BLADENBORO — The Clark family of Bladenboro rarely does anything without God’s guidance, which has led each of them on some incredible journeys and adventures. So it’s no surprise that Vicki and her daughter Lauren allowed prayer and divine intervention to determine whether or not they would be a part of NBC’s next version of its television series, “The Biggest Loser.”
The show’s 17th season opened Monday and can be seen each week at 9 p.m.
For Lauren, the process of auditioning was nothing new. She had auditioned three times before and wasn’t chosen.
“I wasn’t planning on auditioning this year due to not having a partner (it was the season of couples) and not feeling like I needed the show, since I was able to lose 15 pounds over the last year with Crossfit,” Lauren explained. “At the last minute a friend of mine received a ‘front of the line pass’ to the open call in Raleigh and she needed a partner, so I went with her. After a very short group interview we received a call later that evening for a longer one-on-one interview the next day, so back to Raleigh we went.
“We didn’t hear anything for about two weeks,” she added. “Then I received an email from the casting producers asking if there was anyone in my family that could be my partner, as the show producers were looking for close families. I suggested my mom and they set up a Skype interview with us later that week — after tons of paperwork and emails back and forth, we were invited to California.”
Vicki was going through the process for the very first time — not for herself, but for her daughter.
“I wasn’t too crazy about the idea, but wanted her to be on the show and lose weight,” she said. “I wasn’t very hard to convince because I never believed we’d be chosen. I thought, I’ll just go along with Lauren to satisfy her, but we won’t be chosen.”
It was about that time the mother and daughter duo began to turn things over to God.
“Lauren and I prayed from the beginning that if it was not God’s will for our lives, that we would not be chosen,” Vicki said. “So when we were chosen, we knew it was part of God’s plan for us.”
“Out of all the seasons I auditioned, this was the season that I couldn’t have cared less if I made it or not,” she said. “But once they asked us to California, I felt like it was a part of God’s purpose for our lives and never once thought that they may not choose us.”
But chosen they were, and the whirlwind of being a part of a hit reality television show soon began. Along with the adventure of being summoned to the famous King Gillette Ranch in California, the Clarks began to think about sharing their story with the viewing public.
“I was apprehensive about sharing my story,” Vicki said. “I lost about 70 pounds four years ago after having a healthcare scare. But then, about three years later, I went through a very difficult personal time in my life and began to rapidly gain all the weight back — plus some.
“I think all overweight individuals feel judged at times,” she added. “And I was afraid of that. I’ve been a big fan of the show for years and would often read online forums and sometimes people can be careless in their comments. I’ve been careless in my own comments. I was very apprehensive about wearing spandex and a sports bra on TV at 237 pounds, but I knew it was part of the show, and I desperately wanted Lauren to have the opportunity to be on the show and lose weight. I didn’t want her to reach my age with my medical problems related to obesity.”
For Lauren, however, the apprehension wasn’t centered only around her weight.
“It’s funny, the whole getting half-naked on national TV didn’t bother me as much as actually having to talk about why I ended up 234 pounds to begin with (my highest weight was 255 pounds),” she said. “I don’t like to cry and this show is all about crying, so that made me uncomfortable.
“But I was told one of the reasons they (the producers) liked me was because I was transparent and open,” she added. “I’d already gotten a little practice with sharing some things on social media (and even some progress photos). So I figured if I can help someone else who struggles with the same issues I do, if it somehow helps them to know they’re not alone in their struggles, then it’ll be worth it.”
Once out in California, things got real quickly. Creating episodes for the show meant long days of endless filming with numerous opportunities for contestants to talk about their weight — all with hot lights and cameras pointing at them.
“I don’t think anyone realizes how much footage is collected for a 45-minute segment,” Vicki said. “But I enjoyed it. My goal was to keep it real. So often when watching the show, I would see cast give the typical ‘Biggest Loser’ answer. I wanted to be authentic and just give real answers and real comments.”
Lauren took a little time getting used to the schedule, cameras and questions.
“Initially, it took some getting used to having cameras in your face while you’re working out and can’t breathe, or someone barging in your room at 6 a.m. the first day on the ranch,” she said. “But after a week or two we all became pros, answering questions before they were asked …”
Once they were acclimated to the long days of questions and working out in front of the cameras, Vicki and Lauren began to see some of the enjoyable moments associated with the show.
“Oh, there are many!” Vicki said. “I really enjoyed the challenges. They were fun for the most part. I think the challenge in the ocean was my absolute favorite. And it was fun seeing how TV is made and being a part of that.”
“Some of my most favorite experiences were from challenge days, although those were usually the longest days, and memories of swimming in the pool while listening to Colby Wright tell hunting stories, walking the mile with my teammates, and competing with my boys during the workouts,” Lauren recalled.
Along the way, the Clarks and other contestants on the show were able to meet numerous celebrities involved with the production and some who were not — including friends of trainer Jen Widerstrom, along with contestants Colby Wright and his wife Hope.
“Colby endured grief that many of us just read about, but came through the experience with a stronger faith in God,” Vicki said. “He is a testament to the all-sufficient grace of God.”
Now that the filming is completed and the 17th season has begun, Vicki and Lauren both say they are happy they took this step of faith.
“I think it was a good decision,” Lauren said. “I don’t know that I would’ve jumped in as quickly as I had — or worse, dragged my momma into it like I did —but I have to say my quality of life is 100 percent better than what it was when I left. I feel like I’ve made progress not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.”
Vicki said she now looks back on the process as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“The show is very real and very difficult,” she said. “Every struggle you see on TV is authentic. It was and continues to be the hardest thing — emotionally and physically — that I have ever done. To get up in the morning realizing you are just going to go through a grueling workout again was tremendous. I couldn’t have endured it without the power of the Holy Spirit. I prayed through so many difficult times when I felt I just couldn’t go on. And I don’t want to ever forget that. I want to always remember how difficult it was and never go back to that place of poor health again.
“My prayer is to always be obedient to God’s call on my life,” she added. “And if He sent me to ‘The Biggest Loser’ again, I would pack my bags and head out. But I was glad to be home — it was very hard.”
Both are looking forward to watching the show.
“You know I am anxious,” Vicki said. “I hope I won’t be cast as a complaining, whining grandma, because that is what I often felt like I was. And I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my family. I had some difficult moments on that ranch.
“But I’m excited, too,” she added. “It’s really neat to see the clips on TV now and remember when the footage was shot and see how narration is added, or music is added. It’s really neat.”
“I am a little anxious to see it, but I’m not seeing much of me and momma on the promos — so the Lord may have been merciful and limited how many of my meltdowns they’re gonna air,” Lauren said.
In the end, the Clarks are hoping the experience will be a healthy and lasting one for themselves, as well as send a good message to viewers.
“I hope viewers will look at me as a 54-year-old grandmother with medical and orthopedic issues and realize, ‘well if she could do that then I can too,’” Vicki said. “I hope men and women my age will realize it’s never too late for healthy living, and you’re never too old to start. I hope the editing lets viewers see that my ability to persevere was directly related to my faith in God and His power that lives inside of every believer.”
”I hope viewers will see that nobody has all the answers,” Lauren said. “I’m a nutritionist and was probably the most physically fit contestant coming onto the ranch, but I still couldn’t get it together. If you don’t take care of all parts — the soul, the mind, the heart — there is no way you’ll ever get control of the physical.
“I also hope that I can be a warning to young people,” she added. “I experienced a lot of bullying and low self-esteem when I was younger because of what I looked like and I still carry those things around with me 20 years later. I hope that kids will stop being so mean to each other and to themselves, because a lot of what comes across as bullying is people projecting their insecurities on someone else. It all comes down to learning to love others with a Christ-like love and learning to love ourselves as Christ does.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.