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The myth of reality television fame has risen to the status of urban legend. Viewers imagine that ratings and publicity have the power to sweep a damsel in distress from her boring, everyday routine into a glamorous new world.
As a finalist of The Ambassador reality show (HaShagrir), I can attest to the fact that viewers continue to fall prey to this illusion. The show featured 14 contestants who were interviewed and tested for a coveted job representing Israel in New York. The hard truth however, is that The Ambassador was - and in upcoming seasons will continue to be - nothing more than entertainment fluff, no matter how much it tries to portray itself as something more. When the cameras stop rolling the fame fades, and the once-glamorized reality stars return to their former lives, hopes and everyday problems. The public, however, maintains its fantasy, believing that those who succeeded on the program thereby paved their path to financial and political success.
The truth is much harsher. Behind the thin veil of fame, "real" life awaits - for some it's university, for others its combining a career with motherhood or even a long and hard routine job.
In order to further investigate this "reality star phenomenon," I called the three finalists from The Ambassador's first season: I talked to Zvicka Deutsch, the charming British lad who evoked crushes among religious Jewish girls all over Israel; Mehereta Baruch, the Ethiopian immigrant who rose above the prejudice and social obstacles in her path; and the hard-working New York City boy, Eytan Schwartz, who walked away with the final prize - a year-long position working for Joey Low's non-profit, organization, "Israel at Heart".
Today, Eytan can hardly profess to landing a dream job. He works long hours every day, mainly scheduling appointments to lecture in colleges around the US. Though a star at home, he certainly doesn't travel at five-star standards. Rather, he typically spends his nights on busses or crashing on sofas in various student apartments. His main satisfaction is the emotional reward, because believe me, he's not getting any richer.
Runner-up Mehereta recently gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Daniel. This, however, does not prevent her from pursuing her everyday job as an actress. The publicity of The Ambassador program hasn't contributed to her acting success, as she was acting for years before the program came along. She also continues to be active in the Ethiopian community.
Zvicka started his Masters in chemistry at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. He continues to promote the Zionist dream of expanding the Negev population through Project Ashalim.
As for me, I'm currently finishing a Masters in diplomacy at Tel Aviv University, and have started writing my thesis on the expansion of fundamentalist Islamic terror in the West. I'm also promoting a new project encouraging meetings between Israeli and Palestinian youth, as well as occasionally publishing my writing.
Having been through the whirlwind experience of reality TV, all three former participants have words of wisdom for those entering the second season.
Daphna: The general public seem to be under the impression that after the show the participants, and especially the winner, have benefited immensely from the publicity. Isn't this a general misconception?
Zvicka: "I always kept my anchor in the real world, and my studies. The moment the show is over you are not needed any more, and you return to your normal life."
Eytan: "It was a great rush, but it passed. One day you are a big star, and the next day you are working very hard, sleeping in student beds and colleges all over the country. There is truly no glamor in the everyday routine."
Mehereta: "It is a misconception. Because I was familiar with show business before I was accepted on The Ambassador, I had no big expectations. It was clear that afterwards I would have to work as hard as usual."
Daphna: What advice do you have for participants in The Ambassador 2?
Eytan: "You need to want it more than all the rest. And don't go on the show if you have anything to hide or if you lack tact, because that will surface.
Zvicka: "Don't let it go to your head, and stay modest. You are a fleeting guest to your audience, so be aware of that. See it as a trip - enjoy it, but remember you will return to your normal life afterward.
Mehereta: "Don't try to be someone you are not. Be honest and stand behind your words."
So not all that glitters is gold. As a former participant myself, if I were to give just one piece of advice to next season's contestants, it would be to remain true to yourself and your gut instinct, no matter the cost. In those adrenaline-fueled, surreal moments, you will discover who you are and how much of yourself you are willing to sell. I think Pink Floyd said it best in "Wish You Were Here": Don't let them trade your heroes for ghosts.
How right they were.