In its past 14 seasons, “The Biggest Loser” generated hundreds of inspiring weight-loss stories among contestants — and countless transformations among viewers — who represented nearly every facet of life. But, despite the show being home to at least one out trainer, it had yet to tell the story of an openly LGBT person’s weight-loss journey — until recently.
Jackson Carter, 21, is among the last five contestants standing this season on the popular NBC weight-loss show — and its first out LGBT contestant since the program’s 2004 launch.
The Utah resident was upfront about his sexuality from the beginning, referencing growing up gay in his intro video on the first episode in January, and rarely being filmed without his signature rainbow bracelet.
While he’s been labeled as the “gay contestant,” Carter said in an interview with PGN last week that his sexual orientation was not much of a factor in his childhood weight gain; rather, he turned to food to cope with being bullied for other reasons.
“There’s a misconception that every gay kid is bullied, but I was bullied for being overweight and for being only one of two or three white kids in a Native-American school,” he said. “The other kids were really mean to us and threw rocks at us, called us horrible names. I just didn’t understand what made me so different and why I was so hated for something I couldn’t control. My parents were so supportive but they didn’t really know how to handle it either. My mom would take me to the movies when I was upset and we’d get movie candy and that’s how I’d make myself feel better. Laughter and food made the sadness and pain go away and that’s when I started to emotionally eat.”
He came out at 14 and said he was well-accepted in his art school and by his family. He also got involved with the Ogden OUTreach Resource Center, where he now serves as a youth mentor.
“I had an awesome support system and ended up having a really good coming-out experience. I wish everyone could have as good an experience as I did,” Carter said.
It was in part his work with the young people at the resource center that led him to try out for “Loser.”
“I really want to be a role model for these kids and want them to know that if there’s something they’re not happy with in their lives, they can change it and become whoever they want to be,” he said. “I saw ‘Biggest Loser’ as an opportunity to show them that.”
Achieving that transformation, however, has been no easy task.
In his first workout on the “Loser” ranch in California, Carter collapsed — and continued to vomit during many of his early training sessions.
“The first workout is still sort of a blur,” he said. “I got on the treadmill and was put with Jillian [Michaels], and she’s very intense and scary. These are people who had not worked out in years and she worked us out as if we’d been on the ranch for months. Within six minutes, the room started going blurry, my limbs got numb and — what I’ve pieced together from the footage — I blacked out while I was still walking on the treadmill. I was basically unconscious but still walking because I was afraid Jillian would yell at me!”
He joked that when he came to, he saw a paramedic who he “thought was green” before he passed out again.
But he eventually got his workouts under control.
The contestants would typically spend four-to-six hours — and sometimes up to eight — in the gym per day. The trainers — Michaels, Bob Harper and Dolvett Quince — would work with them for about three hours, and the rest of the time the contestants were on their own to follow their exercise regimens.
“If I had to choose a trainer, I’d choose Dolvett hands-down,” Carter said. “He is so motivating and he knows me inside and out. I don’t know how, but it’s like he knows me better than I know myself. But if I had to pick one to hang out with for a night on the town, it’d be Bob. He cracks me up.”
Carter said the trainers and his fellow contestants were fine with his LGBT identity — an identity he ultimately realized he felt ostracized from because of his weight.
“I considered my sexuality a non-issue; I was not the gay contestant but just a contestant, and the trainers and all the contestants were cool about that too. It was never a problem,” he said. “But there were things I didn’t realize I was still struggling with. Being overweight in the gay community is very tough. You’re supposed to fit this uniform as a gay man and if you don’t, you get marginalized, even in our own community. I didn’t fit that uniform because I was overweight. I felt like I was being a ‘bad gay man.’ But Dolvett helped me with that. One of the first things he said to me when I met him was, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ and I said no, and he said, ‘Do you want one?’ and I said yes. And he said, ‘OK, we’re going to work on that.’ He was really cool about it.”
Carter’s openness about his sexuality on the show has had a surprising resonance with viewers, he said.
“I didn’t realize what a big impact it was going to make. I’ve gotten people all over the world who’ve reached out to say that watching me be open on the show has made them more comfortable with their own sexuality, or I had a woman email me and say that her daughter just came out and she was struggling because she was afraid for her, but seeing that I was doing so well and so well-adjusted and accepting of my own sexuality made her see that it didn’t need to be a problem. I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal, but I’m so happy I was out on the show and that people are using that for good.”
In terms of his own takeaway from the “Biggest Loser” experience, Carter said he feels more empowered to pursue his goals.
He had been planning on pursuing a career as a theater teacher, but said the show made him fall in love with television production and he now plans to attend film school.
“I always struggled with allowing myself to be successful; I just never thought I was good enough or what I wanted to do was worth doing. I see now that anything I want to do is possible. I’m capable of doing so much more than I ever expected I’d be able to do — not just the physical transformation, but any school I want to go to or any job I want, I believe I can have those things. It just took ‘Biggest Loser’ to point that out to me.”
“Biggest Loser” airs 8 p.m. Mondays on NBC.
From our media partners PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.