Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Heather Addison

Second Advisor

Dr. Sandra Borden

Third Advisor

Dr. Joseph Kayany


obesity, semiotics, reality television, cultural studies, biggest loser

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


This study explores how The Biggest Loser, a popular television reality program that features a weight-loss competition, reflects and magnifies established stereotypes about obese individuals. The show, which encourages contestants to lose weight at a rapid pace, constructs a broken/fixed dichotomy that oversimplifies the complex issues of obesity and health.

My research is a semiotic analysis of the eleventh season of the program (2011), focusing on three pairs of contestants (or “couples” teams) that each represent a different level of commitment to the program’s values. Specifically, I focus on dramatic “breakdown” moments in which these contestants are disciplined by the show for becoming emotionally fraught, overwhelmed, or antagonistic during their weight-loss journeys and “breakthrough” moments in which they are celebrated for overcoming an obstacle, proving their worth, or triumphing in a specific way. Such moments provide the most explicit examples of the ideologies that the show endorses, which associate obesity with personal problems such as poor choices, laziness, and emotional baggage, ignoring cultural factors that may have an impact on body weight.