Attired in pink and shrouded in secrecy, two Knoxville women will lose it on national television beginning Tuesday, Jan. 5—as contestants on Season 9 of NBC's The Biggest Loser. Known as "Team Pink," mother Sherry Johnston, 51 and 5' 1", and daughter Ashley Johnston, 27 and 5' 5", could be competing for one of two giant prizes: $250,000 for one of the three on-air finalists and $100,000 for one of the contestants who has already been sent home before the final three.
That's about all family members in the know are able to divulge at this time, says fellow Knoxvillian Cyndie Johnston Goss, Sherry's daughter and Ashley's sister. "With Facebook and so many other public networking sites, we had to be secretive—the only people who were allowed to know were family of course and both of their jobs, since they would be taking a leave of absence. We were finally able to publicly discuss them being on Season 9 right before the Season 8 finale, because that's when their commercial aired."
Both women are longtime Knoxville residents. Sherry works as a non-profit administrator and Ashley as a spa manager and esthetician. The show's official website details Ashley's weight gain beginning with childhood sleep apnea, progressing through wearing a size 14-16 in high school and gaining more than 100 pounds since then. Sherry's online bio mentions that she was the thinnest child in her family up until the age of 30 and was successful in maintaining her weight after having her two daughters, but piled on the pounds after her husband died.
They were originally drawn to the show when The Biggest Loser held an open casting call in Nashville in March 2009 for Season 8. "After making it pretty far through callbacks, they found out they did not make Season 8; we were all upset but figured it was just not meant to be," says Goss. "They had decided not to audition for Season 9 until they received a call from one of the producers suggesting they come to the audition in Atlanta in July. Thus began the process all over again! After many more auditions, call backs, interviews, and videos, we found out mid September they had made the show. They flew out September 30 to begin this journey."
To avoid spoiling the outcome for viewers, no one is permitted to discuss weight lost or which trainer or trainers the women are working with on the show. Goss is allowed to say that she feels like their biggest challenge is less about weight loss and more about being away from the family. "They are sequestered in a way with no phones, computers, or TV. They are allowed to write us letters, but have to win a challenge weeks into the show to be able to receive letters. This was hard on both of them, especially my mother. But it is nice that they have each other to lean on."
And between now and the May finale, says Goss, "They try to stay on the show as long as possible! If or when one of them is voted off, then they come home and keep working out as much as possible for a chance to win the at-home prize. It does feel strange that my family is going to be on TV going through some of the hardest challenges they've ever faced, but I'm excited to see it!"