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'The Biggest Loser': What's age got to do with it?

May 13, 2009 |  7:10 am

Helen It's never too late to lose weight and get in shape.

Do you need some proof?

Helen Phillips, 48, became "The Biggest Loser" Tuesday night, taking home the Season 7 title and the $250,000 prize, stunning those who early on had overlooked and all but dismissed her as being too old to be a threat. She started the game at a hefty, bloated, wild-haired 257 pounds and finished it as a sleekly coiffed 117-lb. with tautly defined deltoids, having lost half a person.

Actually, more than half: She lost a stunning 140 pounds, or 54.47% of her body weight.

"Healthy, hot Helen" -- dubbed so by the media -- said her victory delivers a message to all those fortysomethings out there who have spent a lifetime putting everyone else's needs first and believe that weight loss is unattainable for women of a certain age.

"This is what 48 looks like," Helen said, beaming, becoming the oldest person to win the title of "The Biggest Loser." "If I can do it, you can do it."  

The "at-home" prize -- given to contestants who are booted off the ranch but continue to work out at home, went to Jerry Hayes, the 64-year-old grandfather who had collapsed shortly after arriving at the ranch because his very first workout was too strenuous and was ultimately eliminated from the game just two weeks after he arrived. He started at a 369 pounds and weighed in tonight at 192 pounds -- he lost 177 pounds, or nearly 48% of his body weight.

All the more amazing is that that weight was lost largely on his own, at home.

He, too, said his victory -- he won $100,000 -- should send a message. "Don't let your mind stop you," said Jerry, who added that in the past when he tried to lose weight he was stopped by self-doubt, and negative thoughts such as "I can't do this, and I can't do that." Once he changed that mind-set, he said -- and stopped making excuses and started working out and eating right -- the weight just came off.

"It is possible," he said.

Until the old timers seized victory Tuesday night, the game was looking like it belonged to the young guns.

Take Tara, 24, one of the fiercest competitors to compete, and one whose sheer grit and tenacity led her to make "Biggest Loser" history again and again: She won a record 12 challenges, she is the first contestant to finish a season without once falling below the dreaded yellow line, and she set a record for the most weight lost by a woman on campus.

The former plus-size model started the game at 294 pounds and finished as a blond bombshell weighing in at 139 pounds, having lost nearly 53% of her body weight.

There was also Mike, 19 -- America's newest sweetheart, a boy who grew up before our very eyes on the ranch and became a man (and a future heartbreaker, if he isn't already). He started the game at 388 pounds -- and ended at 181 pounds, having lost 207 pounds, or 53.35% of his body weight.

In the end, though, neither could catch up with Helen, who had been vilified in the blogosphere for her decision earlier in the game to send home her daughter, Shanon, who had joined her at the ranch as part of this season's couples format.

The couples format meant that, sooner or later, nearly all of the teams would be forced to pick and choose who would stay and who would go. But Helen and Shanon's decision, even though it was made jointly, cast Helen in a selfish, negative light.

Jillian, Helen's trainer, had put a different spin on it -- Jillian said Helen should be celebrated for making the decision to put herself first. And the fact that she made it to the finale against individuals half her age just validated the decision.

Biggest-loser-makeovers  The only team that made it intact to the very end was Mike and his father, Ron, who was labeled the sickest contestant to join "The Biggest Loser." Ron, who tried every quick-fix weight-loss remedy under the sun -- including having his jaws wired shut -- started the game at 430 pounds and lost nearly 200 pounds "the old-fashioned way" -- diet and exercise.

In the end, it was father versus son -- both men were competing for the third spot in the finale. Ron's pleas on behalf of his son led audiences to use their call-in votes to side with him.
It was a fitting end to a season that started out by posing the question -- do you need the ranch to lose weight? Can "old folks" lose weight too? Or is it just too late for them?

Helen and Jerry proved you can do it at home or at the ranch, whether you're 48 or 64. Which just begs the question.

What are you waiting for?

A few random observations:

-- Jillian Michaels told the media not to make too much of this, her latest win. Asked about the tidy string of back-to-back victories she's been racking up, the trainer said it was largely a fluke. Bob Harper had originally trained Helen, and it was only through certain game-play machinations that Jillian had ended up as Helen's trainer going into the finale (speaking of Jillian, the media couldn't stop asking about her fab gold lame mani-pedi.)

-- Joelle still doesn't make much sense when she talks. It's like she's trying so hard to rehearse her words in her head that they logjammed trying to get out of her mouth. (She and Carla made up, though.)

-- Nicole is going to make a fetching bride this summer when she and Damien finally marry. She lost 45.72% of her body weight and had been considered a front-runner for the at-home prize.

-- There are some folks who need to go back to "The Biggest Loser" drawing board for health reasons. Like David, who lost just 43 pounds, or just over 10% of his body weight. And Aubrey. Who gained back some of the weight she lost while at the ranch and logged just a 55-pound weight loss overall. (Best luck to both of them.)

-- The night was a who's who of past "Biggest Loser" contestants. Bernie. Coleen. Vicky. Heba. (You know how much it kills me to say anything nice about the Vicky the schemer, but she looked great in a ruffly green number.) Heba, meanwhile looked -- how do I say this.... She looks like she's gained back some weight. (And if it turns out she's pregnant or something, I hereby apologize.)

-- One of the biggest transformations of the night? Host Alison Sweeney. She just had a baby. And if you think she looked trim on your TV sets, you should have seen her in person. I guess that's what happens when you get to have both Bob and Jillian as your personal trainers. (She said she closely followed their guidance throughout her pregnancy and her bounce-back to work. I'll say!)

-- Rene Lynch

(Photo courtesy NBC)