On reality TV competition shows, it helps to have judges and hosts with gravitas, and Marissa Jaret Winokur, host of Oxygen’s “Dance Your Ass Off,” has more than her share.
Indeed, for the overweight men and women accepting the challenge to come on the series, and for the viewers who track them, Winokur represents the right kind of positive energy and inspiration. Sure, even though she’s only 36, she’s seen plenty of highlights (like winning a Tony) and setbacks (she’s a cancer survivor).
But more than anything else, she represents the better part of us, someone who has struggled all her life with weight, but who nonetheless has never been weighed down. Fancast recently caught up with Winokur for a short chat
So how did you go from Broadway to Oxygen? They actually just came up to me and said, “We’ve got this great show, it’s ‘The Biggest Loser’ meets ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and we’d love for you to be host.” Once I was assured that it wasn’t going to be a bad-energy show, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. They knew I done a reality show, I had been on “Dancing with the Stars,” and they knew I was someone who had struggled with my weight.
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You looked really thin on “Dancing with the Stars.” I think that “Dancing with the Stars” will lead to all of my next jobs (laughs). I really got a lot of attention from that. I had lost 45 pounds prior to going on the show — by the time I got there, I was pretty much in the best shape of my life. Then I lost another 15 pounds.
What was your regimen? I was really strict. I was probably doing under 1,200 calories a day. And when I say I was working out four times a day, I mean four times a day. I’d do a ballet class in the morning, I’d do a hike in one of the canyons here in Los Angeles in the afternoon, then I’d get on a treadmill. I’d also do something later on at night. I was really focused, and driven and really taking care of myself. And “Dancing with the Stars” helped me get through my plateau. Then my surrogate became pregnant, and I started doing all this sympathetic eating (laughs)
So you had someone else was carrying your son, Zev, but you were still gaining weight? I felt like I was the husband – I gained weight right along with my surrogate (laughs). I was so nervous. Then, when he was born, I had no time for myself. But now I know how mothers watching the show feel. I don’t have four hours a day to work out.
Do you ever see yourself getting into that kind of shape again? I may have been at my skinniest when I was on “Dancing with the Stars,” but my husband was not happy. My biggest success with dieting and exercise was also my hardest time at home. And I dropped friends, too. I’d get asked to go out with friends and it was like, oh my god, I can’t eat burgers. And those were friends that I used to party with. I went crazy, I got so self-centered. Now, my family comes first. I’m losing the weight at a much slower pace.
“I’m not a crazy person anymore.
I couldn’t be 120 pounds
and live happy.”
How much do you want to lose now? It seems like my weight-loss goals are always around 20 pounds. But I’m not a crazy person anymore. I couldn’t be 120 pounds and live happy. I want to live healthy.
How much of that perspective comes from having survived cervical cancer? My cancer was back when I was 27, back in 2000-2001. It changed my life; it made me a better person. All my big success in my quote and unquote career has come after cancer, and that’s not a coincidence. I’m really driven and ambitious, and before cancer, all I cared about was being an actor. I was completely undatable then because I was so wrapped up in myself and my career. I wasn’t a fun girlfriend because I was always concerned about some audition. Then when I got sick, I realized, none of this matters if I die tomorrow. Suddenly, I just wanted to be at my niece’s first birthday party, and being on a commercial or some TV show wasn’t’ the most important thing in my life anymore.
So winning a Tony in 2003 for “Hairspray” was no biggie, then? Everybody asks me if winning the Tony was the best thing that ever happened to me, but after cancer, I was just having trouble believing I was there to accept it. Like I said, that experience calmed me down. Like right now, people write stuff about me online all the time, and I’m like, whatever, I’m not so wrapped up about it.
Really, people rag on you? This is the first job I’ve ever had that I’ve gotten flack on. People have always been very supportive of me, but sometimes I’ll read stuff like, “Why didn’t they get Cat Deeley to host the show?” But I’m an overweight girl hosting a reality show right now, and that’s OK. I think it helps having me there to remind everybody that a girl who weighs 160 pounds and who just lost four pounds is amazing. I have that credibility and that perspective. I think my story is every 36-year-old woman’s story. I’ve been overweight and I’ve lost weight.
Doesn’t the criticism sting? It’s impossible to fully protect yourself from it. If I was still at my heaviest right now, I don’t think I would be able to protect myself. But I’m at a good place with my weight. I’m closer to my lowest weight than my highest. I’m doing really well. I’ve got a great son, a great husband and a great career. So someone calling me fat is not going to hurt me.
Now I see that Oxygen is putting out pictures of you in a bikini to promote the show. Does that make you uncomfortable? That was just a photo of me taken when I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon. That picture is awesome! I think it’s a great picture of me, and I think it makes people say, “Hey, she looks great even though she’s 50 pounds heavier than anyone else on television. It was me at one of my happiest moments, and it represents everything I believe in – just feeling beautiful and strong.
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Watch Dance Your Ass Off Mondays at 10 on Oxygen.