Have You Been Watching: Obese: A Year to Save My Life?

“My name is Jessie Pavelka, and I specialise in extreme weight loss”.

I mean, MY name isn’t Jessie Pavelka, but I kind of wish it was. Jessie is a muscled Adonis of a physical trainer, a kind of David Beckham where a few small but crucial lines of genetic code haven’t gone wrong.

The concept of “extreme weight loss” is initially, a bit disappointing. For example, I could instigate some pretty extreme weight loss using a chainsaw, but no-one seems to have picked up on the idea. Instead, the participants are tasked to shed – by means of Healthy Eating, Fitness Pantaloons and Physical Jerks – the bodyweight equivalent of a medium sized jockey in just 12 months.

This is one hell of a task. Each person needs to lose weight or they may die. Perhaps this bald fact is what gives the show a genuine and oddly life-affirming gravitas.

There are strong and upsetting similarities between each of the obese people whose lifestyles are killing them. The researchers have done a superb job: these are real people, with families, loves and fears and each episode I’ve seen I’ve warmed to them hugely (no pun intended).

It helps that Jessie is an absolute sweetheart: never rude, dismissive or self-important.  Or unattractive. Of course we don’t know just how involved he is once the cameras finish rolling, but I choose to believe he’s up every morning at 6am, lovingly mixing unhusked brown porridge plus soya-lettuce shake for them all.

Oh, Jessie.

Today’s biggest loser is Bev, a 50-year-old, 27-stone mum of three. Bev is a delight: clever, funny and deeply human, though despite her recent appearance on ‘I’ll Give You Something To Cry About’ on Sky Ladies and Shoes (ok, fine, this isn’t a real programme. But I’m pitching it to Sky in the morning, they’ll love it) she’s failed to cure her near-perpetual weeping.

This is the norm for the series, and while I can attempt weak jokes about it, there is such pathos to these scenes that I’m more likely to ‘get something in my eye’ than I am to scoff (um, sorry: another bad choice of words there).

A staple of each episode is the naked shower scene, designed to bring across the ‘before’ element in the most shocking way. Vast pants and clouds of talcum powder abound. It must be hellish for them to film but it’s not nearly as exploitative as it sounds: it’s upsetting, vulnerable and its visceral impact really makes you care about their well-being.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This show is all about results, and large people can lose weight at a rate that would stagger the BMI-25s among us. Jessie’s regime invariably knocks over a stone a month off bingo wings and backfat for the first few months.

However, after a while things slow down (that’s metabolisms for you) and as sure as eggs are a cholesterol time bomb, the misery returns. This is Jessie’s cue to bound back on the scene like a sexy, oiled fairy godmother (okay, even my fantasies are getting a bit confused now).

His ‘boot camp’ is as much a psychological evaluation as an excuse to find new physical tortures for the contestants. One guy gets to pull a plane. A plane! Though to be fair they did discover that another chap had the physiology to be an elite sportsman. Or possibly two elite sportsmen (sorry).

For each contestant, Jessie sets a target of a 10 stone loss; none of them quite make it, but the results are staggering nevertheless. These are almost literally new people, with new hopes and futures and the sheer joy of all around them percolates through the screen.

OAYTSML  shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it gets brownie points (sorry) as, despite the obvious opportunity, it actively avoids becoming a freak show, is free of attention-seeking mentalists and almost single-handedly reminds you how much the genre can give rather than take, take, take.


Obese: A Year To Save My Life is on Sky 1, Sundays at 8pm.


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