Who will be the next biggest loser? © February 29, 2008 By Lorraine Eaton The Virginian-Pilot
© February 29, 2008
By Lorraine Eaton
If all goes as planned, life as Gayle Jordan has known it will be over.
It started Thursday night, when she was due to drive to the Norfolk airport and hug a West Coast woman she'd never met. On Saturday, the two women hope to start a new journey together.
The ladies have a lot to lose.
Jordan, 25, of Chesapeake, and Stefanie Henderson, 24, who lives in California, have been online weight-loss partners and friends since last year. Together, they want to shed nearly 200 pounds. They've tried pills. They've tried diets. Saturday they'll try for a spot on the sixth season of "The Biggest Loser."
"I want to change. I want to change 100 percent," said Jordan, a former Hickory High School athlete who has gained nearly 100 pounds in just four years. "I want my life back."
Saturday's open casting call for NBC's hugely popular reality show is expected to draw 2,000 or more plus-size people to the Suffolk Family YMCA, casting director Tad Patrick Frank said Tuesday in a phone interview from New York City. So many, in fact, that he's bringing an extra person for the interviews that are the first step of the casting call.
Season six is seeking pairs of potential losers - cousins, best friends, siblings, grandparents, former teammates, college classmates and others. The chosen ones will spend this summer at a ranch in California competing to get physically fit. The winner will earn $250,000, and the runner-up will take home $100,000.
Locals who believe the big time can make them smaller are picking partners, probing their pasts and pondering what questions the casting crew might lob their way.
Expect some personal discussions, Frank said. For example, a question in the online application asks about a most embarrassing moment.
That's an easy one for Mildred White, 44, of Chesapeake. Vacation. Last year. The Bahamas. Getting into a taxi, her denim capris split right down the back.
That and some health issues have her trying to lose 50 to 75 pounds. White plans to show up for the casting call early with her niece to be assured of an interview.
"Maybe this will motivate me," she said.
Candis Hill, 42, of Chesapeake wants to lose about 90 pounds. Her sister and partner, who lives in Georgia, wants to lose even more. Hill has tried endless diets and considered bypass surgery, but she would much rather do it "naturally." Recently she developed, and then ditched, a habit of walking every morning and eating several small meals each day.
"I was losing, but now I can't even figure out where I went wrong.
"I feel like if I went on the show, I could finally do it."
Hill and her sister plan to arrive at the Suffolk YMCA early, sporting matching sweats.
That's the right idea.
"Come dressed as a team," Frank advised, and bring a photo of yourself and your teammate. "A couple of women in New York came in chicken suits. I definitely called them back because of the creativity.... The people we picked are the ones with a good story and who looked like a team."
Ronald Botelho, 36, has a straightforward strategy: He'll impress with intensity and drive. The Virginia Beach resident and former high school athlete - football, track and field, wrestling and baseball - wants to drop about 120 pounds to get below 200 to start a new chapter in his life following his divorce.
"I can get hyped up, now. I can get into the zone. I've got that winning spirit in me."
Henderson and Jordan, the California-Chesapeake connection, won't just be showing up in jeans and a T-shirt, count on that. They've dubbed themselves the "Coast 2 Coast Losers" and have been honing their dream team concept for months. They joined the show's online "Million Pound Match-Up." Check' em out at www.coast2coastlosers.spaces.live.com.
Along the way, they've "become like long-lost sisters," Henderson said.
"We want someone you can share this experience with, who has a profound importance in your life," Frank said. "Co-workers don't get picked unless they are best friends who happen to work at the same place."
Henderson, a traffic manager at a radio station, was a high school athlete but has always been heavy. She gained 60 pounds in the past year, her 5-foot-tall frame topping out at 248 pounds.
"I've always been the girl with the pretty face. Now it's gotten out of control. I've never been heavy in the face before."
Jordan, meanwhile, knows exactly what it's like to be "super athletic." She was the only female wrestler at Hickory High School, and ran cross-country and track. She joined the Army after she graduated from high school in 2001 but said a kidney stone operation caused her to be honorably discharged days before boot camp ended.
"That was my dream," said Jordan, who now works 12-hour shifts as a scale operator at the Southeastern Public Service Authority station in Norfolk. "It was my dream to be a military police officer. I was completely devastated."
Now, making it onto "The Biggest Loser" is her dream. However, she knows the odds: Only 10 to 12 teams of two, picked from casting calls held around the country, will make it on the show. In addition, not everyone who comes to a casting call makes it into an interview. The casting company promises that at least the first 500 pairs in line will be interviewed.
Pairs chosen from the interviews will be invited back to an undisclosed location for on-camera questioning Sunday through Wednesday. After that, 30 to 50 teams from across the country will be invited to the finals, which take place over six days in Los Angeles, just before the start of the season's taping beginning around June 1.
The first episodes likely will start airing in the fall.
"Even if we don't make the show, we will reach these goals," Jordan said. "We have an awesome support system online. It is so amazing that even if we don't make the show, having our story out there will help others, and it will help us, too."
Lorraine Eaton, (757) 446-2697, email@example.com
When Gayle Jordan, a 25-year-old in Chesapeake, Va., began taking the diet pill Alli this summer, she started Alli-user support groups on MySpace.com and YouTube. Her MySpace page now boasts 166 members, who can log on to see videos Ms. Jordan posts every few weeks describing her progress, and post their own diet stories and messages of support.
|Glaxo's marketing strategy for Alli relies heavily on the Web.|
GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which makes Alli, has begun an ambitious online, television and print campaign to increase sales of the drug, the only diet pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale without a doctor's prescription. In its market research, the company found that dieters like to get advice and support from other dieters, and that the Web helps them interact. So Glaxo is putting particular emphasis on the Internet. It has set up several Alli-themed sites and is also trying to tap into independent groups like Ms. Jordan's.
Whether Glaxo's Alli marketing strategy is working will become clearer today, when the company reports third-quarter results. Yesterday, Glaxo said it has sold more than two million packages of Alli since the drug went on sale June 15 in the U.S. Mike Ward, a pharmaceutical analyst with Nomura Code Securities in London, called the figure "encouraging."
Glaxo, based in Brentford, England, is the world's second-largest drug company by revenue after Pfizer Inc., and it needs some good news. Its earnings are expected to be hit by a fall-off in sales of its diabetes drug Avandia, which is facing safety concerns.
The market for weight-loss pills is huge -- in the U.S. alone, about half of the women and a quarter of the men try to diet each year, according to Jean Harvey-Berino, a weight-loss expert at the University of Vermont, and 130 million Americans are overweight or obese. But diet-pill sales usually soar at first, and then plummet, because most people give up on their diets.
The Internet is changing weight loss -- and in some cases, increasing the odds of a dieter's success. Studies show online programs that advise people on eating and exercise habits can help them lose weight. Dieters also say they use the Web to find support groups to help keep them on their diets.
Alli, known by the generic name orlistat, works by blocking the gut from absorbing some fat from food. An Alli starter kit with a bottle of 90 pills sells for about $50 at Wal-Mart.
To try to keep people on Alli, Glaxo designed a marketing strategy that relies heavily on its own Internet sites and tapping into the more casual blogosphere.
In April 2006, to seed the market, Glaxo started a Web site that offered dieting tips and collected email addresses, among other details, from visitors. Glaxo used the site to recruit 400 people to what it called the Alli First Team, a group that got the drug first once the FDA approved it in February.
Glaxo encouraged team members to talk about their experience with others, in person and online. When Glaxo set up a blog in June, many members posted glowing comments about the drug. Some also created an Alli support group on SparkPeople.com, a health-and-fitness Web site.
When it began selling the drug in June, Glaxo set up an online counseling program called My Alli Plan. Dieters who register agree to report their weight, calorie and fat intake and exercise levels each week. The site sends them customized feedback, such as advice on how to control eating urges or avoid negative thinking.
If people don't check in, they receive an email reminding them to log on, says Gary Foster, an obesity researcher from Temple University in Philadelphia who helped Glaxo and its ad agency, imc2, develop the site. "People do better with structure than without," Mr. Foster says.
So far, more than 200,000 people have enrolled in My Alli Plan, says Steve Burton, vice president for weight control and head of Alli marketing at Glaxo.
Some research suggests that online counseling can help people lose weight and maintain weight loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 divided 91 overweight adults into two groups. One got access to an Internet site offering information on weight loss. The other group got access to the same site, plus weekly online counseling sessions with a weight-loss expert. Twice as many people in the latter group lost 5% of their body weight after six months.
Glaxo is also trying to get Alli users to support each other with a message board on its site. That approach carries some risks for Glaxo if dieters give bad advice such as too-quick weight-loss tips. Mr. Burton says Glaxo has hired a group of dietitians to monitor postings and correct misinformation.
Ms. Jordan started posting online because "the support you get from everybody else is what everybody needs," she said in a telephone interview. Ms. Jordan, who is five feet tall, says she has dropped to 207 pounds from 233 pounds while taking Alli. She aims to get down to 128 pounds.
Glaxo has also set up a blog called alliconnect.com. On it, Mr. Burton and his marketing team post weekly on such topics as unrealistic weight-loss goals, blood pressure or herbal supplements that promise to melt away pounds. They use the blog to defend Alli from criticism and to gather comments from readers. And they link to other blogs being written by dieters taking Alli.
In doing that, Glaxo connects potential customers to information it can't control. In one blog, "Anna Lightens Up," the author, Annaliese Lee, told readers this summer that she would stop taking Alli because she couldn't "justify the added expense of another bottle of Alli right now." A few weeks later she started taking the pills again, but since then she has often acknowledged that she isn't eating well or exercising -- which Glaxo's marketing emphasizes are important parts of the Alli plan.
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