It's a season of firsts for ABC's popular "Extreme Weight Loss." Season four, beginning tonight, May 27, features the first father and daughter participants and the first mother and son. It includes the first person to quit trainer and lifestyle makeover specialist Chris Powell's program, and the first to be kicked out of it. This is the first season to begin with participants in a weight loss boot camp at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, Colorado.
And, "I would say that one of the most important firsts is that I have a full-time, super hot co-host here," boasts Chris. He does indeed — his gorgeous blond wife, mother of their four children and fellow trainer, Heidi. The Powells make it clear that Heidi has been a part of the show since Day 1, from being in on its creation to working with participants — but until now, she's been behind the scenes. We chatted with the incredibly toned twosome about their new directions and how they keep it all together.
Q: Why haven't we been seeing Heidi until now?
She: You can only capture so much of what is happening in a one or two-hour episode. When you spend an entire year with somebody, you can't even imagine how much footage ends up on the cutting room floor. To have me and Chris together didn't make sense, story wise, because Chris was kind of the person known as the trainer. And then this year, the change in the format of the show led the producers to say, 'Why not capture this?'
Q: What about that change in format?
She: I had my fourth baby last year, and we decided it was going to be too hard with Chris traveling again. So we talked to the producers and decided to actually do three months in one location rather than have him travel all over. So he and I got to run a boot camp for three months in Denver, Colorado, and the reality of what happened really came out on camera. I worked with the participants as much as I always have, it's just that now occasionally I have to do interviews on camera. That's really the only change.
Q: Was the idea of Chris traveling originally set up to help differentiate you from 'Biggest Loser'? Was that part of the thinking?
He: That's a good question. I don't know. I mean, when we were creating the show, we wanted to map out what the journey of transformation is really like for people at home. So that's like the concept. It's not a competition. It wasn't just a matter of two months; we wanted to take a whole year because that's what the journey is truly like. And then, instead of just diet and exercise, we go and do the emotional aspect and the psychological aspect of it, which is really what it's all about.
Q: You say this is the first time someone walked out and also the first time you kicked somebody off. There's a lot of drama this year.
She: There's a lot of drama every year, but we were able to capture it being at the same location for such an extended period of time. This year, we did have a couple of people who began the journey, who, from the beginning, we weren't quite sure of. At least one of them. I wasn't sure the person was ready and sure enough, over time, the person quit.
Q: Are there a lot of people whose stories don't make it on the air at all?
She: They all do. Even the two people who quit or got kicked off, you will get to see what happens.
Q: Without giving too much away, what caused the departure? What caused you to kick someone off? Were they lying?
He: I think with one individual — the individual who quit was just scared. Terrified. And the person who left, what they wanted to get out of the process was less about transformation and more about superficial stuff. They weren't in it for the right reasons. We work with food addicts, and the only way you control an addiction is with honest and authenticity — being real, open. And this individual would not open up. Lying — sure enough, when we started to dig down deeper into all these stories that were being told, there were so many untruths.
Q: You have a big family. Do you run back and forth between shooting and being with your kids?
He: We do. We're a great tag team; when she is working, I'm Mr. Mom, and it works so well that way. When I was on the road so much, we couldn't do that. I'd be gone six weeks at a time, and I'd come home and the kids barely knew me.
Q: The young man you work with this season whose father abused him as a child — telling that story required a lot of sensitivity. Do you sit with the editors when putting these shows, these stories, together?
He: We spend a lot of time with the executive producers. We have so much one-on-one time with these individuals, we know what to be sensitive to and what is the best way to tell a story and what is happening emotionally behind the scenes. It really is a team effort in capturing the reality of the situation and truly telling their story.
She: Also a huge shout-out to our editors. Most editors spend their entire lives in an editing bay, putting the stories together. Ours actually go out on the road with us, and know the particulars of the stories.
Q: This is some really life-changing material. Do the subjects sometimes have misgivings about telling their stories?
She: Oh, yeah. Oh, my gosh. I would say every single one of them. I think as humans we all want to be loved, and we think what will make us loved is looking good on camera. It takes a lot of reassurance and trust for them to believe us when we say, 'Guys, imagine watching your own journey. What would you want your character to divulge to make that connection?' And it's talking about how many people will be helped by laying it all out on the table. All the participants want to make a difference in this world.
He: That's a great point. They all want to make a difference. You can tell the truth because your truth is going to give someone else struggling with the same thing permission to make a change as well. Once they get that, they realize how powerful that courage is, and that's what gets them to open up.