It would probably feel good to get to show someone from your past that you had grown out of a particularly awkward or unflattering physical phase. And yet... the new Oxygen reality show My Big Fat Revenge — which purports to let contestants do exactly that — is outlandish, offensive, and utterly perplexing.
This isn't a formerly nerdy classmate gracefully showing a one-time cheerleader from high school that's she's gone from ugly duckling to swan. Instead, MBFR features grown women frantically losing weight and then publicly humiliating the very people who made them feel the worst in their lives. It feeds off the most base human emotions while reinforcing the idea that these women were right to do exactly what their tormenters taunted them to do: lose weight. It's smarmy stuff, and sloppily packaged, clumsily stitching together what producers surely perceive as the meaty, alluring parts of The Biggest Loser, MTV-style prank shows, and the goofy makeover reveals of What Not To Wear.
The show introduces two women who might be deemed "plus-size" or, you know, normal women. They tell sob stories about someone from their past who humiliated them about their weight in a way that made them want revenge. It all leads up to a Punk'd-type prank in the final third of the show, when the tormenter is humiliated and then confronted by the formerly chubby friend/girlfriend/relative, who reveals her newly svelte self and demands an apology in front of a swarm of cameras. There are far too many swirling shots of women screaming out things like, "Enough is enough! I'm in control now!!!" to no one but a camera while dramatic music soars in the background. Absolutely bonkers.
Before the prank can take place, though, we must get familiar with our two ladies. Last night's episode had pretty brunette Jen, who has never forgiven a guy she met on an online dating site for heavier girls after he admitted he hid her from his friends and wished she was skinnier. Then there's gorgeous Tamar from New York, who has struggled with her weight all her life but blamed her own mother for the endless fount of put-downs regarding her size.
Both women are shown sadly holding up too-small dresses and tops in front of their bedroom mirrors while their sob stories play out in confessional voiceover. The truth is, these are frustrating and very real stories that many women can relate to. Jen and Tamar are motivated to make a huge life change, and have committed to coming to L.A. for a whopping three months to work out for an absolutely insane schedule: two hours chunks, three times a day. But the goal is not merely weight loss and a healthy makeover. It's to lose a dramatic amount of weight... and then prank that unsuspecting jerk from the past.
We get only a brief glimpse — like, a minute — of Tamar and Jen feverishly working out, all day long, for months on end. Treadmill scenes can get tiresome, of course, but the speed of their incredible transformation — the crux of the entire show — plays out so stupid-fast that it feels almost intentionally edited for laughs. One minute, they're packing up a suitcase to fly out to California. The next, they're slowly revealing their new selves to a gasping crowd of friends and family. They might as well have shown the swirling hands on a clock superimposed over a clip-art picture of a scale.
The weight loss is impressive for both women. Jen loses 68 pounds, arriving at 181 pounds for her very special prank day. Tamar drops 46 pounds to hit 172 for her big "gotcha!" And now comes the climax: What better way to celebrate healthy living and body acceptance than to build toward a mean-spirited and utterly childish goal at the finish line?
Jen's prank at least makes a modicum of sense. Somehow, her scrawny ex is lured out for a blind date with a gorgeous and buxom blonde who proceeds to embarrass him throughout the course of the date by insulting his small frame and reminding him that she normally dates "hot guys." The whole time, cameras are watching his every squirmy, awkward move until the fake date bolts and Jen emerges in her new, svelte bod. It's cringe-inducing, and not for the faint of heart. We watch her scream and demand an apology, to which he responds, "This is terrible. You just want an apology because I dated a fat chick and you're not fat anymore? And you're happy about it and want me to tell you you're not fat or whatever? Great… good for you." Yikes, ugh, barf, bleugh. The worst part? Her nervously shrugging after he flips her off and storms out saying, "I don't care. I look fucking amazing." It plays like a teenage girl who gets ditched at prom and is desperately trying to convince everyone around her she believes the words she's saying.
Next up is Tamar's revenge, which has her flying her own mother out from New York to check out a "play" she's put together in L.A. It's all very vague, especially considering there's no mention of Tamar having a history of play-writing or theater. Yet her mom comes out and dutifully watches the play, seemingly on her own in the crowd, save for the two people they were able to wrangle to sit in the "audience" for the "show." The play itself is an assortment of scenes in which a mom — with her very same name! — berates a daughter — with the name Tamar! Gasp! — about her weight, over and over again. Tamar watches via cameras in the back as her mom claps and enjoys the hell out of the god-awful performance, as anyone might if they'd flown across the country to see garbage in a brightly lit black box theater and was trying to make it even slightly enjoyable.
Tamar finally stomps out from backstage and reveals that it was all a ruse. Her mom is so bored and weirded out that she pulls out her phone and begins playing with it, clearly uninterested in participating in what she knows is a steaming pile of absolute crazy. Tamar won't take the brush off and stands in front of her mom screaming for an apology. Like any human who might want to find a way out of screaming and cameras in their face, Tamar's mom half-heartedly apologizes. There's no hashing out or explanation and we're meant to believe Tamar is basking in sweet, sweet revenge over the whole confusing mess.
Both women consistently remind the camera how good it felt to "take charge" and get "revenge," but any viewer would be hard pressed to find anything positive or even indulgently entertaining in it. It trades in the most awful of notions: that women's body insecurities will fuel them to not only lose a massive amount of weight in a short window of time, but to also dredge up a painful memory from their past and act out a poorly produced, eye-for-an-eye fantasy. It's the kind of programming that makes Real Housewives look like an exercise in militant feminism.
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