Don’t expect to see a typically dysfunctional reality-TV family if you tune to see the Cole clan on their TLC series ‘One Big Happy Family.’
Believe it or not, they really are happy. They also happen to be big. If you’re not yet familiar with them, these Coles – dad Norris, mom Tameka, daughter Amber, 17, and son Shayne, 14 – are a family that lives large, literally. OK, they’re fat, as even they will admit.
But that’s the whole point of this unscripted series, which returns Tuesday night (10 p.m./9c) with its first new episodes since early June, the continuation of the show’s second season. The Coles say they’re out to change the lifestyle habits that have expanded their waistlines, endangered their health and limited some of their activities. And they have embarked on their weight-loss journey together, as a family – which happens to be their show’s central storyline.
In a rambunctious phone conversation from their home outside of Charlotte, N.C., the Coles talked about their show, its effect on others as well as themselves, the drawbacks of living one’s life on TV, and what they think of the whole wacky world of reality television.
At what point will viewers be reentering your lives as these new episodes start getting underway?
Tameka: I think the most crucial thing right now, other than us continuing with the weight-loss journey, is going to be dealing with Amber and her senior year. This season I think is all about the fact that she’s a senior, she’s graduating, and she has a new boyfriend.
Amber, how do you feel about that, with the focus on you this time around?
It’s cool because then I’ll be able to look back and see the stuff in a few years. With them recording it, I get to see it again.
Amber, what are your plans now that you’ve graduated from high school [graduation was last spring]?
Now that I’ve graduated, I want to go to community college for two years and then university for four – I want to get my masters in psychology.
Watch this clip from ‘One Big Happy Family:’
Norris, what’s been the effect on you and your family of putting your lives on television?
The effect has been good because, by putting our life on television, we have encouraged other people to make the same lifestyle changes and not only that, but it has helped us. With all of us motivating one another, we were all able to lose weight and do it as a family.
Norris, how would you grade your family’s efforts in this area?
I would grade my family’s efforts as an A because we were totally going in the opposite direction. I mean, the way we were eating in Episode One the first season is exactly how we were back in the beginning. But once we went to the doctors and the doctors told us that we had to change our lifestyle, when we started changing our lifestyle and we started getting motivated to lose weight and do things as a family, everything just succeeded from there.
Tameka, why did you decide to go on TV?
That’s a question we get a lot. We decided to go on TV because we wanted to tell America – and not only America but the world basically – what it’s like to live as an obese person. I think our main goal was to show people that we probably can’t do some of the same things you can do, but we can do other things and that ‘fat people’ are not lazy. All people that are overweight don’t have a problem doing certain things. There are some things we couldn’t do, like in Season One, we couldn’t get on certain rides at the water park, so that’s reality.
Tameka, are you hearing from families like yours that the show is having a positive impact on them?
Absolutely. We cannot leave our house without having someone stop us and say, ‘Are you the guys from the TV show? You guys have really motivated me. You’re really encouraging me.’ And not even just people that don’t know us, our family members, our friends are trying to do the same things we’re doing. Everybody thinks we have this magic potion. You know, we just tell people basically it’s baby steps. It’s step by step. We don’t have a trainer, we don’t have a nutritionist. We just kind of get this information off the Internet and go from there.
Have there been any drawbacks to going on television?
Shayne: There’s a lot of negative people out there and they have a lot of negative things to say. Like, I used to go on the Internet and read what they would say about me and it was really childish and immature stuff, like it’s not even worth my time for me to be going out there to look for it. It’s stuff like people telling me they want me to die and they hate my family and they just judge us and it’s ridiculous. All we have to do is ignore that stuff because it comes all the time. That’s just something that comes with having a TV show.
Watch the Cole Family’s workout routine:
But those people are anonymous strangers. What about at home in your community, Shayne? How has the show affected your social life and relationships?
A lot of people want to be my friend more now that they know I’m on TV. [But] normally it’s a good situation, nothing really bad has really come out of it. Sometimes at school a teacher will stop a lesson to ask about an episode and that becomes a little awkward because I don’t want what I do in my personal time to interfere with my schoolwork.
Norris, how did you prepare your kids for what might happen – the stuff Shayne is talking about, the terrible comments from anonymous people? Did you prepare your family or were you in fact unprepared yourself for that kind of reaction?
Well, we talked to the kids before we did this show and we talked to them during the show and we let them know exactly that they’re going to get some negativity because a lot of people might not understand our point of view. And, you know, there’s going to be people for us and people against us. I mean, it’s just going to happen like that. But our family’s very prayed up and we’re strongly motivated.
What about for you, Norris and Tameka? How has the show affected you in your own social circle?
Norris: A lot of people are very encouraged. When we walk up and down the street, a lot of people are coming up to us and saying, ‘You know, I started walking from watching your show.’ That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted people to get something positive so that they can do it. I mean, if we can do it, anybody can do it. So then, when somebody comes to us and says they got something positive from the show, that’s a wonderful feeling.
Tameka: I think that we have been affected very positively, but there has been some negativity because we’ve read about it and we’ve heard it. And honestly the only thing that tells me is that people really don’t know us. Anybody who has that negative attitude doesn’t really know us, and even if they do know us, there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to be negative. But I’m like Norris, I feel like if people are being motivated by us, that’s a plus. They don’t even realize that they motivate US.
Do any of you watch other non-scripted television shows?
Tameka: We used to look at other shows. I think one of the favorite ones that we liked before on reality TV was before we came on. We used to look at ‘Jon and Kate Plus 8.’ We loved that. And I think ‘The Little Couple‘ was on. We loved that then, we look at that now. We like a lot of the shows on TLC and some of the other networks. My son used to really be addicted to ‘Flavor of Love,’ and we were like, ‘Why are you looking at this?’ and he just laughed.
Do you see your show as kind of the antidote to other, more dysfunctional non-scripted shows?
Norris: I think that our show is totally opposite because our show is focused on the family and what the family is trying to do to change our lifestyle. I don’t know any other show I can say but ‘One Big Happy Family’ that actually shows that and that’s what sets us apart from a lot of other shows.
Tameka: I just want to piggyback off what Norris was saying which is, I think we are the antidote. I think that we’re totally different from any show that’s on right now and it’s not even just about weight loss. People come up to me and tell me they have implemented Truth Night [a Cole family method of fostering honest family conversation] in their house.
Shayne, what did you like about ‘Flavor of Love’?
The think I liked about ‘Flavor of Love’ is that it was just hilarious to me how these girls always got into the dumbest arguments. Like they will put themselves out there on national TV and then do the craziest things. They would be so serious about something, like if one of them drank the other’s apple juice, and they would start fighting. I would just love to sit back and watch that because I love comedy and that, to me, was just the funniest thing in the world.