The challenge of losing weight is a staple of American reality television. Shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Fit Club” revolve around weight loss, while others like “Supernanny” or “Wife Swap” have included their share of fitness and healthy eating storylines.
Enter “Ruby,” a nine-episode reality TV show premiering Sunday (Nov. 9) at 8 p.m. ET on The Style Network.
Ruby Gettinger weighs almost 500 pounds ”down from more than 700 pounds at one point. This Sunday school teacher from Savannah knows she has to lose weight to reduce various health risks, so the cameras roll as Ruby enlists the help of friends and physicians to beat what she calls her “beast.”
“I’ve lived in this shell all my life,” says Ruby in the episode’s hour-long premiere. “Was I just meant to be overweight? This is what I want to find out.”
By now, reality television is a well-oiled genre. “Ruby” calls on her faithful friends (roommate Jeff, nephew Jim, health-conscious Brittany), as well as her family physician, an obesity specialist, a nutritionist, a personal trainer and a psychologist.
Ruby and those around her give on-camera interviews, Ruby talks to the tried-and-true “diary cam,” we see old family photos of Ruby’s various physiques, and we experience Ruby’s obstacles moving around town.
“The world’s not made for me,” says Ruby. “It’s not made for people our size.” Nowhere is this ironically more evident than in the office of Ruby’s obesity specialist, whose lobby doesn’t offer a chair large enough for her to sit in.
Ruby keeps an extra-large chair in her den, cinder blocks under her bed to prevent the boxsprings from buckling, and a closet full of specially chosen clothes.
She dreams of romance and the ability to get into the tub for a bubble bath, but that won’t happen until serious changes occur. Such changes are stifled, the show suggests, by Ruby’s friends who have a difficult time saying no to the friendly woman. Praline cheesecake? Give some to Ruby.
“Ruby can almost make people become an enabler,” says longtime friend and roommate Jeff. She’s sneaky, too, he warns.
After setting up Ruby’s situation, the show turns when Ruby’s old friend from California, the health-conscious Brittany, arrives for moral support. Brittany hammers the importance of healthy eating and exercise, and we’re introduced to more members of the professional support team that will try to help Ruby, who is already a diabetic and on disability because of her poor health.
“She is a metabolic time bomb waiting to go off,” warns Ruby’s family physician, Dr. Stephen Corse. The inclusion of this comment and genre-mandated “visit with the doctor” is of course reality television’s familiar way of raising the narrative stakes (not that obesity isn’t a serious health issue).
Toward the end of the premiere, Ruby looks her nutritionist in the eye and promises she’ll eat only what’s allowed by the new diet. You know “good television” relies on the possibility that she won’t.
And then the hook for the next episode: Ruby’s long-lost love re-enters her life, apparently trying to defend his decision to leave her on account of her weight.
Ruby, the woman, seems like a fun person ”unique, as we all are. The show, on the other hand, tastes like standard reality TV fare.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.