On Thursday night, E! launched its most on-brand reality show of all time: a weight-loss series in which a Kardashian tasks a slew of celebrity trainers and contourers with executing full-body makeovers on a rotating cast of muggles. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was Revenge Body With Khloé Kardashian.
Revenge Body might strike you, at first, as totally self-explanatory: A group of normies transform their physiques, for revenge, with the help of reality-TV sister Khloé Kardashian. But in order to truly understand the reality-TV offering—and to write a substantial article about it—there are layers of context to comb through. To start with the obvious: Why does Khloé Kardashian have an insatiable appetite for revenge? After all, the Kardashian enjoys, by all reasonable standards, a high quality of life. She’s dated a number of celebrities and NBA players, is a key cast member in an iconic franchise, and seems to have a pretty good personality. She also tweeted my absolute favorite tweet of 2016: a personal attack on Chloë Grace Moretz that was later revealed to be a picture of a random girl’s asshole. According to these admittedly quirky metrics, Khloé Kardashian has it all (if by all you mean a lifetime supply of Kylie Jenner lip kits and the wrath of Brooklyn Beckham).
Unfortunately, Khloe’s Calabasas fairytale hasn’t been all happy family memories and low-fat Asian chicken salads. The third daughter of Kris Jenner and Robert Kardashian struggled throughout her childhood with her weight and appearance, and has been extremely candid about these anxieties. On Revenge Body, Khloé talks openly about her past as the Kardashian’s ugly duckling. “Growing up, people called me the fat, funny sister,” Khloé explains in an early voiceover. Luckily, the 32-year-old has discovered the secret to overcoming catty press coverage and president-elects—employing a team of trainers, nutritionists, and dermatologists to make her look ridiculously hot. Because, as Kardashian explains, “a great body is the best revenge.”
Khloe’s transformation was triggered by a trying period in her life.
During their marriage, former NBA star Lamar Odom was derailed by a rumored drug addiction and multiple allegations of infidelity. “I found out that he was cheating on me the majority of our marriage,” Kardashian later admitted, calling the whole thing “humiliating.” She blamed Odom’s behavior on both his substance abuse and a suspected “sex addiction.” The tumultuous relationship—Lamar and Khloé filed for divorce multiple times, only to reconcile—found Kardashian searching for new ways to refocus and drown out the tabloid noise. In a 2015 Cosmopolitan interview, she recalled, “When me and Lamar were having issues, I decided to channel my energy into working out… if I went out with my girlfriends I would be hounded by paparazzi and made to feel more humiliated. The gym was my only refuge.”
But Khloé’s love affair with Equinox rubbed some of her fans the wrong way. With her sense of humor, candid demeanor, and relatively feasible BMI, Khloé has always been the “relatable Kardashian.” Obviously, it’s harder to be seen as relatable when you have four to six abs and a knife-sharp clavicle.
During a Saturday Night Live monologue in October, Amy Schumer joked about Khloé’s fall from chubby girl grace, saying, “We used to have Khloé, you know? Khloé was ours, right? But then Khloé, she lost half her body weight. She lost a Kendall.” Khloe wasn’t having any of Schumer’s indignation, telling Howard Stern that, “I was more upset that someone claims they’re like a girl’s girl and that they’re all about women empowerment, and then she says that I’m not relatable because I’m not fat anymore.” If nothing else, Revenge Body is a testament to Kardashian’s endless appeal, and a reminder that she didn’t lose her easy charisma along with her baby fat.
In an endless parade of skintight taupe separates, Khloé Kardashian is inarguably the highlight of this show. Unfortunately, 80 percent of the series is totally Khloé-free, focusing on her weight-loss protégés and their training routines. In this way, Revenge Body is reminiscent of Strong Looks Better Naked, the Kardashian’s tell-all tome about her physical transformation and the lost Lamar years. I picked up Strong Looks Better Naked in a moment of extreme boredom, hoping that the book would include some juicy details about Khloé’s estranged husband or, at the very least, a few unflattering anecdotes about Kim Kardashian. Imagine my disappointment when I found only an extensive list of diet and exercise tips, ranging from the totally obvious (drink water!) to the totally unnecessary (turn all your water into spa water!). One-hundred, huge-fonted pages later, I was left with a bad-writing hangover and extreme guilt over every meal I had ever eaten that wasn’t grilled chicken breast sprinkled with spirulina. Aside from a brief chapter in which Khloé attempts to gaslight her readers into believing that Kris Jenner invented the vodka soda, I was unamused.
Unfortunately, Khloé Kardashian’s latest venture promises more of the same pitfalls. With its focus on exercise regimens and feel-good stories, Revenge Body ignores the basic ingredient—Khloé Kardashian—that could have differentiated it from formulaic weight-loss content. Even the contestants seemed more jazzed about the presence of a bona fide Kardashian than their own revenge-based aspirations. The highlight of every episode isn’t the big, transformative reveal at the end, but rather the first five minutes when the contestants meet their would-be maker.
The camera focuses on Khloé, fabulously contoured and coiffed, sitting in an inexplicably bright and empty white room. At all times, she has a minimum of five other women surrounding her, touching her hair and posing for selfies. The chubby, sad contestants are ushered through the back door by a producer, who invariably tells them not to be nervous. At this point in the show, the contestant confesses to butterflies, trembling hands, or a desire to run out of the room and puke in the backlot. After all, getting in shape is boring and, in our exercise-obsessed culture, expected. Meeting a reality-TV queen is extraordinary. In the words of episode one contestant Will, “I’ve DVR’d the shit out of that bitch.”
Watching strangers lose tons of weight in 12 weeks is moderately engaging, and Revenge Body takes advantage of all of the expected tropes, from mean trainers to tearfully confessed insecurities to contestants who just don’t have what it takes. But the cult of celebrity at the heart of the series is genuinely fascinating. After spending three months at the gym and losing almost 30 pounds, contestant Stephanie claims that “the best day of my life” isn’t when she stepped on that final scale, or when she confronted her middle-school bully—it’s when Kylie Jenner sent her a personalized video message, congratulating her and promising a crate of free lip kits to follow. Finally having the confidence to rock a bikini is a momentary high, but 10 free tubes of lip glue is forever. When the contestants express gratitude, it’s not just for the hard work they’ve put in or the free smoothies they’ve scored, but for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really feel like a celebrity—to get your zits popped like a Jenner, have your hair done like a social-media influencer, or work out in a gym with pictures of Rihanna on the wall.
Revenge Body’s truly disgusting value system is the only thing keeping it from being bad TV. Like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a show about a family that’s decided to make a show, Revenge Body is pop culture at its most transparent. Even prior to the premiere, concerned parties were lining up to criticize Khloé’s approach. Health and body positivity coach Rebecca Clyde of Nourish Nutrition wrote that, “The idea to package a 100% appearance-based program in a pretty & positive bow is horrifying. Getting back at your ex with a ‘revenge body’ is not empowering, nor is it body positive. It can’t be, it is the antithesis.”
To which I say—duh. Revenge Body is 100 percent appearance-based, which can be pretty horrifying. It unabashedly promotes Western standards of beauty, and preaches that a thin physique and conventional attractiveness are weapons that can be wielded against your haters and exes. Just like the Kardashians, who have made bank by being Armenian Barbies, Revenge Body is all about playing the game to your advantage. Sure, Khloé Kardashian probably wishes that her totally normal body type hadn’t been an object of ridicule throughout her adolescence and early adulthood. But now she has the sort of taut curves that tabloids don’t mock, and she’s benevolent enough to share her trainers and tricks with the masses. Because, at the end of the day, looking hotter than your ex does feel good—even if “hotness” is a punitive, patriarchal construct, and your ex has probably moved on in the 12 weeks it took you to drop three dress sizes anyway.
So what can we take away from the premiere of Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian? We learned a lot of new words, from “muscle cub” to “D.U.F.F.,” and we learned that Stephanie’s middle school bully actually had an eating disorder, and her passive-aggressive comments were just manifestations of her own insecurity. Additionally, we discovered that while Khloé Kardashian is just as candid and charming as ever, the reality TV weight-loss show may not be her natural medium. It’s a disappointing revelation, especially since the other Kardashian sisters appear to have found their career sweet spots. Kim is back on social media, Kylie is the queen of self-branding, and Kendall got herself a day job. Unfortunately, Khloé keeps falling short—her last attempt, a talk show called Kocktails with Khloé, shut down production only three months into its run. With her famous sisters and celebrity connections, Kardashian possesses all of the ingredients for great content. But Revenge Body relies too heavily on its trainers and contestants, and doesn’t give Khloé enough room to leave her white cube and loosen up.