How do you make the twelfth season of a reality show feel fresh? By bringing in some fresh judges (hey, it worked — this year at least — on “Idol). Season 12 of The Biggest Loser kicks off tonight, and stepping in where Jillian Michaels left her sneakers are tennis superstar Anna Kournikova and personal trainer Dolvett Quince. For Kournikova, the opportunity to coach instead of be coached was one she didn’t want to miss out on.
“I was the one that went after this opportunity,” the former No. 8 player in the world says. “I've used my body as a tool my whole life on a tennis court. Instead of listening to all the information that was thrown at me, [I’m now] voicing it to the contestants and sharing it with them.”
The tough-girl training style of former coach Jillian Michaels was a hit with viewers, but Kournikova isn’t stressed about taking over.
I didn't feel any pressure,” she says. “I didn't feel like I was replacing anyone or trying to fill in anybody's shoes. We all have our own styles. I'm not trying to prove myself by any means. I'm just there to do my part of the job, which is train and educate the contestants about [a] healthy lifestyle.”
For those viewers wary about Kournikova — a buxom blonde who hasn’t found much recent success on the court — taking the reins, she’s eager to set the record straight.
“Listen, I get criticized and judged all the time,” she says. “But to be a top ten tennis player in the world, I must have been doing something right. And I came from Soviet Union from really nothing. That’s how I tell the contestants I can relate to them. I know what it's like to be judged and criticized, whether it's because of your weight, how you look. People have all these preconceived notions and I'm okay with that. The only thing I can control is I can work hard [and] be the best human being I can.”
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This season, contestants will face off in a “Battle of the Ages” competition, with Kournikova coaching the over-fifty crowd. She says it was a task that came with some struggle.
“Obviously the older group is the most difficult for me because they have less energy. They're much more set in their own way so it’s a lot more difficult to change someone's mentality who's in their 50s or 60s. And especially when they’re dealing with younger trainers, I think it's a lot harder to convince them of your authority and your knowledge. [But] if you understand what you need to do, I think you do make that switch a lot faster.”
Regardless of the challenges, she says she got really invested in each contestant’s personal growth.
“You literally become family with these people,” she says. “You care and you become so involved and attached. It's the roller coaster. It's an emotional journey. I had amazing time where I see the contestants succeed. But then there were also sad moments. It’s life — I mean we spent four months with these contestants.”
She’s ultimately hoping the contestants remember her advice once the cameras stop rolling.
“From the beginning it was never about a quick fix,” she says. “I really focused on the contestants to make sure they get the tools and the information and the education to take home, because sooner or later everybody is going home.”
Follow Meredith Engel on Twitter @MeredithatMetro.