The fickle nature of fame

Stars of the reality show 'Hashagrir' reflect on what it's like to go from ambassador to anonymous.

By ARYEH DEAN COHEN
February 16, 2009 21:58
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shifra big brother 248 88 . (photo credit: Courtesy)

Psst! Shifra! Take a hint from two former reality show stars: Don't give up your day job. Zvicka Deutsch and Efrat Oppenheimer still remember the old days, getting stopped on street corners about as often as the stars of Big Brother - or soon the last left standing on Survivor - do today. But in the years since, they've learned a thing or two about becoming a reality show instant celeb. Fame, it seems, fades, and reality star fame fades even faster, though both have almost all good memories of their days in the TV sun on Hashagrir (The Ambassador), which curiously enough was produced by the same team that created Big Brother, Kuperman Productions. In the program they pursued challenges somewhat more lofty than those Shifra Cornfeld had to face on Big Brother, with Oppenheimer appearing at the UN and Deutsch pushing Israel's case at Oxford University in a bid to win a spot working for hasbara in the US. All that's way behind them now, however, even the famous episode in which Oppenheimer burst into tears when the other female contestants ganged up on her, which she later learned had been somewhat manipulated by the staff of the show, but which ultimately only helped her cause. "I see the other reality shows, mainly people finishing up their appearances on them, and they're instantly in the gossip columns and everything like that," notes Oppenheimer, currently a student in film and women's studies at Tel Aviv University who volunteers at a rape crisis center. "They're still very much in the center of attention, and it's a life-altering experience. And then I look at it from a perspective of three years away, and I know that it fades away. All you need is for the next reality show to come on for you to just become another face in the crowd. "These things don't last forever, because it's not real celebrity. It's kind of fake, instant and then it fades away, which is actually a good thing because I wouldn't want to stay in the public eye like I was. I enjoyed it while it was happening, and I'm enjoying the fact that it's over and I can continue on with my life." Oppenheimer parlayed her appearance on the show to work with Israel Aerospace Industries and other opportunities, but is content to live the quiet life of a student now. "I'm very happy for that experience - it definitely made me stronger and strengthened qualities that I think are important, like how to address the media, which is something that I know I will take with me. I feel like Hashagrir was part of that journey that I'm going through, of looking for a life of content and of meaning, but I can't say that it was a completely life-altering experience. I don't get stopped on the street or anything like that. I am pretty much anonymous, and I like it that way." "It was a laugh," recalls Deutsch, 29, remembered as one of the few observant reality show contestants. "In the beginning it was crazy. I'd walk on streets and immediately be recognized. I remember standing in the train station on one side and having people point at me from the other. It was really quite amazing. I got a lot of life experiences out of it. Even now, years after, people still come up and say: 'Hey, I know you, you're the guy from the program.'" Deutsch, who is doing a doctorate in optics at the Weizmann Institute, says he's also seen a definite deterioration in what's required in a reality show star. "If once you needed any number of basic qualities, today even looking good or dressing elegantly is not necessarily a requirement for being a national hero, which was the minimum once. On the other hand, we should take it in proportion, because it's not like we're going to elect anyone from a reality show... It's fast food culture to see over your dinner plate after work. It doesn't mean that it says anything about us." Reflecting on life in the limelight, he says: "It's very important when you participate in that kind of thing not to lose your head, not to think you're good at something, or your life will be better doing something like that... Because if you're famous for a few minutes doesn't mean that people are going to want to continue seeing you after that." There was some long-term value for Deutsch, however. "Actually, in my case it did help quite a lot, because being religious and in that social circle, which is much smaller, people remember each other more. Even though people aren't going to go around screaming: 'Hey, Zvicka from Hashagrir,' it's acknowledgment, the fact that they know you makes it easier to approach people and meet girls and such." As for Big Brother's potential impact on viewers, Deutsch says: "I think what kids see on TV is, at the end of the day, what defines the standard for them, and if that's what people are watching, and if the standard coming out of that is low and the Hebrew being spoken is gutter talk and unintelligent... it's bad, it's bad. It makes people strive for less... and that's not good." Reality TV stars instead should be "people who are fun, and also intelligent." What should Shifra do with her money and fame? "Keep on doing the things you were doing before this all started, so that if people forget or get tired of you, you'll have something to go back to," says Deutsch. "What must be remembered is that reality stars are not actors, so it's very difficult to go into TV, because you're not an actor. You've got to be very careful not to fall into that trap. She shouldn't have too many stars in her eyes." Indeed, a recent article in the Hebrew press noted a serious drop-off in the number of former reality show stars finding jobs as fashion models, for example. Staying within oneself after achieving celeb status would appear to be the preferred path. "Take this money and build with it the life you want in a very positive and valuable way, invest in things that are important to you," says Oppenheimer. "Enjoy this time of being in the public eye and use it to do important positive things and find your path. It doesn't last forever, but you should enjoy the ride and make the best of it." For an in-depth look at Israel's obsession with reality TV, see Friday's Up Front.


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