When New Yorkers talk about a weight problem, they’re more likely to be discussing underfed models at Fashion Week than anyone above a size 14. Between trans-fat bans, tiny apartments, and Anna Wintour, ours is not a city that caters to the overweight. “It’s why I work in New Jersey,” said Rose Inciano, 29, a Lower East Side native who weights over 400 pounds. “The PATH trains are less crowded. In the city, I feel like I’m always bumping into people or slowing them down.”
But one can only commute to Jersey for so long, which is why Inciano joined more than 500 people Saturday to audition for season seven of NBC’s weight-loss reality show, The Biggest Loser, at the NBC Experience Store in Rockefeller Center. (Note to NBC: Next year, for sensitivity’s sake, please reconsider staging the auditions directly behind the rock-candy wall and past the five-tiered carousels of chocolate-covered Pop Rocks and bulk sweets.)
If you’re one of those who only admits to watching Frontline and select reruns of The Wire, a refresher: Loser sends teams of overweight contestants to a weight-loss ranch to compete in exercise and temptation challenges, which work sort of like a reverse eating contest. He who slims down the most wins $250,000. It’s like a combination of a serious, dramatic, Oprah episode (a contestant sobs as she must choose between her drinking buddies and a new rockin’ body) and an episode where Oprah gives everyone presents (last season, everyone went on a shopping spree with Tim Gunn!).
Despite New York's tendency toward the thin, Loser has done well here — season-three winner Erik hailed from West Islip — which may be why New York kicked off the twelve-city casting call. “People here know what they want and they’re determined to get it,” says casting director Tad Frank. “And that translates well on the show.”
That determination found Sue and Nancy Bregman, 26 and 24, from Long Island, camped out Friday night to be first in line for the auditions. For them, as for most of those in line, an appearance on the show is more of a last-ditch attempt for salvation in the form of a healthy weight than an attempt to launch a career of F-list celebrity. “It’s what we need,” said Sue. “We’re pretty desperate.”
A few spots behind the Bregmans were Bethany Hogue, 22, and Tanya Jackson, 24, best friends who drove down from Boston.
“It's hard with the fashion — people are always looking at you, judging you,” said Bethany.
“We want to rock some Prada!” said Tanya. “But all we get are muumuus.”
Frank revealed that the upcoming season of the show, which begins filming in September, will literally be bigger than ever. It’s returning to the “couples” format of season five, which featured pairs of friends, co-workers, spouses, and siblings. But instead of ten competing pairs, there will be twelve to fifteen. And rather than the usual three months on the ranch, contestants will spend five. That means Frank and his staff are looking for the heaviest batch of contestants yet; Frank speaks enthusiastically of a 700-pound man he’s recruiting for show. “He doesn’t need to show up to an open call,” says Frank. “He’s going straight to the next round.” —Kate Dailey