My Day on a Reality TV Show

Hello, my loyal readers.  Next month will mark six-and-a-half years living in Israel and the same amount of time blogging.  I’ve written about war, work, Jerusalem vs. Tel Aviv, and of course, everything an oleh chadash could laugh about from mopping the floor to ridiculous t-shirts and from misspelled menus to Israeli weddings.  But you know what I haven’t covered?  Some of you do.  Dating.  Aleph, the majority of my dates haven’t been with Israelis and, bet, who wants to publicly talk about their dating life?

Well, here you go:  I was on a reality TV show.  A dating show, even.   After finally watching it and being assured by friends that I didn’t come out of it looking like a freak (since, you know, it is a DATING REALITY SHOW), this seems like a good time to talk about it.

I’m not sure how they got to me.  I assume that it’s because someone from “Ha’ach hagadol” (“Big Brother”) called me in two or three years ago after a friend recommended me to his friend at the Kuperman production company (“ON the next episode of Ha’ach Hagadol:  immigrant hijinks!”).  Having no intentions or desire to ever go on that show, I decided to play along anyway and go into the studio, talking to them for ten minutes while a camera recorded.  They never called back.  No loss.  I can only assume that they came across my name/file/video a couple of years later and decided to follow up.

Last January, almost a full year ago, I traveled up to Ramat Hachayal in Tel Aviv so talk to a couple of people in the Kuperman office.  Why not?  And this point of the story seems as good a time as any to explain why:  I don’t know if other people have ever justified doing something here that they wouldn’t have done back in their home countries but I have had so many hilarious, ridiculous aliyah experiences, this just seemed like another part of the adventure.  Never in a million bajillion years would I consider to (or even have the opportunity to) go on a show in the States (reason #47:  what are the odds that they’d match me up with a Jewish girl?) but here?  In this country?  Just seems like another great story.  And who knows, maybe it could help open a door or two to who knows what kind of creative opportunity.

So Kuperman called me and invited me back for a second meeting.  I guess when they handed me a long contract to sign, I realized that maybe I should start taking seriously the possibility that this might actually happen.  Like all the other times I’ve had to sign contracts in Hebrew, I did a combination of having them translate it for me and saying “yiyeh b’sedeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!” two seconds before throwing caution to the wind and signing it (because as I’ve said before:  “If you don’t open your mail, my fellow olim, it doesn’t exist.”)  By this point, I had told maybe two people that this was happening and that number never went above the number of fingers on one hand by the time the show was actually filmed.

Then things started to get a little interesting. For meeting number three, Kuperman sent someone to my apartment to meet me with, a tachkiranit (researcher?)  For five hours (that’s five hours), this woman asked me questions about me, relationships, dreams, fears, who remembers what else.  At this point, after being asked my ideal date in Israel, I naturally assumed I was going to get flown to Machtesh Ramon on a hot air balloon for an outdoor breakfast, taken to Mt. Hermon on a jet plane for lunch, and transported to Tel Aviv on some fast-moving vehicle for a romantic dinner in a fancy restaurant for dinner.  Yeaaaah….we’ll come back to that later.

The woman asked me what my schedule looked like for the next couple of months and I told her about some conflicts that I wouldn’t be able to plan around.  When I didn’t hear back from her for a few weeks, part of me hoped they had forgotten about me and that this wouldn’t happen.  Then she called to tell me we’d be filming on March 29th to overlap with a comedy show I’d be doing for the international students at Tel Aviv University.  Hey, the mystery woman gets to see me do my thing-that will make me look good, right?  (Sorry to disappoint-it’s not foreshadowing of some embarrassing mishap.)  It was also a whopping four days before I had planned to move from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.  Not exactly what you want to be doing during valuable packing time.

In the days before March 29th, I started to have second thoughts.  And third thoughts.  Mostly because of the stress brought on by my move, compounded by my friend Yossi’s assurances that despite Kuperman’s claims to the contrary, they would surely try to embarrass me and make me look like a jackass (and really, would that be a huge surprise on reality TV?)  I called my contact a night or two beforehand and told her I was having doubts and asked if they were being genuine or if they planned to set me up with Freicha McArs.  She held her ground and assured me that no, that wasn’t the case.  Perhaps I should have known better.  Anyway….

THE BIG DAY:  At 6 AM, a taxi picked me up from my apartment in Jerusalem and drove me to an undisclosed location in Tel Aviv (just an apartment converted to a shooting location but “undisclosed location” sounds sexier, yes?)  I made myself coffee and started talking to members of the crew.  They filmed me talking about what I was looking for and then got a few ridiculous shots of me wearing a baseball cap taking a few swings with a bat.  You know.  Because I’m American.  Obviously not my idea.

Then they had me meet a shadchanit (matchmaker).  Huh?!  This is where I started getting confused.  What the hell was the point of the FIVE HOUR INTERVIEW?!  I asked, “Wait a second…..you mean after all that and all this and MY ALREADY BEING HERE, you don’t even have the girl yet?”  I never understood their answer.  It wasn’t worth more than a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on in their heads.  It seemed something between “illogical”, “disorganized”, and “Israeli”.   I have no idea what the point of the matchmaker was but after I met with her, I then waited around for four hours killing time.  At this point, I was starting to realize that the hot air balloon wasn’t coming.

I went from coffee on Sheinkin to lunch on Rothschild as I waited to get the call that they were ready to continue.  Finally, the phone rang sometime in the early afternoon.  I got picked up and driven to where my exciting date would begin.  Where else?  A chumusia in Yafo.  No, really.  NO, REALLY!

I went inside and waited.  And waited.  Finally, a girl walked in.  Was this her?  No warning, no nothing.  And that was as awkward as any part of the day, being caught off guard when she walked in when I wasn’t expecting it.  Forget a blind date, how exactly are you supposed to start that conversation?

I’ll let you watch the show to see how it unfolded.  Small talk about this and that, Hebrew with a smattering of English.  Sorry to ruin the suspense but it just wasn’t the date from hell nor was it horribly awkward.  For the most part, it was at worst…fine.

It would have been nice if how the day unfolded (anything!) was made a little more clear.  The schedule….how much time we had at each place….  At some point, it was time to go (and quickly) so we went to that oh-so-special location that all lovebirds dream of going.  The top of the Empire State Building?  The top of the Azrieli towers?  The top of Mt Hermon?  Not even close.  Wait for it….

Mini-Israel.

I have no idea.  Really, I don’t.  Was this something she wanted to do?  (Surely not.)  I never got around to asking the girl after the fact but presumably this somehow came from above.

Creative Manager #1:  “Nu, Arik….waht ahr we going to do weeth dees couple?  How about a walk on deh beach?  A spa et deh Dead Sea?  A cruise on deh Kineret?”

Creative Manager #2:  “Be’emet, idiot.  Det is so cliche l’gamray.”

CM #1:  “B’seder.  So waht do you theenk?”

(long pause)

CM #2:  “MOTI!  YESH!  WE TAKE DEM TO MINI-EEZRAYL!”

(lots of back slaps, high-fives, and a twenty minute cigarette break)

As for how we got there, this is really one of the key points to make about the entire day:  they lent me a car belonging to….who the hell remembers, one of the crew members?  How the hell was that even safe for a liability perspective?  I certainly didn’t sign anything that day.  What about insurance?  Anyway, the important thing to note while you’re watching is this:  one of the first people to see the show told me that I came off as quiet throughout the day.  Let me ask you this:  when you’re on a blind date, being filmed, conversing in Hebrew, and driving somebody else’s car on a highway while TRYING TO FOLLOW THE CAMERA CREW’S VAN AHEAD OF YOU TO NOT GET LOST, how well do you think you’d be able to participate?  Big surprise:  I may not have caught every word in her stories. 

When we got to Mini-Israel, I started to sense that there was going to be a problem.  Not with Eliya (her name, incidentally) but with being on time.  I’ll get back to this later but as time passed, I became more and more conscious of the time and how long it would take to get to my show at TAU.

Like with lunch, I can’t say much about our time there.  You saw a lot of it.  It just took me a moment to figure out what the hell was with the guy who approached us.  What’s more interesting were surely my interactions with Eliya and as it became pretty clear, they were being, if not manipulated, then let’s say influenced by the crew to achieve maximum weirdness and entertainment (and really, should anyone expect otherwise?)

In between each stage of the date, such as when we were about to get into the car, they’d separate us for a minute and give us some advice or guidance.  The dugri (straightforward) questions were clearly pushed by the crew designed to create a moment, either funny or awkward, to advance the date, usually sent via text message, as her phone started beeping every few minutes.  One of the most awkward or uncomfortable moments which I’ll let you watch for yourself is when she asked what I thought of her.  While I had heard the Hebrew phrase before, its exact translation or use was a bit lost on me.  I wasn’t sure what she meant or how I was supposed to answer.  Can you say “cultural difference”?  I probably didn’t come out of that scene looking so good when I didn’t give her an answer.

Unfortunately, it was around the end of Mini-Israel when I realized that the aforementioned issue of timeliness was going to ruin the date.   I hadn’t taken into account that this TAU show was work, my job, and that for that part of the day, my priorities and the object of my attention were going to have to change.  I had told the crew, “I CANNOT be late.”  They had assured me, “you will not be late.”  Well, guess what?  Everyone together now:  “we were late.”  And from that point on, Eliya became only the second most important thing on my mind.

If the traffic wasn’t terrible, looking for the exact building on the campus was.  I had counted on them to figure out where we were going and nobody knew.  We didn’t know which entrance to go through and as you can see for yourself, we had no clue of where the building was.

If you’re wondering who “Yossiiiiiiiiiiiii!” is, it’s Yossi Tarablus, the guy who warned me about the show beforehand and a very funny comedian who I performed with that night (along with Shahar Hason).  Because I couldn’t find the building, Yossi told me on the phone that he’d go outside and that I should yell for him.  (Not shown on camera:  me, tripping.  An hour or so later, I pulled up my jeans revealing blood dripping down my leg.  Memories of my day with Shimon Peres.  Scroll down to 12:02.)

Not only did we arrive one hour later than I had hoped, RIGHT when the show was to begin, Yossi told me on the phone that because of some kind of miscommunication (“miscommunicatzia”), the students actually expected the show to begin an hour earlier, meaning I was one hour late.  Yiyeh b’sedeeeeeer!!!! (Not really.)

When we finally arrived, I had about five minutes to go to the bathroom and try to get my heart rate below 4000 beats per minute.  Always a good recipe for success.  I went on for fifteen or twenty minutes, watched Yossi and Shachar follow me, and that was our date.

Fine, no hot air balloon, but no night out in Tel Aviv?  Not that I was hoping for the night to continue but talk about not setting my expectations appropriately.  I wanted to tell them that if they were hoping for a match, it was a mistake for them to think that it would go well on a day I had to work.  But they never returned my phone calls.

So there we were at the end of the night.  In an effort to be open-minded, I thought, should I give this another try?  But then I thought back to what the shadchanit had said:  that in Israel, you tell the girl at the end of the date what you want.  Either to see her again or to not.  No better time to start being dugri than now.

Hey, no shame in that, I guess.  I mean, and not that I’ve watched any other episodes of this show yet (oh, and by the way, it’s called “Singles”) but do any couples really come out of this show?  My friend told me that other episodes were nightmares and that I came out of it looking ok.  I didn’t get caught up in the female host making fun of Americans.  Whatever.  It’s a freaking TV show.  Everything is exaggerated hyperbole and, fine, I know that no matter how long I’ll live here, I will always be pretty darn American.   I get now that their interest is ratings and if they could get someone who came off as super-American to match up with a real Israeli, they win.  It probably goes without saying that you should take everything you see with a grain of salt when watching about twenty minutes of footage edited down from a few hours but the truth is, it seems that I managed to come out of it ok.  No?

And to reveal something about myself, I didn’t even catch it until seeing the show recently but one of the most poignant moments of the show for me was near the end when Eliya said that I hadn’t been the same person throughout the day as I was onstage.  Performing, I was free and chill (loose translation) and she didn’t know where that guy had been all day.  I’ll just leave it at this:  I can be shy and it can take me some time to be natural to some people.  Not that I think she was the one or anything but I do recognize that it can take some time for someone to get to know me.

And there it is.  Certainly an interesting day.  If you’re going to comment, remember what (some of) our mothers said:  if you don’t have anything nice to say about the girl, please don’t say anything at all.

The end.

 

What’s that?  You want to see it?

Enjoy…

 

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