You’ve heard about how NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” has changed the lives of many of its contestants. Many have lost a substantial amount of weight and kept if off, regaining their happiness in the process. In the case of former “Biggest Loser” winner and Wheeling native Danni Allen, she opened One 2 One yoga studio in Evanston. But this story isn’t about the contestants. It’s about how the tear-jerker reality show changed the life of one of its trainers.
Bob Harper was ready to leave his career as a trainer after a decade in the industry. He had worked with celebrities — including Ellen DeGeneres, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller — and felt he had gone as far as he was going to go. The Nashville native had become so interested in photography that he was saving up to leave Los Angeles and move to New York, where he figured he would start as an intern and work his way up.
That’s when destiny (or just plain old dumb luck) intervened. Harper scored an audition around that time for a role as a trainer on a new weight loss reality show, thanks to the many connections he had made in Los Angeles. Once he landed one of the two trainer positions along with Jillian Michaels, he decided to stay put in Los Angeles and see where the show would take him.
“That was my sign that the universe still wants me in this (field) a while longer,” said Harper over the phone last week.
Harper will host Self Magazine’s Workout in the Park Saturday at Butler Field in Grant Park, which features yoga, pilates and crossfit classes and beauty consultations. He’ll also sign copies of his new book, “Skinny Meals,” at the event.
Since joining “Biggest Loser,” Harper has written four books and started working on a fifth, which will revolve around poor habits and how to fix them. Of course, Harper also has a bunch of workout DVDs to his name — so many that he’s lost count (he guessed it’s somewhere around 15 DVDs). Because fitness is such an overcrowded market, Harper is well aware all of this likely wouldn’t have been possible without “Biggest Loser.”
“I feel like it’s way harder to get someone to take a chance on you unless you have some sort of public (notoriety),” said Harper. “This show has given me the platform to reach out to people and get them interested in nutrition and moving around.”
The series premiered in 2004 and has been tugging at our heart strings with its success stories for 15 seasons. There are now dozens of international versions of the show.
“Biggest Loser” has opened doors for Harper outside of fitness as well. He competed on “Hollywood Game Night” in April and was a judge during the 2013 Miss USA pageant. Harper insisted he was never someone who set out to be famous. “I hardly ever did TV (before ‘Biggest Loser’),” Harper said. “It was never my mission. I didn’t come to L.A. to be a personality or celeb, for a lack of a better word. I really enjoyed fitness and that was my main objective.”
The downside of this fame, according to Harper, is that he doesn’t have as much privacy as he used to have. (It had been rumored that Harper is gay, but he didn’t confirm it until a “Biggest Loser” episode that aired in November.) He also said that his job does at times feel like, well, a job.
“The work schedule can get monotonous,” Harper said. “But at the end of the day, my main objective is to help people. If that means having to work 15-plus hours a day, it all balances itself out.”
The trainers on “Biggest Loser” are responsible for getting the overweight contestants to change poor eating and exercise habits, some of which they’ve had their whole lives. Does that mean Harper has become more patient as a result of the show?
“The exact opposite,” Harper said. “I have the same set of friends I’ve had before ‘Loser.’ They say I’m exactly the same person except I’m not as patient as a I used to be. Because I’ve been working on ‘Loser’ as long as I have, I know what people are capable of once they get on track. At first I was understanding, but now I’m impatient. You have to think that way, I think.
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Self magazine’s Workout in the Park
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Butler Field, at the corner of East Monroe Street and South Columbus Drive, in Grant Park
Tickets: $30, selfworkoutinthepark.com