championship ring in each. He was also a standout swimmer and wrestler in school. Carter, who weighs 398 pounds, said his biggest motivation is the recent death of his wife. "After my wife passed away... I started truly thinking about my children and grand babies."
Toma Dobrosavljevic, 33, of Bloomingdale, Ill., is a project manager who was crazy about sports in high school, playing football, volleyball, baseball, tennis, basketball and soccer. He still dreams of playing soccer professionally. But first, he needs to deal with his weight. At 336 pounds, he got a jolt "last November after a life insurance agent told me I was barely insurable."
Zina Garrison, 50, of Hyattsville, Md., was once ranked the World No. 1 junior player. She was a women’s singles runner-up at Wimbledon, a three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion and women’s doubles gold medalist and singles bronze medalist at the 1988 Olympic Games. She said she piled on the weight in her 40s, and she now weighs 263 pounds. The loss of her sister was an especially painful reality check. "When my sister died last year after having a stroke. It took away her speech. I realized I needed to get it together."
Rob Guiry, 26, of Springfield, Mass., is the head rugby coach at Western New England University. He played rugby, football, soccer, wrestling and basketball in school but he didn't always recognize weight as a problem because he was "thinking bigger was better for sports." Today, at 483 pounds, he suffers from "old man" knees and a lackluster love life. "I look forward to dating more" after losing the weight, he said.
Gina Haddon, 41, of Rowlett, Texas, is a makeup artist and photographer. She was a high school cheerleader who continued to coach cheer for eight years after high school, and has long struggled with her weight. But now, at 242 pounds, the excess weight is affecting her health. "I am borderline for diabetes... high triglycerides and a fatty liver."
Lori Harrigan-Mack, 44, of Las Vegas. The director of security at Mandarin Oriental is a three-time Olympic Gold medalist in softball. "I have always been a big girl but have been overweight the past eight years," she said. A series of miscarriages led to depression, and more weight gain. Now, a mother to a 7-year-old, she says she is ready to address her weight issues. "My biggest motivation is to live a long life with my son and husband," said Harrigan-Mack, who weighs 301 pounds.
Vanessa Hayden, 32, of Orlando, Fla., is a former WNBA basketball player who most recently played for the L.A. Sparks. She said she piled on the weight after retiring, and now weighs 366 pounds. Hayden, who has a stressful job working as an intake and placement specialist on child welfare cases, said she knew she had to face her weight when she could no longer fit into her maternity shorts. (She has one daughter, 7, and a 1-year-old son.)
Sonya Jones, 39, of Sherman, Ill. The physical education teacher and coach was a fast-pitch softball player in college. Despite being an athlete, she has been overweight her entire life. She didn't take it seriously, however, until getting some startling news: "Being told I am nearly diabetic was a wakeup call." Today, she weighs 283 pounds.
Chandra Maple, 26, of Dodge City, Kan., is an optometric technician. She played basketball and softball in school, but a knee injury ended her sports career. Add in a poor diet, and a lack of exercise, and the pounds piled on. Maple, who weighs 341 pounds, said she wants to get back to playing basketball and coaching.
Matthew Miller, 31, of Layton, Utah. An entrepreneur who excelled in wrestling and football in high school, Miller says his weight has gotten out of control in recent years. Today, he weighs 386 pounds. "Around 2-3 years ago, I was tipping the scale above 300 lbs. I kept thinking I would make life changes to get my weight and health in order, but I never did." Now, it's time.
Scott Mitchell, 46, of Mapleton, Utah, spent more than a decade in the NFL (Miami Dolphins, the Detroit Lions, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens) and now works as a bill collector. He weighs 366 pounds and suffers from sleep apnea and high blood pressure. "My biggest motivation was seeing my dad die from being overweight," he said.
Emmy Lou Munoz, 32, of Woodson, Texas. The substitute teacher played it all in school. She was a track and field star; she also played volleyball and softball. She has struggled with her weight all her life. "I was being bullied and did not know how to handle the emotions, so I used food as comfort." But today, at 260 pounds, she says her motivation is getting healthy for her two kids.
Mike Murburg, 58, of Darby, Fla., works as an attorney representing the disabled. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and played football while at Princeton University. He suffered a crushing loss when his son died at the age of 20. Last year, on the fifth anniversary of his son’s death, he said he made the decision to tackle his weight issues. Trying out for the show is a key part of that journey, said Murburg, who weighs 399 pounds.
John "JJ" O'Malley, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz., played football in high school and earned a partial football scholarship to play at Arizona State University. His weight -- he weighs 392 pounds -- contributes to sleep apnea. What made him realize he needed to change? "That moment was when I saw myself on my home video."
Jackie Pierson, 36, of Pacifica, Calif. The clinical care coordinator was the captain of her high school basketball team, and was playing in college when an ankle injury ended her career -- and contributed to weight gain. Today, she weighs 291 pounds, and says she just wants to be normal. "I look forward to going into a normal-sized store and fitting in the clothes. I also look forward to wearing shorts, going to an amusement park and fitting on rides."
Andrea Wilamowski, 43, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. The vice president of operations for the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders used to be a cheerleader in high school herself, and was on the intramural dance team in college. Today, at 244 pounds, Wilamowski says she just wants to feel comfortable in her own skin: "I look forward to crossing my legs like a lady and not being afraid to be naked in front of my husband. I also look forward to buying sexy clothes!"
Damien Woody, 36, of Mendham, N.J., is an ESPN analyst and former two-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots. "I have been overweight for as long as I can remember," he said, adding that he also suffers from high blood pressure. It's time for a change, said Woody, who weighs 388 pounds: "My biggest motivation is my health, and a chance to compete not only against others but myself."
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