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Up to the Challenge

Shaq is perfect guy to help kids in weight-loss show

Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:21PM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 1:55PM
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Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal is trying to be Superman to six kids who need help losing weight.
Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
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The goal is to wean Chris completely off the mayo.

But on this day, nutritionist Joy Bauer was feeling generous and so Chris got a shmear of the reduced fat stuff. And as the 11-year-old crankily chomped on his sandwich, Shaquille O'Neal leaned in, shot a nasty look at Bauer and said, "She won't let me have mayonnaise either, man"

The scene's not in the opening episode of Shaq's Big Challenge, but after six months alongside The Big Diesel, it's one Bauer remembers best. And one that proves why Shaq's Big Challenge is easily one of the best non-sports shows an athlete's ever done. "This," Shaq says midway through Tuesday's premier episode, "is much harder than I thought it would be."

In real-time, the six-installment documentary-style show is filming its finale this week in Tallahassee, Fla. It actually started six months ago, though, when Shaq first knocked on the doors of six grossly overweight Broward County kids. And while it's a takeoff on British footballer Ian Wright's Unfit Kids, Shaq's Big Challenge (ABC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) is totally Shaq-stamped.

The 35-year old Miami Heat center has enlisted his physician, personal trainer, nutritionist and college coach, as well as a Miami pediatrician and celebrity chef Tyler Florence, to make his dream team of experts. Shaq's irreverent (he suggests an off-color bit of smack talk in front of 13-year old Kevin's mom). He's protective (to the bully who calls 11-year old James fat, he says, "That's my friend James. That's your friend James now.). And he makes you pull for these kids.

James, who weighs 182 pounds, lost his fry-burgers when Shaq dunked on his backyard hoop, his pizza when Shaq hit a three-pointer, and his subs when Shaq nailed a jumper over his family's little house. There's 14-year old Walter, who weighs 103 pounds more than James, logs 35 hours a week on video games and quietly admitted a couple kids at school are betting over when he'll quit. "I'm not going to let you quit," Shaq said. "I'm here now."

Kevin, 13, willed his 230-pound body through six push-ups (no one else managed more than one) and then went back and ran alongside Walter, pushing the kid Shaq called his "teammate" to finish his two-mile run. Eleven-year old and 206-pound Chris cried when he saw the MRI of his body fat, 14-year old April clearly got motivated, and after 14-year old Kit was told 50 percent of her 263 pounds are fat, Shaq asked obesity expert Dr. William Muinos, "Are there diet pills for kids?"

Even as Shaq said he went looking for fat kids, he's clearly stunned to hear Dr. Muinos call them "morbidly obese." The Big Aristotle's not an actor and that's what makes this show so moving. You know that that choke-back-gulp when Chris says he wants "to stop getting made fun of" is real. You know that wide-eyed double take when James' mom says one batch of her popcorn takes two sticks of butter isn't scripted.

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