Jackson Carter went on "The Biggest Loser" expecting to lose weight. What he didn't expect was to gain a legion of fans.
The Layton man, who turned 22 on Saturday, is one of the most popular contestants in the 14 seasons of the show, according to NBC. His big personality and optimism have struck a chord with viewers as he worked off about 100 pounds.
"There are millions of people around the world seeing the stories that have been put together from our experience," Carter said. "And it's just been crazy. I can't go anywhere without someone saying, 'Oh, you're that kid from 'Biggest Loser'!"
And, more often than not, they want a hug.
"Or they just take a hug," Carter said with a laugh. "My Twitter just blows up every day. I'm still kind of getting used to it, but it's really cool."
The first openly gay contestant on "Biggest Loser" is still in the running for the $250,000 prize. He finished fourth (of five) in the weight-loss competition last week, which means either he or the third-place finisher will advance to the final round (Monday, 7 p.m., NBC/Channel 5) based on viewer voting. That announcement will come at the top of the episode.
"I went onto the show thinking it would be really cool if I won," Carter said. "But that's not why I'm here. I wanted to lose the weight. I wanted to get motivated."
As he nears the finale, Carter feels entirely upbeat. But it wasn't always so.
"Had you asked me Day 1, after I fell off the treadmill and was on oxygen, I would have said, 'I can't do this,' " he said. "I cried every single night in the shower for the first month and I wanted to go home. It was so hard.
"But once I finally got the hang of things, I really started to flourish."
And he's already seeing a change at the OUTreach Resource Center, where he volunteers to help LGBT youth and young adults.
"A big part of the reason I went on the show was to help inspire the kids at OUTreach," Carter said. "I wanted to help the people that I work with every day. But now I'm helping people in Texas and Canada and Ireland. I got tweets from Paris. People all over the world are really getting inspired by what they see us doing on the ranch. It's unreal."
And he's seeing tangible results at home. The OUTreach Center has started an exercise program, and "the kids are learning how to plan and cook healthy meals. It's really started to get them motivated."
And, while he'd still like to win the $250,000, he's focused on the fact that he has "gained so much self-confidence and so much happiness out of losing the weight"
"I'm already a winner, as far as I'm concerned."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.