I LOVE my current TOPS group. In the past 20 years, I've been a member of several TOPS groups. Every group is a little different, because while there are some national rules, the groups are more self-governing than commercial programs like WW, so you'll see more variation from group to group.
You can even form your own TOPS chapter if you want, you only need 4 members.
I've only ever been a member of existing groups, but some groups have a lot of contests, others have none. Some groups are very chatty, and some are more business like.
If the atmosphere of the group is important to you, and if there are several groups in your area, I'd recommend visiting them all before deciding on which one you want to join.
I've visited all three of the meetings in my area (and a fourth group is forming).
One is very small. There were only 3 members when I visited, and there were fewer than 12 members total. I was told that most members just weigh in and leave, and usually no more than 5 or 6 stick around to chat. I was told they almost never do any activities or contests.
The group I now attend has about 30 members. Most active members stay for the meeting.
Our group opens the meeting with the TOPS Pledge, a little poem we receite, and then a song (I didn't like the singing when I started, but now I think it's kind of fun).
The weight recorders announce the total losses for the week, the total gains, and the resulting net gain or loss (it's an eye-opener, because you see what average weight loss really looks like. Our group has won recognition for weight loss results compared to other groups in the state, and our average loss is still far less than one pound per person per week).
Then we go around the room and say whether we've lost, gained or stayed the same (some groups will say "I turtled" to mean I stayed the same). If you lost or turtled, everyone applauds - and if you gained everyone says "we're glad you came."
Most groups have some kind of "best loser" contest. And many groups collect fines for weight gain (in our group it's 10 cents per pound, and there's often a cap). In many groups the fine money collected goes to the best loser, or in some groups the money gets split between the best loser and the club treasury.
In our group, everyone chips in a dime every week, and those dimes go to the best loser (so usually the best loser gets about 2.00, and if people tie, the money is split).
I like this better than using fine money - because the best loser isn't benefitting from other members' misfortune.
Our group also rewards weight loss with free chapter dues. National dues are $26 per year (and $13 for each additional member of the household who joins). National Dues are going up to $28 in January. Weekly dues are determined by each chapter. In our area, it varies from $2 - $5.
In our group, dues are $5 per month, but if you lose weight, you get free dues for the next due month (in ours we pay a month ahead, so if you lose weight in October, you get free dues for December). So, if you lose every month (even if only a quarter pound) you would never pay monthly dues.
My group meets on Tuesday nights. Weigh-in starts at 4:30 and the meeting starts at 5:30 and usually lasts about 45 minutes. Some people come early to chat.
The leader or a volunteer usually leads a short program. They might read an article or prepare an activity. For example, when I've volunteered to run the program, once I brought in little envelopes filled with whole grains and passed them around one-by-one, and everyone had to guess what grain was in the envelope. The person who got the most correct got a small prize (which I donated, thought he leader offerred to reimburse me). Another time, I showed everyone how to grow sprouts in a gallon jar.
Then there are also events you can attend - rallies and recognition events and also retreats. I haven't attended any in years (I went to Fall Rally or SRD - State Recognition Days once in Illinois about 20 years ago. That was a lot of fun).
Retreats are announced in the newsletter. I've never been to a retreat, but they sound like a lot of fun.