BOY CULTURE REVIEW: ***1/2 OUT OF ****
I wasn't gay-fat, I was fat-fat. But I hid it well, except for when I didn't.
I had been 248 pounds at one point in my life, but I had been 192.5 pounds at one point, too. So while it had been many years since my peak, it had been several since my valley—and how green was my valley! I was just over 213 pounds, and all of the extra weight had crept back on in spite of doing weights with a trainer twice a week ("some of it's probably muscle!!!") and cardio once a week. For years.
I decided to sign up for Mark Fisher's Snatched in Six Weeks because, after a long bout with being marginally in shape, I wanted to get myself closer to the "but you look great!" status my friends had been untruthfully asserting I'd already attained.
The problem, I assumed, was that I am an indefatigable eater with a sweet tooth, and I lead a fairly sedentary life. I'd read that Snatched in Six Weeks was an intense, fat slob-proof way to lose weight and get toned, and I'd seen the transformation of actor Christopher Sieber (on social media) and my friend Josh (in person). How could I not wind up looking better at the end of it?
It took me longer to get into a class than it might take to get into a pair of size "Twink" jeggings; Fisher only offers them at set times, then never makes room for latecomers. When he posts the new classes, they fill up immediately. No, I couldn't get any special treatment if I agreed to review it or pay more.
So I waited.
And I finally got in.
And this is my take on the whole journey.
Eight hundred bucks and many oddly sexualized, introductory emails later (the staff throws around terms like "lady-boners" quite aggressively), I showed up one freezing-cold Sunday morn for my preliminary assessment.
I was greeted at the door of the outfit's W. 39th Street location by a bubbly blonde. A kettlebell course was going on in the background, featuring a group of people in better shape than I being led by a woman in no better shape than I, barking positivity as Barbra Streisand played. The blonde handed me off to a slender guy with a shaved head who managed to call me "pal" 30 times over the next hour; I counted. He is probably a nice dude, so don't take my assessment of his behavior as character assassination—or maybe it is, because to grouchy cynics, that's exactly what he and the other MFF people seem to be doing at times, playing outrageously spunky characters your more jaded side might like to assassinate.
"Hey, Pal! Let's get all your information!" he exclaimed, leaving me with an iPad and instructing me to fill out all my personal data. The form also asked for my three fitness goals, which I narrowed down to losing my gut, lessening my back fat and growing an ass. My fourth-place choice would be pumping up my tiny arms. "You're gonna nail it!" he informed me for the first of 20 times; I counted these as well.
As he led me outside and down a flight of steps, I realized he was barefoot. He walked right through the salted slush and never put shoes on for the hour I was with him. Downstairs, he asked me to have a seat on "the stinky couch." The stinky red couch was a pop of color in a no-frills basement with freshly installed track lighting, a tiny row of lockers and nothing else of note. Madonna's "Justify My Love" was playing until he deemed it "too much" (after handing me a free tape measure and suggesting how I could use it to measure my cock) and switched to Neil Diamond, and then to Elton John.
He asked me, conversationally, what I did for a living and where I was from, but for the most part he wanted me to submit to some body measurements (including a fully-clothed weigh-in) and then try some movements to test my physical limitations.
He suggested I was nailing everything, even when my waist was measured at a portly 41.5" (I buy jeans at 33" because I wear them under my belly) and my body fat came in at a whopping 31.6%! "That's on the high side of normal," he allowed. "We'll aim to get that to 25%." Actually, if I were to wind up at 25%, I would be on the low end of "obese." Nobody seems to think of me as obese other than me. And, now, this tape measure.
The movements he had me do were fairly simple, involving a pole on my shoulders ("like Charlton Heston!"), some squatting ("awesome squat!"), lunges and a rather painful push up done with elbows up and hands wide apart. There was nothing I couldn't do, literally speaking.
Toward the end, people wandered in for a class. All seemed to go along with their female instructor's plucky vibe...would I be the only unplayful player once Snatched began? It's hard to hypnotize the skeptical.
My Snatched concierge had me stretch on some styrofoam rollers and then on a tiny rubber ball, used to dig into the meat between pec and pit. "I sit on mine on the subway," he said, something he should have been confessing but something that he was merely stating.
Then it was over. I grabbed my stuff and took off, secure in the knowledge that I had signed up for something well outside my comfort zone.
My second time visiting the Snatched HQ was on a rainy Saturday, three days before I was scheduled to begin sweating. I was already sweating, wondering how this orientation would go. As with most of the program, the orientation's name is sexualized: "Foreplay."
I arrived, was exuberantly welcomed and instructed to remove my shoes before entering the common area, where a PowerPoint presentation awaited. I sat in the front row because...why not? Might as well plunge in.
A nice woman next to me engaged me in conversation, revealing she wanted to kick herself in the butt to get into shape. She looked to be in her thirties or so and not very out of shape...like, at all. She'd brought her laptop to take notes. She was not kidding around! Like so much of MFF's clientele, she was an actress, but I was the one trying to act undaunted.
After some horseplay amongst MFF's 10 employees (including an intern), the least relentlessly physically fit spoke, telling us we'd have to stand up, give our names and birthplaces, say which class we'd be in (I'd signed up for 7AM Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) and admit to a one-word expression of how we hoped to feel at the end of our six weeks.
As the men and women who'd signed up stood and spoke, it seemed like most of them were game and on the same page with the stage when it came to being "rah-rah." And they were coming up with great words, everything from "powerful" and "hot" to the show-stopper, "Beyoncé." All of these mini-soliloquoys were to be followed by all of us delivering a loud "whoosh!" in the direction of the speaker, accompanied by a sort of Tinkerbell hand gesture—the idea was that we were sending him or her a huge rush of energy. I wondered if this was what Kabbalah was like.
There were quite a few slim people, but the only intimidatingly buff person was a guy revealed as a new hire. Brian Patrick Murphy, a hairy hunk who is easily the loudest, most outrageous staffer (and who is Fisher's partner in the entire enterprise), made up a rule on the spot that the new staffer would always have to be shirtless. "So handsome!" he grunted, something he did when a couple of the other men in the class stood to speak.
One of my favorite intros came when a girl stood and noted that her friend sitting next to her was "half my size, so I'm really excited she's sitting right next to me." A sense of humor was beginning to feel essential to this process, but I wasn't embracing that yet. I am used to hating working out and eating right, so no amount of saccharine (or maybe it's aspartame?) cheerleading was about to win me over. Until and unless I was pooped out the other end of the six-week class as a skinny bitch.
After we'd confessed to our hopes and dreams, Mark Fisher himself did most of the talking. I was impressed that he recognized me by name from Facebook, but then again, I'd been agitating for months to get into the class. He has anyone's idea of an ideally fit body, the lower half of which was poured into his jeans, a model's face and beautiful, longish, perfectly tousled hair. He looks a lot like Sex book-era Joey Stefano, the late gay-porn star, which is appropriate as many of the words out of Mark's mouth are filthy-dirty.
Actually, Fisher's use of raunchy talk is delivered authentically, in such a way that it feels sweetly naughty. Some of the other staffers go a bit far, as when one demanded that we think of the "whoosh!" as receiving a cum-shot to the chest, instructing us to just lie back and take it. I'm not a prude (um...at all), but there is a point where it becomes sophomoric that every fitness move is related to a dildo, a penis, rape and/or digitial penetration.
Fisher's skillful use of sex-talk was also perhaps due to his not-even-thinking-about-it-at-this-point pitch. He took about an hour to walk us through Snatched's entire workbook—with occasional help from his staff—never seeming to be bullshitting, conveying the confidence of a fitness leader you would want to have in your corner. Even when he was pressuring us to sign up for additional, semi-private training classes, he never came off as smarmy or money-hungry. Just thrilled to be there.
"When I'm doing this, it's one of the only times my life makes sense," he offered, in-between making poop jokes. He told us we were "ninjas," and made multiple references to his company's mascot, the unicorn (a creature as mythical as a waist for me).
Speaking of unicorns and fabulosity...
I liked him a lot in spite of my personal hesitation about Snatched's big-yay rhetorics and my suspicion that unicorns are not real.
I left the session with zero questions (he wouldn't allow anyone to leave until every question was asked), impressed by his thoroughness. This is the same dude who had been e-mailing us pictures of sexy bodies while candidly warning us that any inspiration bodies we chose to tack to our fridges are probably not only the result of eating right and exercising, but also "small doses of steroids...even the women." His realistic outlook had also extended to letting us know that chunky men who had formerly been effortlessly fit would probably have the most eye-popping results from Snatched, chunky girls who've been exercising for years and have plateaued may have less eye-popping results, and so on. No one went into this class with rose-colored glasses on their out-of-shape asses.
In short, Fisher—through self-deprecation, bubbly pep talk and dire warnings against eating too few calories—succeeded in rallying his troops.
My first real Snatched session was the worst. Not because it was hard on me physically—it wasn't!—but because I had to arrive 30 minutes early (6:30AM) in order to have my "before" picture taken. See, "Snatcheders" are judged at the end of six weeks on who's made the biggest transformation, and the winner gets their fees refunded. That's major! But it's also major to show up at the crack of dawn, remove your shirt, climb up on a bench in the main reception area, and let professional shooter Kevin Thomas Garcia snap mugshot-style photos: front, back, side.
And, of course, the first person to pose was the class's only taut, fit dude. Thanks, bro. Fuck it—I went second. Remember this photo op—it returns at the end of this story Old Yeller-style.
I made friends with a gay dad who confided in me that he was not wild about the sexualized talk and relentless optimism either, but we were both ready to commit until it made us feel ready to be committed.
Mark arrived, his hair pushed casually back with a hairband, and immediately reassured us he would not kick our asses that day. The 10 or so of us arranged ourselves on mats in front of the mirrored wall in the main studio, and Mark explained that Day 1 would be a day of many words. He hadn't spilled too many of them before he felt compelled to say, "I know what you're thinking: 'He hasn't talked about 'semen' yet. I want my money back!'"
Mark had us go through the basic movements the class would entail, including squats, push-ups and the exact way he expected us to swing the kettle bells. He is very firm about wanting us to get the right form for our own good, but also reassures us that as long as we're moving in the early days, that's the key. In short, he is a charming, babbling brook of a teacher and never seems to be giving superfluous information.
His bent-over displays of how to do things did beg encores; look, the class is about attaining "health and hotness," and while I can't vouch for his possession of the former without a full examination, the latter is apparent comin' and goin.'
At the end of the class, I felt totally unchallenged, but knew it was just a start. Feeling unchallenged was probably a good thing for me; had I been wiped out, the idea of doing that for six weeks might've scared me off.
My second trip was the same thing, only more intense. Mark sped things up. So when we were aiming our butts toward the back wall ("Pretend there's a lubed-up dildo on it waiting to pierce you."), we were doing it quickly before moving on, with fewer words.
The second class was tougher, but still, I did not wind up sore. Well, I was a bit sore that since it was Mark's birthday, he was served cupcakes at the end, the last thing I needed to see. They looked vegan, though, so...never mind.
On my third and final class of the week, Brian Patrick Murphy took over. This hairy manimal showed up in ridiculously tiny booty shorts with his underwear showing from beneath, knee-high athletic socks and bearing the libinous energy of a rabbit on testosterone cypionate. (Not that he is on that or anything, but he's certainly high on life.)
While having us bend over and remain very tight, he offered, "Imagine I'm lubing up my finger and getting ready to force it into your bunghole, and if I get one in, I'll get two, and if I get two, pretty soon I'll be punching the clown!"
Brian's sex talk put Mark's to Shame (my favorite Steve McQueen movie) and he also upped the ante, giving us the first workout that had any impact on me. Still, I did not feel wiped out. What I felt was...hungry.
All week, I'd been sticking to my stringent calorie goal using the indispensable MyFitnessPal.com and hitting my protein minimum. But at night, I'd be really weak and grab a handful of almonds or grapes to "survive."
By the end of the week, Saturday morning, I'd lost 7 solid pounds! It was insane. But...was it desirable?
Weeks 2 & 3
Wow, did those weeks fly by. It was like: One moment, I'm awkwardly stripping down for my shirtless photo, and the next I'm halfway done. After losing 7 pounds, I'd been told by Ninja Staci, who was watching my food, that I had miscalcuated my calories and should have been eating 1,800 instead of 1,550 a day. So following another week, I only lost .8 pounds more...and then surprised myself by continuing to lose, winding up 12+ down after three weeks.
How to describe the classes?
In general, we had Mark himself on Tuesdays; superfriendly, superstunning lesbian Amanda or bisexual bombshell (at least, that was the implication during, ironically, orientation intros) Staci on Thursdays; and then insanely hyper and macho-motivational Brian on Fridays.
Initially, the classes typically felt like half devoted to warming up (which never failed to work me into a bit of a sweat in their own right) and half work-outs, with the work-outs powered by kettle bell swings (strong "hinges" being essential) and a reliance on "calos thenos," or beautiful movement. Good form. These beautiful movements could look ugly to the person doing them if one is doing them into a mirror at 7AM, but they included push-ups, split squats, reverse squats, band rows, kettle bell squats, glute bridges, planks, side planks, jumping in place and quite a few other movements designed to challenge muscles, so one quickly gave up any worries about vanity.
In spite of all the raunchy talk, probably the most common words spoken in class were always, "...make sense?" After every explanation of a new move (or tinkering tweak of an old one), Mark would ask, as alert as a mongoose with a cobra birthday party around the corner, "Make sense?" It usually did.
Mark's classes were extra-special because his is the marquee name. He was patient and kind. He also was flamboyantly gay...until the end of week three, when Brian casually mentioned that Mark was not gay during a story involving Mark crying on Brian's shoulder over a break-up involving a woman. This was not greeted with a cheer by the class, but definitely warranted an internal, "Whoosh!" Brian's own personal (?) story about having to be supremely quiet while fucking a trick who'd picked him up at a local bar, but who had a small apartment with a light sleeper of a roommate also led us down the homosexual path, but he would later talk about a girlfriend as well, leaving me to deduce that Week Three was the best time to shake us up with images of our queerless leaders knee-deep in vagina. I think my class's only (?) straight guy breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that the class was not as resolutely gay as it had previously seemed, but I'm not sure it mattered—we still heard a lot about tickling the dragon's balls until we saw pre-cum but then stopping short of taking a load to the face (this refers to pushing yourself without failing) and other colorful bon mots.
Mark is an excellent salesman. I don't mean this in a cynical way, I just think he is very good at presenting himself. At one point, after telling us everything should be done a certain way in order to ingrain good form into our DNA, he then said we would eventually need to forget all that and just do it. "Also, I am telling you wrong things right now," he asserted, explaining that things he had taught in the past had changed and as we learn more stuff about the body and movement, things he was teaching us in this very Snatched course would eventually be shown to be wrong. "And I realize that by telling you I am wrong about things, I'm actually building even more credibility with you, but you will need to ignore what I'm saying at certain points." It was masterful.
Amanda quickly became a favorite of mine. Her workouts were kinder and gentler, somehow, and her dipping into the X-rated pool felt less forced, though she did at one point describe a neck position in terms of not moving your head toward a dick during a blowjob, something she said she hadn't experienced in a decade.
The MFF troupe offers a trip to the Dominican Republic for a mere few thou.
Brian is an animal. He spent his classes mock-hitting on "handsome" guys and yelling at us in ecstasy. He enjoyed teaching what he knew so much he was practically levitating as he imparted the info. He was not shy to admit to the moves his own body could not accommodate, and he was not shy to reveal his own body—during his Week 3 class, one student asked for him to go shirtless as a reward as we wound down our routines, and he instead stripped off his pants and hid his junk behind his hands. This left his ass bare for all the world to see.
The dragon's balls were definitely tickled that day.
I found myself feeling a lot thinner by the end of Week 3, by which time I'd also dropped 15 pounds since Thanksgiving...and the class was only half over!
Weeks 4, 5 & 6
Going to Snatched became a much-needed routine for me: Wake up 6:15AM, arrive to class (through freezing cold/snow/sleet) by 6:50AM, pull my jeans off to reveal my work-out shorts (a couple of the guys in class would strip down to underwear in the lobby before pulling on shorts, others would wear the kind of skimpy shorts of which one would wonder, while perusing gay-targeted clothing sites, "Who wears this???"), drink my water and then do whatever the instructors ask until the class is over.
I found my sore toes and feet getting less so. I felt my mid-section shrinking. And I had more energy.
I was not overly friendly with the very nice-seeming people in my class because I was focused on getting through the process. At 45, I was older than most, if not all, of the people around me, but I felt younger with the passing of each successful class. But the idea of failure kept me alert.
As did the threat that an instructor might literally try to insert a finger into my rectum through my shorts, which happened to two guys (not me) in one class toward the end.
SPOILER ALERT IN CASE YOU'RE GONNA SIGN UP FOR SNATCHED...
One of my favorite classes was the one in which Brian—who would get pretty Wolf of Wall Street on our asses with his positive but LOUD cheering at the end of each session, when the lights would be turned off and we'd work out in the comfort of darkness—told a story in which he had a conversation with his mentor a few years back. He had not been feeling good about how his life was going, so his mentor asked him to list the names of the five people with whom he spent the most time, and to then say out loud how he felt when he was with those people. Brian said he felt emotionally drained as he did this, realizing that the people were dragging him down; so he "had some hard conversations," including breaking up with a girlfriend.
It was moving that he shared this with us, and a scary prospect to repeat that exercise, an exercise that didn't involve hamstrings or triceps.
...SPOILER ALERT OVER.
Each class would begin with a random question: What's your favorite movie? What's your favorite celebrity body? Who is your favorite musician? Toward the end of Snatched, we were asked if we had anything to say to the class, and I honestly told everyone that from my position—I'd always remained at the front of the class—everyone looked very different. And they did; and I did. It wasn't a jaw-dropping transformation—I didn't even wind up entering the contest for most-changed body—but things were moving in the right direction.
And then the classes were over.
Once we were all Snatched, we were supposed to come in and get our after pictures taken. I wasn't entering the contest, but I decided to do the photo anyway. I'm a grown man and shouldn't be so uptight about taking off my shirt. I'd been one of those little fat boys who covered his nipples with his fingers when shirtless, and it was time to end that. Have you ever been to the beach? We all notice the killer bodies, but 90% of the bodies there are anything but killer. So I showed up after work and did my best "after" pose. I'd gotten rid of my back hair and was smiling (everyone knows a good before picture is frowning and a good after picture is grinning), so hoped my after picture would pleasantly surprise me.
There's a final party a week after Snatched ends, which I attended with my friend, who is in far better shape than I am but who doesn't think he's in good shape, either. It was a festive occasion, with the women in cocktail dresses and fuck-me (or at least consider-me) heels, and the guys in slightly more form-fitting shirts than they may have rocked seven weeks earlier.
I got to greet Mark ("I'm coming over to hold you!" he said, repeating a theme of Mark as mother and Snatcheders as babies from the class) and Brian and we watched as the Top 3 girls and boys—those with the best Snatched results—were brought up on the stage and rewarded for their efforts. Their bodies had changed and they were gushingly happy. I was still feeling a little bit like a skeptic visiting a cult (Brian had once told us he'd broken up over Snatched when someone he was dating thought it was a cult—it's not), but it was nice to see success celebrated.
Mark and Brian dropped their pants faster than I'd dropped 15 pounds and danced, of course. I probably wouldn't own pants if I had their bodies.
My last interaction with MFF—unless I re-up for classes, which is a definite possibility—was when I received an e-mail directing me to a link with all of our before and after photos. The one thing I don't think I can forgive MFF for is that all of the photos were public to anyone with access to the link, and all were easily downloadable. The accompanying e-mail warned us not to take others' photos, but nonetheless the photos were set up to be easily, well, snatched. I should be okay with my body, but I'm not. And I must admit that in spite of the progress I made, my after photos from the front and the back (the side was great!) were mortifying. I pulled them for posterity and asked MFF to kill them, which they did, but even killed those photos are going to haunt me forever.
It was an annoying way to end an otherwise positive journey.
The Bottom Line
Rectal warts and all, Snatched, in all its gushing glory, remains an option for health and hotness that I would recommend to all but those who are squeamish about X-rated banter. It was simple, reasonably priced and if you follow what Mark, Brian and their crew say, it works.
But you better keep it up after the six weeks, because there are no quick fixes.