Bob Harper Turns to Hosting Duties in 'Biggest Loser' Season 17 (INTERVIEW)

New Year, New Bob. In this exclusive interview, 'BL' superstar trainer Bob Harper tells Bio how he feels about his new gig, how this season differs from all the rest, and his goal of keeping the contestants raw and real.
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New Year, New Bob. In this exclusive interview, 'BL' superstar trainer Bob Harper tells Bio how he feels about his new gig, how this season differs from all the rest, and his goal of keeping the contestants raw and real.
Bob Harper Host Biggest Loser Photo

(Photo: NBC/Chris Haston)

When Bob Harper returns to The Biggest Loser for its 17th season, he will be hanging up his training shoes and taking over the hosting duties from Alison Sweeney. This will make Harper the first male host, as the reality series began with Caroline Rhea fronting the show for three seasons prior to Sweeney.

Having been a trainer on The Biggest Loser since day one, Harper decided for this new opportunity, he was going to take a more hands-on approach to hosting than either of the women before him. He wanted to put his own stamp on it, plus he knew he brought different knowledge, having been on the "losing" side.

"I can spot any shenanigans with contestants a mile away," Harper told Bio in an exclusive interview. "So I make sure that everyone is working on all cylinders throughout the season."

That isn't the only change the personal trainer and fitness author wanted to make. He had an idea to highlight the fact that in his mind, The Biggest Loser is a rehab center.

"I wanted to create an open forum for all the contestants to get together where it's not about teams," he says. "It's about having places to be able to speak about what got them here in the first place, the demons that they have. That is one of the most special things that I think that's different about this season."

Bob Harper Biggest Loser Trainers Photo

Jennifer Widerstrom, Bob Harper, Dolvett Quince (Photo: NBC/Chris Haston)

Growing up on a farm in Tennessee, about an hour's drive north from Nashville, Harper's early exposure to food was healthier than you might think for a Southerner. He was raised on a cattle farm, so all the family's meat was raised by them, plus they had a vegetable garden. Harper recalls that the only thing they bought from the grocery store were dairy products like milk and cheese.

"I really think that our food was untouched back then," he says. "I try to get people to go back to eating real and whole foods again, and staying away from food that's been processed."

When he finished high school, Harper didn't have money for college or a car, so he caught a ride from a friend and moved to Nashville, staying with different friends until he got his first job.

Eventually, Harper discovered he had a knack as a personal trainer, which led to his making a successful life for himself, even without college, and it's one that includes helping others to stay or get healthy. Toward that goal, he co-authored the book Skinny Habits: The 6 Secrets of Thin People (Skinny Rules).

With that on his resume, we asked him for his best advice for the New Year for people who are serious about making lifestyle changes.

"I think that people need to be really, really cautious in the beginning because they get so keyed up on the first of the year and they want to just start changing everything," he says. "I've always said, find one thing. If you want to focus on your diet, think about taking sugar and artificial sweeteners out of your diet. If you feel like your diet is more on point, but you lead more of a sedentary lifestyle, then I would tell you your goal should be to find some sort of exercise that you feel you would enjoy. I think group fitness classes are just so popular now and there are so many different options, and you don't have to spend all the money on a private trainer."

Bob Harper Host Biggest Loser Photo

(Photo: NBC/Tyler Golden)

That said, Harper loves being a trainer. He loves that people give him their bodies and their minds to help mold and change. As a result, he takes his role very seriously.

"I used to think that people that got to be on our show won the lottery or the golden ticket, but I really do believe that our audience gets so much out of the show: inspiration and determination."

What to know more about The Biggest Loser Season 17? Here is what Harper has to say:

Has hosting changed your perception of the show since you're not invested in any one particular team?

Absolutely. Being able to sit with everyone and just say, "You know what? Leave your team colors outside because this is the meat of what I think the show is all about." It's new. It's fresh. It's exciting. The first episode, I thought was just fantastic by not only the look of it but just the content. I was really happy with it.

As excited as you are about hosting and the changes you've brought to that, is there anything you miss about having your own team?

I've been on the show since Season 1. It's Season 17 now. It's like, yes, of course, I love the fact that I used to have a team that I used to work with. But now, I get to work with everyone. So it was like, I get one big team.

So it was new and it was different. I did miss getting in the gym and really tackling the people. But there are times, and you'll see in the first episode, it's like I do a challenge and I'm offering them money as they're on the treadmill, putting them through a workout and making them work as hard as I can to make sure that they really want to be here. You get that taste of me being a trainer also.

So the theme for the season is temptation. Is it just about food temptation or is temptation more than that?

Temptation is way more than that. It's lifestyle. It's money. It's luxury. It's so many things because one thing that we realized, when you live in The Biggest Loser bubble, it's really just like people say, it's easy to lose weight. You're in there, you've got trainers, you're being watched and you're on your best behavior.

But I really wanted to highlight all these temptations throughout the season because I wanted to give them all the information, all the tools that they'd be able to use when it's time for them to go home and the cameras are off of them. To realize that we all face temptations, no matter if you have 10 pounds to lose or 200 pounds. And it's being able to make better choices, it's about putting yourself as a top of your priority list, and making sure that you are protecting yourself.

You've been there since the beginning. Do you think that the show has more sophistication now that the contestants come in with more knowledge? Do you see any change?

That's a good question. What I see throughout the season because we've been on so long now, is that they come in and they all want to say the right thing. What I try to get them to do is say the real thing.

It's like, "Don't try to give me a sound bite right now. I want you to give me what you're actually feeling. I want you to forget about everything that you think you know about this show and what you think your perception should be, but just be real and be raw and be honest." If you can get them to do that from the very beginning, that's where, I think, the more lasting transformation will happen.

Now that you're hosting, do you have time for outside projects?

Actually, this season, because of my new position, was all-consuming. It was like I had entered a completely different world. I had very long hours. I didn't have to be there on dark days or off-camera days because I didn't have to train the contestants. But I had to give my 100 percent all for this job this season because I take it very seriously.

So does that mean you didn't teach spin classes like you used to? I know Alison Sweeney has said she took your classes.

I do every once in a while. There's a gym that I go to called Brick CrossFit Los Angeles. I do these workouts called Body by Bob and people love them because it's just a long, metabolic conditioning-type style of workout. It's a really good sweat because I'm a trainer. I've been a trainer forever so I really try to give myself small outlets to be able to do that.

'The Biggest Loser' returns on Monday, January 4th on NBC.