'Losers' can still 'win'

Vance Jackson (right) and LeAnn Jackson

Story by Brad Gillman
(Standard-Examiner staff)
Tue, May 24, 2011
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This season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser: Couples” had Northern Utah well-represented.

It all started with an Olympic hero, Rulon Gardner, who gained national attention and then made more waves when he quit. Add a natural-born captain and a mother/daughter team from Bountiful, and throw in a surprise duo from Ogden in the middle of the season.

The season, which began as a team competition, ends tonight at 7 p.m. on KSL Channel 5. All of the Utahns were eliminated during the show’s run, and they left the Hummingbird Nest Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., where the contestants train and are filmed.

But five of them are still eligible to win the $100,000 prize for being the eliminated contestant to lose the most weight.

Rulon Gardner

Logan, age 39

• Starting weight — 474 pounds

• Last weight check — 301 pounds

Rarely does a “Biggest Loser” contestant come to the show with a recognizable name. Yet Gardner came with the audience’s memory of him besting the unbeatable Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Aleksandr Karelin in the 2000 Summer Olympics for a gold medal.

So when he ventured onto the ranch, he was named the favorite to win. He quickly dropped 100 pounds in just seven weeks and was a strong contender in all of the challenges.

That’s when the biggest shock of the season came. He abruptly quit during the show in Week 17.

A statement from Gardner the day after the show aired said he had achieved his goals. He also said he left to be with his wife “in the ongoing management of our personal and professional affairs.”

He is not eligible for the $100,000 prize.

Justin Pope

Logan, age 39

• Starting weight — 365 pounds

• Last weight check — 225 pounds

Pope entered the competition as Gardner’s partner; the two are close friends and business partners. Pope became the unofficial captain of the red team when the cast was split into two teams. NBC showed him numerous times as he worked with his team and celebrated their successes and bemoaned their failures. His last act as team leader was sacrificing himself for teammate Courtney Crozier in Week 12 voting.

“She needs to be able to finish her journey,” Pope said on the show. “This is not how I want to leave. But I’m a happy man. I’m good, you know. I’m a changed man. I’m a different man. I’m a better man.

“Don’t dream of keeping me here. Don’t even think about it.”

He has since returned to Logan, where he has started the “Justin’s Call Out” program, which involves leaving shirts with that slogan on the doorsteps of people who need to change their lifestyle. The invitees come down to the gym he and Gardner own to work out with him.

Denise “Deni” Hill

Bountiful, age 59

• Starting weight — 256 pounds

• Last weight check — 170 pounds

Hill went on the show with her daughter, Sarah Nitta, saying that she needed to be there for her grandchildren and that her unhealthy lifestyle might not allow that.

But she also knew she had to be there to protect her daughter. That opportunity came in Week 8 after team members came down with colds and were not able to work out as intensely. She purposely drank large amounts of water so she would lose the weigh-in, and be sent home instead of Nitta.

Hill said she maintained a healthy lifestyle since then.

“I have done so well at home,” said Hill in a conference call on Feb. 24. “I have learned so much that — how could I not be the biggest winner?”

Sarah Nitta

Las Vegas, age 27

• Starting weight — 261 pounds

• Last weight check — 169 pounds

Hill’s daughter said she wanted to be on “The Biggest Loser” as a pathway to starting a family. She has suffered several miscarriages.

The Woods Cross High School graduate and current University of Utah student said her obesity was a major reason she had been unable to have children. She was eliminated in Week 10 despite posting consistent losses.

“Losing this weight and gaining this confidence has made me want to do things and overcome things that I never thought were possible,” Nitta said during the Week 10 episode, which aired in March.

Vance Jackson

Ogden, age 20

• Starting weight — 379 pounds

• Last weight check — 299 pounds

Vance Jackson and his mom, LeAnn Jackson, came as a surprise midway through the season.

They were not originally chosen for the show, but they were given a chance to earn a spot on the show if they could lose enough weight at home — without those famous personal trainers.

They got their chance in Week 12. They went to the ranch, but they weren’t able to post enough weight loss to be allowed to join the cast.

“In the very beginning, I really struggled with losing, because I focused a little too much on the exercise and I really wasn’t too concerned about my diet,” said Vance Jackson, in an interview with the Standard-Examiner on March 17.

“So I really struggled, as you saw. I mean, I only lost 30 pounds. My mom beat me at weight. That shouldn’t have happened at all.”

Vance Jackson had lost 30 pounds when he weighed in on the show. But he said he got some help from a phone call when he got back home. Pope gave him a “Justin’s Call Out,” and Jackson has been working out with Pope in Logan. He said in the March 17 interview that he had since lost 50 more pounds.

LeAnn Jackson

Ogden, age 52

• Starting weight — 315 pounds

• Last weight check — 245 pounds

Jackson has been impressing students at Mount Ogden Junior High School since she appeared on the show.

She said she joined “The Biggest Loser” for her son, but that being a part of the competition changed her for the better.

“One of the biggest things I have learned is, I have learned what I am capable of,” Jackson said in an interview with the Standard-Examiner on March 17. “I learned that I do have willpower. I do have grit — and actually more than I thought I had.”

Her workout includes several exercises, but mainly she just started walking. She said she walks every single day to be more active.

She will join her son, Pope, Hill and Nitta as they get on the scale one last time for a $100,000 prize.

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