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The Biggest Winner

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Inner strength: Jackson Carter was bullied when he came out, but everything changed when he found theater.

Jackson Carter, openly gay contestant on ‘The Biggest Loser,’ is no loser
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Chris Haston/NBC

“You have to fix the inside before you can fix the outside,” says Jackson Carter, 21, the first openly gay contestant on The Biggest Loser: Challenge America, an NBC-TV reality series in which contestants try to lose weight and win a cash prize. “Your mind is the most important part of the puzzle.”

For Carter, being crowned Season 14’s winner in the show’s live finale on March 18 would just be icing on the cake. He’s already achieving his fondest dream of motivating the kids he mentors as a volunteer coordinator and board member for OUTreach, an LGBT youth center in Ogden, Utah, where Carter majors in theater and minors in social work at Weber State University. “I love jumpstarting them to grow up to lead successful, healthy lives,” says Carter.

Three kids who are part of America’s childhood obesity epidemic are featured in this season’s The Biggest Loser, which kicked off in early January. Their progress in getting healthy is featured in every episode, while the eighteen adult contestants face possible elimination each week.

Carter weighed 328 pounds when the competition began. “I’ve been heavy my whole life. I’ve been big since I was six,” he says. “My whole family had emotional issues where we would turn to food for comfort whenever there was a lot of stress.”

Until he was seven, moving with his family to Layton, Utah, Carter grew up on a Ute Indian reservation, which he explains was a natural settlement for his family’s “long line of trappers, hunters, and oil riggers who also raised cattle.

“As one of only four white kids, I was picked on, and I got rocks thrown at me. The kids were mean.”

Carter suffered antigay bullying when he came out at age fourteen. “From age five, I was very fond of boys over girls, but I didn’t understand or realize that those were romantic feelings,” he explains. “That was not a very popular idea where I grew up. I really struggled with it in middle school, where gay slurs were used as insults.”

Things improved when he transferred to an arts school. “Before I found theater, I was very introverted. I took the leap into acting and I fell in love with it because when I played a character, I didn’t have to be the person I hated,” says Carter. “Now I love every aspect of the theater.”

A high point for Carter was his junior year in high school when he performed a monologue from Evan Smith’s play Remedial English. He played the character of bookish Vincent, a Catholic school student who lusts after an Adonis-like athlete the nuns assign him to tutor.

“Dissecting that was one of my favorite experiences,” says Carter, who hasn’t settled on a dream part he would like to play. “Anything opposite Meryl Streep. Or Ellen. I love Ellen. No role in particular. I would just kill to be in entertainment.

“No stranger to a crowd,” says Carter, he also dreams of parlaying his Biggest Loser success into speaking and motivating others to enjoy a fit, active lifestyle. “A lot of alumni [of previous Biggest Loser seasons in countries throughout the world] have become trainers and spokespersons.”

On the episode that aired a few days before speaking to OutSmart, Carter and the other six remaining contestants were subjected to grueling extreme-sports activity and gym workouts. Handsome trainer Bob Harper commented, “Jackson is easy-breezy. It’s like whatever is in front of him, he’s going to do and he’s going to do it the best that he can and not complain about it. And that’s why I love him.”

When Carter took off his shirt and stepped on the scales, he had lost five pounds. A woman who lost only two pounds was sent home. Carter cried.

On a more recent episode, cameras followed Carter and another male contestant as they left the California exercise ranch to see how they would fare away from the show’s strict regimen. “I wanted to have the opportunity to go out into the real world, to see what I’m still struggling with while I have the chance to come back and fix it,” says Carter.

He lost eleven pounds and survived elimination to advance to the Top Five.

An assistant theater manager who has worked for Cinemark for six years, Carter’s Biggest Loser journey began when he auditioned in Salt Lake City. “My mom noticed that I was in a slump, so she encouraged me to try something new every day. This was a real good opportunity, so when my rehearsal let out early that day, I went to the audition.”

The Biggest Loser airs Monday nights at 7 p.m. CST on NBC.

Donalevan Maines also writes about the gay rodeo in this issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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