TV shines spotlight on Anschutz Health and Wellness Center

CU-based season of ‘Extreme Weight Loss’ inspires red-carpet launch

Extreme Weight Loss Premier

Extreme Weight Loss Premier

Charita Smith lost 150 pounds. (Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

For anyone wanting to be completely surprised as Tuesday night’s season premiere of “Extreme Weight Loss” unfolded, Charita Smith was a strutting, smiling spoiler alert.

The Colorado Springs mother walked the red carpet in downtown Denver and revealed her stunning transformation: a 150-pound loss enabled by the ABC-TV reality series with the assistance of the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Surrounded by family, friends and well-wishers -- including the center’s Holly Wyatt, M.D., and James O. Hill, Ph.D. -- Smith couldn’t stop smiling during the event at the UA Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, where about 250 guests gathered for a big-screen viewing of the episode she stars in. Her smile faded once: She was taken aback by the sight of a life-size cardboard cutout of her “before” image, when she weighed 310 pounds.

“It’s kind of scary, because I didn’t realize when I was that person that I was that size – that I really looked that way,” said Smith, 33. “I thought I did the best with what I had. And I didn’t realize there was so much more that was out there waiting for me. So now when I stand next to this cutout, I want to take it home! Because it’s a good reminder: I’m never going back.”

Extreme Weight Loss Premier

James Hill and Holly Wyatt at Tuesday's "Extreme Weight Loss" premiere in Denver. (Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The fourth season’s 13 episodes were produced partly at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, with Wyatt, the center’s medical director, serving the same role on the show. She appeared in some scenes during Tuesday’s episode, as did Michael Gordon, M.D., associate professor in the School of Medicine and chief of plastic surgery at University of Colorado Hospital, who served as skin surgeon for contestants. The show stars trainers Chris and Heidi Powell; Rocco Dispirito is the nutrition consultant.

The center’s state-of-the-art facility and staff expertise played a crucial role in the success stories embodied by Smith and others. The time in the spotlight is bound to gain new converts.

“I didn’t know anything about the center before I started on the show,” Smith said. “I’m pretty local, from Colorado Springs, but I was kind of stuck in my own house, in my own world. Being affiliated with the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, their staff is just absolutely remarkable. They are the utmost professional people and they’re caring. They give of their time, their business and the technology they provide to us to find out about our bodies. They take the steps necessary to restore our health. They’re just one special group of people and really are amazing.”

Extreme Weight Loss

Charita Smith praised the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center team for its support of her weight-loss mission. (Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The center has no bigger fan than JD Roth, executive producer and creator of “Extreme Weight Loss” and predecessor “The Biggest Loser.”

“We created weight loss for television, and in all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had a lot of doctors stare down their nose at this reality guy who thinks he can change people’s lives,” Roth said. “It was only after we started getting success with weight loss that people got interested. And still, everybody didn’t really appreciate in the medical field what we were doing.”

Roth said he had never before experienced the warm, open-minded welcome from a medical facility that he enjoyed at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center when production began last year.

“Every doctor, every nutrition person, everyone who helped out, they’re so committed, and so convinced that we have something to offer that they can learn,” he said. “That allows me to say I have something that I can learn from you, too. The exchange of information has been fantastic.

“I’ll never do a weight loss show again without this group. Sometimes, intangible chemistry just happens and you shouldn’t second guess it, just roll with it.”

Production on the series’ fifth season already is underway. But should the network want more, Roth said he doesn’t want to do it without the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. Overnight ratings from Tuesday’s telecast bode well, with nearly 4 million viewers tuning in – an 8 percent increase over the previous season’s debut.

“I feel really lucky we were able to find Anschutz,” Roth said. “I never really felt like I had a place that I could grow roots and bring a lot of the creativity and ideas I have about how to transform America on the health and wellness side. I’m looking forward to growing those roots there and creatively branching out from where we are together now.”

At Tuesday’s premiere, CU President Bruce Benson introduced Hill, the center’s executive director, and Wyatt to the audience; they, too, spoke of their positive experience collaborating with the show’s producers. CU-logo tissue boxes came in handy when the screening inspired tears. Cheers, applause and a standing ovation for Smith brought the evening to a close.

“Every single person I’ve come in contact with on the show has touched my life in ways they don’t know, and probably never will understand,” Smith said. “I could not be more grateful and proud of the work I put in with them beside me.”

Extreme Weight Loss airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on Channel 7, KMGH-TV, Denver’s ABC affiliate.