What is “Supersize vs. Superskinny”?

Produced by Remarkable Television for Channel 4, “Supersize vs. Superskinny” ran from January 2008 to March 2014, and provided viewers with information about extreme eating lifestyles and dieting. The weekly comparison between an overweight and underweight individual was the show’s main feature; in every episode, both participants were taken to a feeding clinic and lived together for between two to five days while swapping diets under Dr. Christian Jessen’s supervision.

Swapping diets was, of course, a real shock for the show’s participants: the underweight person would almost always struggle to finish meals, with the overweight person typically complaining about the lack of food on their plate. When overweight people had spent a few days in the feeding clinic, they sometimes struggled to eat their meals too, but only in rare cases. At times, both participants could leave the feeding clinic to swap meals.

The food tube was also used in earlier seasons to demonstrate what each person consumed in a single week. This was just one of the shock tactics Dr. Jessen used to show people how cripplingly unhealthy their diets were: bags of sugar were also used as examples, given that some contestants lived off energy drinks, cake, etc. Normally, the superskinny participant was shown photos of their body, while Dr. Jessen explained the long-term health effects their diet could have.

In season two, supersized participants would visit Lisa, a woman so obese she could barely move, and had to undergo weight loss surgery to regain a semblance of normal life. Some supersizers were also sent to the US to visit people who weighed more than them, which was a way of showing the participants the path they could go down if they didn’t change their eating habits now.

Anna Richardson appeared in seasons one to three: in the first, she explored internet diets and whacky weight loss methods that came with a plethora of side effects. A laser lipolysis session went drastically wrong for the TV star, who suffered severe bruising; she also spoke to famous people, such as the French actress Isabelle Caro, who had suffered anorexia.

In season two, Anna recruited the “flab-fighters”, a group of women struggling to lose weight and tracking their progress week by week. She also travelled to Los Angeles and explored weight loss methods used by the rich and privileged. Anorexic women also featured in the show and were helped by eating disorder specialists to do, for them, abnormal things, such as prepare “forbidden” foods.

The journalist Emma Wolf, a former anorexia sufferer, was also responsible for educating the audience by interviewing people who had battled with eating disorders. From the second to fourth seasons, a special segment was included in which people recovering from eating disorders spoke about their experiences. Seasons two to three focused exclusively on anorexia, whereas the fourth season was a mixed bag, and included bulimia, binge eating, and more. Ursula Philpot, a specialist psychiatrist and dietician as well as the show’s co-presenter, worked with these groups of people to help them overcome the hurdles in their paths.

Dr. Jessen

The show’s leading man, Christian Spencer Jessen, was born in March 1977, and is well-known for his work on “Supersize vs. Superskinny” and “Embarrassing Bodies”, which he hosted from 2008 to 2014 and 2007 to 2015 respectively. The TV personality, writer and celebrity doctor, studied at the co-educational independent Uppingham School in Rutland, England, before attending University College,  London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, both constituents of the University of London. He graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Medicine, and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degrees.

Christian also holds a MSc degree in sexual health, specializing in malaria and HIV, which he focused on while working in Uganda and Kenya. The doctor is a strong advocate for HIV education and testing, and was named National HIV Testing Week Ambassador in 2015. He made his first TV appearance presenting “Embarrassing Bodies” alongside Dawn Harper and Pixie McKenna in 2007, when he rose to national fame.

The “Embarrassing Bodies” franchise has spawned spin-offs, such as “Embarrassing Bodies: Kids”, “Embarrassing Fat Bodies”, and “Embarrassing Teenage Bodies”. A fourth spin-off, “Embarrassing Bodies Down Under”, aired in Australia in 2013 and hosted by Sam Hay, Ginni Mansberg, Brad McKay, and Christian.

In 2012, by now a household name thanks to his work on Channel 4, Christian was the health and fitness expert in the reality show “Hotel GB”. He also won “Ready Steady Cook”, a popular culinary show, and was a celebrity contestant on “The Weakest Link”, showcasing his cooking strengths and trivia knowledge. Amazingly, he also won “Antiques Master”.

During the filming of “Finding Dog”, Christian was Jack Osbourne’s doctor, and also appeared in “The Wright Stuff”, and “Sex in Court”. The dashing TV personality co-presented a “Stand Up to Cancer” telethon in 2012 and 2014, with comedian Alan Carr and presenter Davina McCall, shining a light on noble causes and much-deserving charities.

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Christian investigated controversial therapies used to ‘cure’ homosexuality in the 2014 TV documentary series, “Undercover Doctor: Cure Me I’m Gay”. While performing a live HIV test on “Loose Women”, he was criticized for not wearing protective gloves, but defended his actions. Last but not least, in 2018, he co-starred in and produced the documentary series “Dr Christian: 12 hours to Cure Your Street”, and travelled from town to town in a mobile clinic in the UK, to treat people.

Apart from being a talented cook, doctor, TV personality and more, Christian has written four books, three of which are aimed at adolescents: “Can I Just Ask?”, “Dr Christian’s Guide to Growing Up”, “Dr Christian’s Guide to Dealing with the Tricky Stuff”, and “Dr Christian’s Guide to You”. They were published in 2010, 2013, ‘15 and ‘16 respectively.

Of course, someone as public as Christian is bound to have a few skeletons in the closet, which come tumbling out from time to time. One of the many controversies the blonde doctor has faced over the years is a BBC documentary investigation which revealed his involvement in UK Meds, a private online pharmacy. These websites, unregulated by the Care Quality Commission due to legal loopholes, allow clients to purchase prescriptions they may not necessarily need, which can lead to dangerous side effects. Mason Soiza, the pharmacy’s owner, was previously accused of running escort agencies, and scamming WordPress users.

Christian was also fiercely criticized during the COVID-19 pandemic, for saying that Italy’s countermeasures against the disease were an “excuse for a long siesta”. Conversely, he accused the media of scaremongering, which didn’t go down well with the general public, who at the time were terrified of the relatively unknown disease and its possible side effects.

Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Island, launched legal action against Christian for defamation when in one of his December 2019 tweets, he accused her of having an extramarital affair. It took him two weeks to delete the tweet after posting; Arlene claimed that the tweet was published when anonymous Twitter accounts claimed she was seeing one of her security guards. She also claimed to have gotten in touch with Christian 13 times regarding the tweet, adding that he had ignored all emails and letters. Christian lost the case in May 2021, Mr. Justice McAlinden awarding Arlene over $125,000 in damages and full costs, adding that Christian’s failure to apologize or retract the libel were aggravating features.

Well, Christian is still active on Twitter as of 2022, but he hasn’t become tangled up in any more libel cases. In April of the same year, it was revealed that he wouldn’t be returning to “Embarrassing Bodies”, due to the negative publicity his libel case generated during 2021. It must be said that the show won’t be the same without him, but Christian seems to have taken the bad news in his stride, although is yet to announce his next projects.

Anna Richardson

Born in September 1970, Anna Clare Richardson is a writer, journalist and TV presenter, who has worked on “The Sex Education Show”, “Changing Rooms”, “Naked Attraction”, and “Secret Eaters” to name a few. Before becoming one of Channel 4’s most solid staples, Anna was born and raised in Wellington, Shropshire, England, by her parents Canon James Richardson, OBE, and Janet Richardson, who worked as a vicar and religious education teacher respectively.

Anna studied at the School of St. Mary and St. Anne, a girls-only independent boarding school in Staffordshire, England. Her TV presenting career began on Channel 4’s “The Big Breakfast”; she was nominated for an RTS award for her work on “Love Bites” and other programs. She also interviewed many Hollywood hotshots on “Dream Ticket”, “Love Bites Back”, “Big Screen”, and “Des Res” amongst other shows.

The charismatic brunette has written and produced the TV shows “You Are What You Eat”, “Turn Back Your Body Clock”, and “No Waste Like Home”. Her work on the “Sex Education” franchise saw her become a household name; the original show’s spin-offs include “The Sex Education Show: Am I Normal?”, “The Sex Education Show: Stop Pimping Our Kids”, and “The Sex Education Show vs. Pornography”.

Some of Anna’s former colleagues include Louise Redknapp, with whom she co-hosted “How Not to Get Old”, Andi Osho whom she worked with on “Supershoppers”, and Andi’s replacement Sabrina Grant. She has also presented documentaries such as “Thomas Cook: The Rise and Fall of Britain’s Oldest Travel Agent”, and helped viewers be money-savvy with “How to Save a Grand in 24 Hours”. In May 2022, Anna was confirmed as co-presenter for “Naked Education”, another Channel 4 offering.

Anna has also had run-ins with famous figures, although she didn’t come o as badly as Christian. She previously sued Hollywood heartthrob Arnold Schwarzenegger and two of his aides – publicist Sheryl Main and Sean Walsh – for comments they made about claims that she was groped by the A-lister. The case was settled out of court in 2006, and it’s believed that Arnold paid Anna a handsome sum.

As for her personal life, Anna was in a committed relationship with the TV producer Charles Martin for almost two decades, then after mysteriously splitting from Charles, began dating the comedian Sue Perkins in 2014. Sue and Anna broke up in 2021 but are said to remain good friends to this day.

Liza Tarbuck

Liza Tarbuck was born in Liverpool in November 1964, and is a respected radio and TV presenter, comedian, and actress. Despite not being as mediatic as her “Supersize vs. Superskinny” colleagues, Liza’s name holds a lot of weight in the industry; it’s possible that her father, the comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, showed her the ropes and helped her establish important connections when she was starting out.

The Liverpool native was brought up with siblings Cheryl and James by Jimmy, and her mother Pauline. She graduated from the National Youth Theatre and RADA in 1986 alongside Mark Womack, Rebecca Pidgeon and Clive Owen, among other famous faces. Just a year later, she snagged a starring role in “Watching”, a Granada Television comedy series, which featured Emma Wray and other future celebrities.

It would be impossible to list all of Liza’s roles, but she also played Angie in the late-1980s war drama “Tumbledown” – starring Paul Rhys, David Calder and Colin Firth – and depicted Linda Green in the series of the same name from 2001 to 2002. Shows she has appeared in include “The Inspector Lynley Mysteries”, “French & Saunders”, and “Bleak House”, most of these BBC productions.

Despite a stellar acting CV, Liza’s true strength is radio. She voiced Helen Golightly from the fifth to ninth seasons of the BBC Radio 4 show “Claire in the Community”, replacing Gemma Craven. Other BBC Radio 4 shows she starred in are “Just a Minute”, and a story about the famous actress Jayne Mansfield. In December 2016 she presented a tribute to Ronnie Corbett, the late comedy star, and less than a year later, she was in “Front Row”. In January 2018 she discussed the Serbian-American scientist Nikola Tesla during a guest appearance on “Great Lives”.

Liza’s history with BBC Radio 2 also goes back over a decade: in September 2007, she began co-presenting the station’s weekday afternoon show with Mark Radcliffe, filling in for Steve Wright. Three months later, she hosted the show solo, and did so twice more between January and March 2008.

In December 2008 and January 2009, she and Martin Freeman presented the station’s Saturday morning slot as stand-ins for Jonathan Ross. She also stood in for Sarah Kennedy on “Dawn Patrol”, and Simon Mayo for “Drivetime Show”. The 2009 holiday season was her time to shine, as she presented her own four-hour show entitled “Liza Tarbuck’s Christmas”. Her slot ran from midnight to 4am, meaning that not many people tuned in, but it marked the start of a promising solo career.

Liza also has an altruistic streak, and presented the 4p.m. to 6p.m. slot on UK Radio Aid, a charitable event held in January 2005 to raise money for victims of the Asian tsunami. Over 20 million tuned in to the event, which was broadcast for 12 hours on over 260 radio stations.

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