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Case Number 17478

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Ruby: A Journey To Lose The First 100 Lbs.

Lionsgate // 2008 // 173 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // October 14th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski finds losing 100 lbs is easier with positive attitude, supportive friends, and two tiny Yorkies.

The Charge

"I can if I think I can."

Opening Statement

Ruby Gettinger is a 487-pound Savannah woman trying to lose weight with the help of friends, doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and a shrink. While Ruby recycles many of the conventions reality TV's weight loss genre (tearful confessionals, dealing with temptation, the fashion and makeover episode, and more), it has something no other show of its kind has: Ruby.

ruby

Facts of the Case

On the single disc Ruby: A Journey to Lose the First 100 Lbs. viewers get six of the "favorite episodes from Season 1" (I provide episode numbers here so that you can see what's been skipped):

• Episode 1: "Meet Ruby" (40 minutes)
Viewers are introduced to Ruby, a redhead with a soft Southern accent and a long history of significant ups and downs in her weight. After weighing in at 473 pounds, Ruby discovers a newfound determination to lose not just the first 100 pounds, but to "Go beyond the 350, get to the 155 or whatever I'm supposed to weigh." In this episode, Ruby assembles a team of experts (a doctor, an "obesity specialist," a physical trainer, a nutritionist, and a psychiatrist) to guide her weight loss. Ruby describes her weight-loss quest as motivated by things she dreams of being able to do—take a bubble bath, ride a bike, sit on a guy's lap, or paint her own toenails. As she explains it, "I love my life…but I can't do things that normal people do." Included in this seemingly full life are Ruby's two pet Yorkies (more on these later), along with two human roommates: friend Jeff and nephew Jim. Ruby's roommates, along with her close women friends, Georgia and Brittany, pledge their support to Ruby, and agree to stop "enabling" Ruby's overeating this time around.

• Episode 2: "Romance for Ruby" (20 minutes)
Months in: 3. Pounds lost: 50.
Ruby's former boyfriend, Denny, comes to visit when he hears that Ruby is seriously trying to lose weight. Denny—who, like many of Ruby's friends, seems to be a super-fit personal trainer—left Ruby six years ago after telling her he would marry her if she could lose weight. Ruby's friends have their doubts about him. So do her dogs; offering some of the most vivid evidence I've seen that dogs are excellent judges of character, little Foxy and Lucy growl at Denny when he arrives, and then try to bite him.

ruby

• Episode 5: "Ruby Hits the Road" (20 minutes)
Months in: 4. Pounds lost: 65.
Ruby flies to Los Angeles to visit her friends who've just had a baby. This trip is an lesson in things-Ruby-can't-do-because-of-her-size. These challenges include: fitting into an airplane seat (she gets publicly chewed out by a flight attendant for taking up too much seat room), not being able to use the airplane bathroom on a cross-country flight, being unable to go on rides or enjoy snacks at an amusement park, and finally, having to explain to her friends that she's been told she shouldn't have babies at her current weight. While in LA, Ruby attends an aerobics class and eats raw health food with Brittany.

• Episode 6: "Ruby's Revelation" (20 minutes)
Months in: 5. Pounds lost: 70.
Ruby arrives back from LA, only to find that she's gained three pounds during the trip. Despite Ruby's having diligently exercised and watched her eating, her nutritionist and trainer both chide her for going "off plan." Ruby's therapist, Dr. Brewerton, decides that Ruby's weight gain is due to trust issues, and tells her not to "second-guess" the "experts." Perhaps taking Dr. B's advice about entrusting her weight loss to a higher power, Ruby goes to church.

• Episode 8: "Real Women Have Curves" (20 minutes)
Months in: 6. Pounds lost: 90.
The fashion episode! Having lost nearly 90 pounds, Ruby decides to go shopping at "normal" size stores, but is still unable to find anything that fits. Frustrated, she organizes a fashion support group for her fat women friends, called "Fat Night." Then, Ruby's obesity-specialist-turned-fairy-godmother puts in a call to his friend on the board of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), who in turn assigns his students a Project Runway-style design challenge of making clothes for Ruby. Tears, leggings, and catwalk strutting ensue.

• Episode 9: "100 Pounds of Hope" (20 minutes)
Months in: 7. Pounds lost: 100.
In the season finale, Ruby—now down 104 pounds from where she started—feels confident enough to take on two new challenges. The first is an overnight camping trip with Jeff and Georgia. Ruby sleeps under the stars, fishes, and goes on a hike. The second challenge is posed by Ruby's therapist, Dr. Brewerton. Ruby has no memory of her childhood, despite having grown up in Savannah, and Dr. B suspects she's suppressing traumatic memories. Together, Ruby and Dr. B visit the four houses where Ruby lived as a child, trying to reawaken those memories. Although the visits are emotional for Ruby, no memories reemerge. The episode ends with a montage of Ruby's journey thus far, interspersed with congratulations from her friends and family for losing "the first" 100 pounds.

The Evidence

Ruby is a partial exception to the rule that very fat people rarely show up on TV—especially as sympathetic human beings—unless they're being shown trying to lose weight. Ruby is, of course, trying to slim down, but because the show focuses solely on her, it is also more than that. Typical weight loss shows such as Celebrity Fit Club and The Biggest Loser pluck participants out of their everyday lives and put them in controlled settings: group houses or "boot camps." Ruby, on the other hand, must stick to her workout and meal plan without these artificial living conditions (though one assumes the Style Channel is paying for some of her prepackaged healthy meals and personal trainer sessions). More importantly, though, we get to see Ruby not just as a weight loss success (or failure) story, but as a whole person.

Probably the single biggest reason that Ruby has a show of her own, instead of being the fat person of the week on some serial diet program, is her personal magnetism. Ruby is no shut-in, but rather a vivacious and generous woman surrounded by a tightly-knit group of friends. Even Anthony Miller, the fashion instructor at SCAD who was originally skeptical about designing for a 400-pound woman (saying "Fat is not fashion, to me!") is won over; he's forced to admit that she's "actually really pretty." Ruby charms, whether she's taking in her nephew and helping him get his GED, or avoiding swears by substituting other words: "That workout really kicked my as-tronaut," or "I told him to go to helicopter."

What makes Ruby so watchable isn't her being "actually really pretty," though—it's that Ruby stands up for herself so firmly and endearingly. Being, in her own words, "a big girl in a little world," Ruby faces a great deal of inconvenience and unkindness. Yet she doesn't accept that she should wait until she's lost 300 pounds to be treated decently.

For example, the most surprising and satisfying moment in the first episode comes when Ruby gently confronts a doctor's office receptionist about their not having any chairs she can use. Explaining her request, she says, "Let's put chairs in the doctor's offices we can fit in. I'm not saying make us able to be overweight. I'm saying, there's 96 million of us, so let's accommodate us while we're getting healthy." At this moment, we realize Ruby is not the stereotypical self-ashamed fat person we see on most weight loss reality TV. Similarly, though Denny defends Ruby when strangers at a restaurant laugh at her, Ruby proves capable of defending herself, saying to Denny, "Why would I fall for a guy that just admitted to me that he cannot love me unless I'm skinny?" Ruby also ties her struggles to those of other fat women. After hosting her first "Fat Night" support group, she explains that "Every single woman at my meeting tonight is totally beautiful, and they have every right to feel beautiful. But the designers have just totally forgotten about the big girls, almost like we don't exist." Later in the episode, she takes this opinion to her fashion consultation at SCAD, where she teaches aspiring designers about how to dress bigger women. As a show about Ruby, a rather extraordinary woman, Ruby succeeds.

ruby

As a traditional diet and weight loss show, however, Ruby comes up short. Ruby's value lies in its difference from other weight-loss shows—its compelling star—not in being a one-size-fits-all diet and exercise show. Yet whoever decided to leave out several episodes from the first season while including minutes upon minutes of workout and diet extras clearly thinks differently about this show than I do. The special features on this disc are divided into three sections: "Fitness," "Health & Diet," and "Fashion."

Out of six short segments in the Fitness section, the first three—"Ruby's No More Excuses Workout" (5 minutes), "Ruby's Beginner Workout" (5 minutes), and "Advanced Exercises" (2 minutes)—feature Ruby and/or her personal trainer, Reese. The exercises seem simple enough, and viewers can enjoy that Ruby and Reese seem to think it's twin day, wearing matching red and black outfits. The other half of the fitness extras are three mini workout videos—"Cardio Quickie" (3 minutes), "Dance With Me" (3 minutes), and "Oh My Legs" (3 minutes)—from Billy Blanks Jr. Besides their lack of connection to the rest of the disc, these segments are some of the lowest-budget, weirdest-looking workout videos I've ever seen:

ruby

Both the Health & Diet and Fashion special features are made up of a handful of short (1-2 minute) previously unaired interviews Ruby recorded on her "Diary Cam." Packaged as "Ruby's Reflections," these monologues add little insight—having been more articulately stated in the aired episodes. The fashion segment also includes a feature called "Ruby's Fashion Tips," which is just an on-screen list of (very obvious) tips for big women on how to dress. If the Fitness segments of the special features are intended to help viewers slim down, the Health & Diet and Fashion segments seem intended to help the disc bulk up.

Picture and sound quality aren't as bad as the extras, and perhaps slightly above average for a cable weight loss show. Or maybe I'm just saying that because Savannah is a very photogenic town.

Closing Statement

Unlike most other TV shows of this genre, Ruby sparkles because of its star's charisma; Ruby's cheerful optimism, her humanity, and her refusal to let others treat her badly all help her rise above the ranks of most reality TV dieters. If you're looking for a DVD to help you get toned, you'd do better to pick up Dirty Dancing: Official Dance Workout (at least according to our DVD Verdict review!). But if you want to watch a show featuring a sympathetic and relatable fat person—and they're pretty rare—look no further.

The Verdict

I could never pronounce Ruby, the person, guilty. Ruby the DVD, however, is guilty on two counts: guilty of trying to turn Ruby's story into just another workout DVD, and guilty of getting its Pollyanna-ish theme song stuck in my head.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 173 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Reality TV
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Unaired Footage
• Mini-workouts

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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