They can sing, dance, act, tell jokes and sink a free-throw.
But the varied and unique cast of Israel’s newest hit reality TV show all have one thing in common: They can’t cook. Such is the premise of the new Keshet program Hatzilu! Ani Lo Yodea Levashel (“Help! I Can’t Cook”).
Celebrities like legendary former basketball player Tal Brody, TV stars Yael Bar-Zohar and Michal Yannai, former Miss Israel Rana Raslan and TV psychologist Prof. Amos Rolider admitted to their lack of abilities in the kitchen – and committed to the show’s three-week culinary boot camp.
The 10 contestants were locked in to the Cramim Hotel in the Judean Mountains with Chef Nitzan Raz, their drill instructor-like teacher.
“Just like in the Shayetet [a Navy unit],” Raz tells the participants, “We don’t leave any man behind.”
Before they can begin their culinary training, however, the group proves their complete lack of culinary prowess.
“If I don’t make him food, he doesn’t eat,” says Tirtza Brody, Tal’s wife, over a montage of Brody heating things up in the microwave.
Raslan, the first and only Arab woman to hold the title of “Miss Israel,” is married to a multi-millionaire and divides her time between London, Monaco and Dubai. She says she basically “lives on a plane,” and when she isn’t dining in restaurants has her own personal chef.
So why are these luminaries attempting to learn how to cook? Many, particularly the ones for whom the title “celebrity” is a bit of a stretch, are certainly in it for the exposure. Others are in it for the paycheck: Channel 10’s Good Evening with Guy Pines revealed that Bar-Zohar was paid NIS 400,000 to appear on the show, more than any other participant. Raslan got the second-highest amount: NIS 300,000.
One participant, 22-year-old Mizrahi singer Naor Ormia – who reportedly made just NIS 50,000 for his appearance on the show – offered his own motivation: “I think a guy who can cook is the sexiest thing in the world.”
The “celebrities” rounding out the group include kids’ TV show star Maor Schweitzer, stand-up comedian Hadar Levy, actress Shani Atias (sister of Moran) and Ran Sarig, screenwriter and co-creator of the popular TV show Ramzor.
The group’s first challenge was to recreate the classic dishes Raz assigned to each of them, from spaghetti bolognese to fried eggs and salad; sweet potato soup; and bangers and mash.
With absolutely no instruction, the results were predictably awful, with several serving undercooked dishes, and more than one attempting to chop vegetables inside a bowl: “The expression ‘don’t try this at home’ has never had so much meaning,” said Sarig.
Despite stinging reviews by Walla and Ynet, decrying the show as “terrible,” “professionally packaged garbage” and “not the slightest bit interesting,” the premiere received more than 840,000 viewers, making it the highest-watched show for the week, beating out even The Voice. Globes noted that it is the second- most watched original reality program Israel has ever produced, second only to Rising Star, the 2013 show that already spawned copycats in the US, France, Brazil and nine other countries.
Brody, certainly the oldest of the group at 71, clearly captured the hearts of his fellow contestants, and he won the first challenge of the show: a filled omelette. The producers poke fun at his iconic American-accented Hebrew, with a full-minute montage of his attempts to pronounce the word “mezave” – pantry. It’s mostly good spirited and many olim will identify with Brody when he says he put his ingredients in a “safsal” (bench) instead of “salsala” (basket), or asked Levy to help him open the “granola oil,” instead of canola oil.
Brody also won the first round of the competition – a decision based on the votes of his fellow contestants.
Unlike many reality TV competitions, there are no eliminations (after, all, you couldn’t have the biggest stars leaving early), but the person with the most “wins” at the end will be declared the champion and receive a prize they surely don’t need.
Still, the show has its sleazier moments, including promoting the interpersonal drama between the celebrities, and mocking the accent of Raz’s Indian-born right-hand man, Puti. With the participants secluded in the hotel and bunking together (purely for the sake of drama), some sparks fly. But with enough entertaining moments in the kitchen, I don’t really need to see Bar-Zohar accidentally use her roommate’s toothbrush, or Ormia’s incessant primping of his hair.
The producers also clearly aim to encourage the group’s silly behavior.
Episode two showed them learning how to chop an onion, and Raz offered them three “options” for preventing crying: holding a pita in their mouth, keeping a mouthful of water, or wearing a snorkeling mask.
Despite the cheesy and sometimes exploitative packaging, the show has the ability to show some real human moments, some culinary intrigue and obviously some humor. How they choose to present it remains to be seen over the course of the season.
But one thing is clear – I’ll be rooting for Brody, a man so dedicated to gaining some valuable skills from the show that when everyone else went to take a break, he stayed behind in the kitchen, frying up omelette after omelette.
“My goal here isn’t to win,” said Brody. “It’s to learn something, to study something that’s been missing in my life the past few years.”
Hatzilu airs at 9:10 p.m. on Channel 2; full episodes are also available on the mako.co.il website.