The Makeover Episode: Tim Gunn on The Biggest Loser

"One of the things I love so profoundly about being part of the makeover show is being witness to the epiphany these contestants have about who they are." -Tim Gunn

The most-watched episode each season on NBC's The Biggest Loser is the makeover show, and in recent years the addition of the magical Tim Gunn (Project Runway, Tim Gunn's Guide to Style) has only increased its popularity. There is something special about the makeover episode. Sure, we see how much the contestants lose each week when they step onto the scale, but that's weight loss, not a makeover. The thing that touches me, season after season, is the impact the makeover has on how these contestants see themselves--not as "skinny" or "thin" but as whole: People worthy of the good things that are happening to them. They look beautiful, but more importantly, they feel good.

At the top of this season's Makeover Show, style guru Tim Gunn arrives in a Cinderella-esque, horse-drawn carriage pulled by two white horses.Tim announces he's not just there to oversee their makeovers, but as a fairy godfather--complete with wand. NBC is obviously counting on the audience having residual longing from last week's royal wedding madness, and I'm more than happy to play along.

Tim tells the contestants they will be granted three wishes, the first of which will be their long-anticipated makeover; the second two remain a mystery. The group moves into an "inspiration room" of sorts: Contestant Jay describes it as "elegantly appointed" and I almost fall off my chair laughing, but he's right. The room is filled with evening wear - gowns & jewels for the women and formal tuxedos for the men.Then the contestants are off to the Ken Paves salon.This is the second time Jessica Simpson's favorite stylist is hosting the makeovers. It's color, highlights, and cuts for the girls, and a lot of facial hair maintenance for the boys.

For the first time, the big reveal doesn't come at the end of the show, and we spend almost no time in the salon. I kind of miss the insight these interactions with the stylists reveal, but I'm excited to see their transformation right away. The Biggest Loser has fashioned a set-piece to resemble a castle, complete with drawbridge, and a tuxedoed TG is waiting for each contestant to arrive via horse-drawn carriage. Check out the before and after shots:

The second wish/surprise is reunions with family members. Yes, I cried every time. Don't judge me. The third was a performance by the band One Republic, and everyone burned about five calories each as they lightly bounced to the music. Not a great workout, but everyone was having fun and looking happy.

What I love about the makeover show on BL is that it comes not when the contestants reach their goal weights, but when they all have plenty of weight left to lose. Intentional or not, this message cuts through the cheesier aspects of the show: The blatant product placement (chewing Extra gum while getting a makeover--coincidence? I think not), Jillian's pseudo-psychobabble pep talks, and the incessant commercials. The message is that you don't have to have the perfect body to look and feel great, and it's further underscored by the post-makeover interviews with the contestants, who use words like smart, confident, happy, excited, liberated, free and proud to describe themselves. But as they acknowledge their weight loss and their improved body image, they see the makeovers as a reflection of their inner changes rather than the end-goal. It's completely inspiring, and as close to "reality" as reality TV can come.

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Christina Uticone