The pain in Spain

For Anglo couple Andrea Simantov and Ronney Zaltzman, Episode 5 of TV’s ‘Hamerotz Lamillion’ took a surprising twist.

By RUTH BELOFF
June 1, 2013 23:11
Andrea Simantov and Ronney Zaltzman at the Salvador Dali mansion.

Andrea Simantov and Ronney Zaltzman 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Since its Season 3 debut on Channel 2 on May 11, local audiences have been glued to their TVs to watch one of the country’s most popular reality shows, Hamerotz Lamillion. In the Israeli version of the international franchise The Amazing Race, 11 teams of two vie to be the last team standing and win the coveted prize of NIS 1 million. Not only are the TV airwaves filled with viewer verve, but the show’s Facebook pages are flooded with responses from faithful fans of the fight to the finish.

One team that has been a real fan favorite is married couple Andrea and Ronney, the oldest couple in the race and the first Anglo pair to participate in the show.

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New York-born Andrea Simantov, 57, and her husband, Ronney, 60, from Johannesburg, panted and sweated their way to the fifth episode where, in Madrid, they met their Waterloo. But the intrepid grandparents put up a valiant effort to get that far.

In Episode 1, which took place at the Haifa port, the teams used various types of equipment to scale a high metal container and then, suspended by safety ropes, leapt over to another one to get the clue for their next challenge. As Andrea swung to her destination, she slammed into the side of the container before Ronney pulled her onto the platform. Ouch! The teams then rushed to awaiting cars to drive to Kibbutz Ein Shemer, where they had a choice of two challenges. Andrea and Ronney chose the one that involved her schlepping a heavy sack of produce across a field numerous times, while he followed on his knees. The teams then headed to Caesarea, where the last team to arrive would be eliminated. Andrea and Ronney lumbered to the finish line, with Andrea intoning, “My legs, my legs.” They came in seventh, and the team of Herut and Yoftut was eliminated.

Episode 2 took place in Israel as well, before whisking the contestants off to more exotic locales, which is one of the features The Amazing Race is famous for.

The teams drove to Kibbutz Yakum, where they competed two by two. One of each team, suspended by a pulley over a pile of mats, had to hold the other in an embrace.

The first team to let go had to stay and try to outlast the next team. “We are not light people,” Andrea said in the show’s commentary.



She fell to the mat four times, patently and painfully wounding her pride.

Next, at Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv, the teams tasted a bowl of soup that was the favorite of the wife of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. Then, in a dining room filled with hundreds of bowls, they had to find the soup that was identical to what they’d sampled. Andrea and Ronney made relatively short work of that and sped off to Latrun for their next tribulation as Andrea chanted, “We can do it, we can do it. There is really nothing to it.”

At Mini Israel, the teams searched through the miniature models to find the airline ticket for their next destination.

This was an elimination round, and no one wanted to be left in Israel while the others winged their way to more excitement and adventure. As each team jubilantly found their ticket, they raced to the finish line, where the show’s handsome host Ron Shachar awaited them.

Huffing their way to the designated spot, Andrea and Ronney came in last.

A tearful Andrea was anguished and apologetic, while Ronney was reconciled and reassuring, but both said valiantly, “It’s okay.”

However, things took an unexpected turn when the pair who came in first, Ronit and Liron, had the option to have an hour’s head start for the next challenge or give the team that came in last the opportunity to remain in the game. Only in Israel would such a choice be given, and certainly only in Israel would a competitor forgo the tremendous advantage of an extra hour and keep another team in play.

But that’s what happened.

As Ronit said in the commentary, “I looked into Andrea’s blue eyes, red with tears, and thought, ‘How can I let them go?’” And as Andrea commented, “They chose to love us, to save us, to admire us!” So the 10 teams flew off to Madrid for Episodes 3, 4 and 5.

In Episode 3, the teams had to fight a bull, as well as learn to dance flamenco or do the macarena in a department store window. In the bullfight challenge, one member of each team had to enter the ring with a young bull and make three passes with a pink cape, and then stick a velcro flower on the bull’s neck. Ronney played matador and did very well with the passes and the flower. But in the interplay, the bull gored him in the knees.

Ronney hobbled to the next challenge holding on to Andrea’s shoulder. At the dance studio, the couple donned flamenco costumes and learned the basic steps and flourishes, which were judged by a team of experts. Not only did the dynamic duo pass the test, but the judges applauded them as well.

In Episode 4, the teams had to locate a particular grocery store and fill their cars with 50 large cauliflowers. As Andrea pulled a full crate down from a shelf, she lost her balance and fell to the floor. She sat there, laughing her head off amid the heads of cauliflower.

Next, the teams drove to the magnificent mansion of Salvador Dali, where they had to solve a puzzle to discover the password to gain entry into the next room.

There, each team member put on the mustache they’d received at the grocery and slathered it with honey. Then each team sat facing each other, with their heads in a glass case. The case was filled with flies and had an apple suspended from the middle. Without using their hands, they had to eat the apple down to the core.

Andrea said in the commentary, “I never saw anything so disgusting! Who are my enemies that paid them to kill me?” But they prevailed and were ready for their next challenge. Or so they thought.

The next morning, Episode 5, Ronney was in such pain from the incident with the bull that he couldn’t get out of bed.

“But I can’t give up,” he said.

“No,” said Andrea, seeing how much he was suffering, “we’re not going today.”

So while the nine other teams were being pelted with tomatoes at the Brunete Tomato Festival, dressed up as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in downtown Madrid and searched for the identity of a man on an old ID card, Andrea and Ronney were in the emergency room of a local hospital.

As the teams reached the elimination point at the Picasso Tower, Ronney hobbled in, holding on to Andrea’s arm.

“We’re here,” she said in tears, knowing it was the end of the line.

“I’m sorry,” said Shachar as a formality, “but Andrea and Ronney, you are out of the race.”

At which point the other teams approached, applauding and giving the couple warm hugs.

But the two did not leave empty-handed. They received a consolation prize of NIS 3,000.

Nor did they go empty-hearted. Their fellow competitors, filled with admiration and adulation, made comments such as “They’re amazing people; we can learn from them,” and “We should only have love like theirs. You can see the love between them.”

Ronney said, “It shouldn’t be called ‘The Race to the Million,’ it should be called ‘A Lesson in Life.’” Andrea added, “What we did was enough for 10 lifetimes. But after this, the story is just starting. We have new eyes and new ears. And it’s been an honor to know each and every one of you.”

In parting, she said, “Be kind to each other. Help each other. And do your best!” Would the couple take part in another venture of that kind? You can count on it.

As Andrea asserted, “Nothing can stop us!”

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