Change is coming to NBC’s long-running reality series The Biggest Loser. With Jillian Michaels exiting the show tonight, Vulture can officially confirm that Russian-born tennis star and professional hottie Anna Kournikova has said “da” to joining Loser as its new celebrity trainer, news that started leaking out on Internet gossip sites over the weekend. But there’s more: Industry sources also tell us that trainers Brett Hoebel and Cara Castronuova, who joined the show this winter, will not be returning. The two big questions now: Will the on-air overhaul help energize Loser as it begins its twelfth season next fall? And, perhaps more important, does Kournikova have the lung power to replace scream queen Michaels?
For the answers, we rang up Loser executive producer Todd Lubin, who told Vulture that the Kournikova hire is part of a reboot that will see the show “getting slightly away from just the tape measure, and getting into overall well being and health. That’s where Loser needs to go.” He said producers met with hundreds of trainers, famous and not; those who tried to replicate Michaels’s hard-ass style were pretty much rejected. “We intentionally tried to not replace Jillian,” he says. Kournikova, meanwhile, was no stranger to Lubin and the other Loser producers: She had made a guest appearance on a season-ten episode in which she surprised contestants with a tennis-themed workout. Lubin was impressed with Kournikova’s ability to motivate and briefly considered developing a new show just for her. He soon changed course, however, and decided it made more sense for her to join Loser.
While Kournikova is sometimes criticized in athletic circles for being better at being a celebrity than playing tennis, Lubin says the star “is the furthest thing away” from being a diva: “She grew up with very little in Moscow, pounding tennis balls every day when she was 5,” he says. “That’s the drive she’s bringing to the show.” (Suddenly we’re having Rocky IV flashbacks.) As for our other burning question — can Kournikova reach Michaels’s ear-splitting decibel level — Lubin says he hasn’t measured her vocal prowess. “But what’s alarming about Anna is that when she really gets intense, she starts speaking Russian,” he says. “And as a child of the Cold War, it scares me when she does.”
Lubin wouldn’t comment on the future of Hoebel and Castronuova, or whether Kournikova will make an appearance in tonight’s finale (she’ll definitely be revealed as a new trainer). He did tell us the show — which still ranks as one of NBC’s top-rated series despite tough competition from Glee, the NCIS franchise, and the Dancing With the Stars results show — will look noticeably different next fall, with a redecorated ranch among the changes. The show’s fundamentals won’t shift, however: “Loser is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Lubin says. “The idea of the show is that you watch these contestants and realize, ‘Holy shit, I can do anything.’”