What to say if you liked it
Amazingly, or miraculously considering the subject matter, ITV1 produces a documentary of interest and sympathy that is devoid of sensationalism or the kind of ‘celebrities’ that you have to Google to find out who they are, as five overweight people visit Freedom Paradise, a holiday destination in Mexico for overweight people to relax in without feeling self-conscious.
What to say if you didn’t like it
ITV1 gropes around in its big grimy wheelie bin of ‘people that are easily exploited for cheap entertainment to make the masses feel better’, dredges up the leftovers of Celebrity Fit Club and Holiday Showdown and serves it up with a big dollop righteousness borrowed from Tonight With Trevor McDonald. And then has the gall to follow it all with a programme about food and cooking.
What was good about it
• It was a revelation. The documentary showed compassion and understanding without being patronising to the five holidaying Britons (although the title let it down a bit). There was no sarcastic commentary or cheap quips. The five people all seemed genuinely nice, down-to-earth people who happened to be overweight and troubled by that fact. We’re still astounded that ITV1 allowed such a thing as five strangers to live together abroad without chucking someone who hates fat people or some guy with a fuse shorter than a Paris Hilton mini skirt into the mix so that viewers can all gawp at the ‘conflict’ scenes.
• Steven Smith, an obese young man from Scotland, was engagingly honest about his feelings and his struggles in life. The simple fact that to go out of his own home is difficult because he feels people are looking at him constantly or his comment that it would take him ‘until the end of the week’ to gather the confidence just to go swimming at the resort should have been easily enough to elicit compassion and empathy from even the most one-eyed viewer.
• The group was to be led by Marilyn Wan, an American motivational speaker who encourages fat people to be comfortable with themselves and their weight by shouting about it a lot and destroying the self-consciousness obesity can yield. The group’s reaction to her Fat Is Great speak (T-shirt logo: Fat!So?) was a series of superbly understated blank looks worthy of The Office, particularly when she got out her ‘Yay Scales’ that didn’t measure weight – just how great you were (all were ‘fabulous and sexy’ or ‘wonderful and sexy’ when stepping on them. But what if you’d prefer to lose a few pounds to be wonderful rather than fabulous? Surely the cycle starts again?)
• Helen, who seemed almost completely unaware that she was an attractive woman with a killer sense of humour, summed up her first impressions of Marilyn beautifully: “She just talks bollocks.”
• The news that the huge Wayne Kennedy used to be a male model. You could still see it in his face, in fact.
• The fact that even if Marilyn’s gung-ho I-don’t-give-a-crap style wasn’t roundly appreciated, some of her ideas and general enthusiasm really did help the group relax and enjoy what looked like a great holiday. Her central point that it’s better to enjoy your body than become consumed with self-loathing was certainly a valid one that particularly Mel took on board.
What was bad about it
• The narration by Julie Graham’s suggestion that only obese people in Britain aren’t happy, which seemed an odd thing to say.
• Mel did little to garner support of viewers with her early comment: “I’d eat and sleep all day if I could.” It’s difficult to feel sympathy or show understanding to someone who is so openly lazy (although this character trait seemed to ebb away as the show progressed and she grew in confidence).
• The narrator’s comment that our five stars had “had their whole lives ruined (by their obesity)” which clearly wasn’t true as Wayne, just to give one example, had enjoyed his life for many years before putting on a lot of weight. It was an injection of hyperbole that simply wasn’t needed.
• The moment that let the whole show down and should so clearly have been edited out. Steven opened up to the camera about how he finds it difficult to get close to friends because of the chance of being hurt from it, and therefore found it even more difficult to establish a sexual relationship with a woman. It was brave of him to be so open about his loneliness, but was promptly stamped on and ruined by someone off camera saying: “So you’re still a virgin then?” Steven said yes, but this was crass, stupid and offensive. It was so clearly what Steven had already said, yet someone decided it needed to be spelt out for the ‘thick’ ITV audience and was somehow important to the show as a whole while at the same time hinting that it was something to be ashamed of in some way.