Chelsea Arthurs ’07 always has been a big fan of the NBC weight-loss reality show “The Biggest Loser” and her favorite trainer from the show is Bob Harper, so Arthurs was thrilled when she made it on the program and Harper picked her as a contestant he wanted to train. That happened during the first episode of the show’s most recent season. “I ended up getting Bob, so that was pretty exciting,” says Arthurs, who weighed 241 pounds when taping began in southern California last June.
Each season of “The Biggest Loser” begins with a group of seriously overweight people arriving at the show’s ranch headquarters, and over ensuing weeks the show’s trainers lead them through intense workouts as they learn how to improve their eating habits. Their goal is to lose the greatest percentage of body weight among the contestants by the end of the season and earn the title of “The Biggest Loser,” along with the first-place prize of $250,000. After arriving at the ranch with 14 other hopefuls, Arthurs survived week after week of the show’s “weigh-ins,” but she was eliminated during the final weigh-in filmed at the ranch, narrowly missing out on earning one of three finalist positions for the show’s live finale.
Arthurs didn’t become “The Biggest Loser” or get the cash, but by the time the finale rolled around in February she weighed 146 pounds and was making plans to run her first half marathon in the spring. “I think doing ‘The Biggest Loser’ has changed my life forever,” she said a few weeks after the finale. “I had struggled with my weight since I was 16 years old and I could never lose it. But now I’ve learned so much about nutrition and fitness and what it takes to lose weight and keep it off. I think I’m going to be able to carry that with me the rest of my life.”
Arthurs was born and raised in Raleigh and began her first semester at Western Carolina in the fall of 2003, but her weight problems began a few years before she arrived in Cullowhee. Arthurs said she was an active teenager, participating in cheerleading and playing softball, but the divorce of her parents when she was 17 spurred her emotional eating and she was up to 190 pounds by the time she graduated from Green Hope High School in Morrisville. Her weight actually went down a little when she was a WCU student, but after leaving the university with her bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism the problem grew worse, particularly when she became training and events coordinator for a Raleigh engineering company. “Doing that, I was around food a lot and started putting on even more weight,” she said. Arthurs said she had been considering trying out for “The Biggest Loser” and was encouraged to do so by her best friend Carla Brinkley ’07, her roommate for her freshman and sophomore years in WCU’s Harrill Residence Hall. Brinkley, now living in Atlanta, said she’s glad the show’s producers “recognized what a kind, funny, charismatic and all-around beautiful girl” Arthurs is and put her on TV. “I think I actually said to her, ‘There’s no way they won’t pick you. Go!’” Brinkley said.
Arthurs actually missed out on her first chance at being on the show. Producers from “The Biggest Loser” were coming to Raleigh for an open casting call for season 14, and Arthurs won a pass from a Raleigh radio station that guaranteed her a first-place position in the line of show hopefuls. She wasn’t picked for that season, but as the producers were looking for contestants for season 15, they gave Arthurs a “call back” in May 2013, and she was invited to casting week in California. She spent two weeks sequestered in a hotel room and in meetings with producers. “Then finally one night, they bring 15 of us into a room and I see Ruben Studdard (winner of the second season of ‘American Idol’ ) sitting behind me,” Arthurs said. “They told us that everybody there had made the show, and the next day we were in a van going to our very first workout on the ranch.”
Arthurs spent four months on the ranch with her only communication with family, friends and her boyfriend back home being through letters. Filming began at the end of June with a regular schedule of five days of filming each week as the trainers led the contestants through workouts and the contestants competed in the show’s challenges. After a while, “you kind of get used to being on camera and you don’t really pay attention to it,” she said.
The initial workouts on the ranch are historically very tough on “The Biggest Loser” contestants. “The first couple of workouts were real hard and people were really puking and cramping up and in a lot of pain,” Arthurs said. “After that, it gets better with time.” As the end of the contestants’ time on the ranch approached, the final five competed in a sprint triathlon, with the winner receiving an automatic finalist position. Arthurs didn’t win the triathlon, but she said finishing it was “a huge accomplishment and high point.” The biggest highlight for her, however, was “make-over week,” when the contestants were treated to new hairstyles and custom wardrobes. The ranch doesn’t have many mirrors, and that was a time “to dress up and stop and look at all the progress I had made,” she said. Also, Arthurs’ older brother Brad Arthurs ’07 traveled in from South Korea, where he teaches English, to share the moment with her. “That was really cool for me,” she said.
On Oct. 20, Arthurs went up against the remaining contestants at the final ranch weigh-in before the finale. Her weight was down to 157 pounds, but it wasn’t enough to help her avoid elimination. She went back home to Raleigh. “I got to be (on the ranch) every single week and I’m really grateful for that,” Arthurs said. “I was almost at my goal weight by the time I left.” When she got home, Arthurs went to work at her new job at INC Research, where she helps pharmaceutical companies manage their clinical research studies. Her first day on the job was actually last June. “On my very first day at INC, I had to tell them I was going to California for casting week. At that time, I didn’t know if I would be picked for the show or not,” Arthurs said. “My boss was really flexible and supportive and held my job for me the whole time I was gone. I got pretty lucky.”
Arthurs said she found balancing work, workouts and her social life to be a struggle after she returned to Raleigh, but over time she has learned how to find that sweet point. One big change in her life now is her newfound enjoyment of running. Arthurs said she never liked to run in her younger days, but before she arrived at “The Biggest Loser” ranch she had made up her mind that she would learn to appreciate it. “Now, I run almost every day and I love it,” she said. As late winter turned into spring, Arthurs was training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Half Marathon that was coming up on April 13. She said she wouldn’t be participating in the race alone. Brinkley was planning on traveling to Raleigh to run the 13.1 miles with her.