Operation Transformation: Tears flow freely as a new series begins

With our emotions in a swirl, these conversations from the heart feel devastating

The Operation Transformation 2021 team: reassuringly familiar

Everything else has changed but Operation Transformation (RTÉ One, Thursday) remains reassuringly familiar. Once more five members of the public with concerns about their weight sign up for an intense slimming programme. And yet again the series, an RTÉ staple since the late Gerry Ryan helmed the first season in 2008, proves its worth as it delves into the often painful backstories that have brought these strangers into our livings rooms.

Tears flow freely in the first episode. Hazel Hartigan from Limerick emotively recalls the deaths, several years apart, of her twin daughters. Sharon Gaffney from Drimnagh in Dublin speaks frankly about the end of her marriage and the esteem issues suffered by her 14 year-old daughter.

And Andrew Burke-Hannon, from Clondalkin in Dublin, recounts the bullying he experienced in secondary school because he was gay. He’s in his thirties now and married – the couple live with his parents – but that teenage ordeal is still with him and clearly a drain on his confidence.

Everyone’s emotions are in a swirl at the moment, which perhaps makes these conversations from the heart even more devastating. They certainly affect host Kathryn Thomas, reduced to tears on several occasions. And they add poignancy to an instalment which has the slightly dreary function of setting up the drama for the weeks to follow, when the five volunteers – the other two are Paul Devaney from Galway and Susuana Komolafe from Cavan – will strive to achieve their weight loss targets.


Devaney has a 46-inch waist, is addicted to “Italian chippers” and suffers from sleep apnea (his wife worries for his well-being on a daily basis). But he also emerges as the joker in the pack. This earns him a dressing down from fitness coach Karl Henry, who seems to find Henry’s jolliness objectionable at almost an existential level. Devaney replies that he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t serious about losing weight. He’s right

Another criticism that can be levelled at Operation Transform is that it is slightly lacking in manufactured drama – that necessary evil with which all reality television must engage.

Twenty would-be weight-watchers make a penultimate shortlist which is then whittled down to five. But on what basis are the eliminations decided? How did the rejected candidates respond? The episode is all about introducing us to the five “leaders” – it might have been instructive to briefly meet those the show is saying goodbye to, too.