Survival is not just for the young

Some 'Survivor' fans said Alex Metz was too old to succeed. But at 47, he proved to a serious contender.

alex metz 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
alex metz 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Why does a nice, middle-class person pick up and join the cast of a reality TV show - especially as one as unsavory as Channel 10's Survivor, with its savage "eating-bugs-to-survive" culture? Well, there's the money, of course - a million shekels (and a jeep) for the winner. But when you're facing coconut as your fifth meal in a row, or having to deal with the political maneuvering that seems to be the main preoccupation of your fellow Survivors, there has to be another motivation that kicks in - something more than money. Without that kind of motivation, you'll find yourself on a plane home in short order. For Alex Metz, who survived from the show's beginning until the beginning of February (about six weeks), motivation came in the form of showing the world that even someone who would usually be dismissed as "over the hill" could be a contender - and a strong one - in a situation that challenges participants as much as, or even more than they were ever challenged before. For Metz, 47, setting an example as a role model is nothing new; he makes a living as a gymnastics teacher and physical fitness trainer in his hometown of Ginot Shomron. Naturally, he is in great physical shape - but as far as he is concerned, mental fitness is just as important, as is state of mind. "One of the ways I was able to deal with the situations that came up - especially the double-dealing and backstabbing that goes on constantly - was because I had already been trained as a teacher to give to others, but not necessarily to expect anything in return from them," he says. And double-dealing - or getting "double-dealt" - was a lot of what it was all about. Metz, known for his distinctive hat and bandana (there was even a Purim costume in some stores modeled after him), was considered one of the "nice" participants of the contest by denizens of the blogosphere who analyze the events of each show. "Most of the participants in the show were young, part of the 'branja,' their own little twenty-something upper-middle-class club. There was no room for me with them, and I was 'targeted' for elimination almost immediately - because I wasn't like them." But he survived - and even won the respect of many on both teams - because of his ability to deal with challenges and stress. He attributes his getting voted out to a "communications error - someone else was supposed to go but she won immunity, so I was the next choice." While some weren't sorry to see him go - "they saw me as a too much of a threat, able to survive for the long run" - others were. But even those who admired him, he says, were afraid to get too close. "The thinking was that since I wasn't well liked because of my age and skills, it would not be politically wise to associate with me openly," especially for those who felt they didn't have the same level of survival skills he had. "It's significant that I wasn't offered an alliance by other players even once," he says. Still, it was worth going. "I was never in it for the money," he says. "I came to make a point - to show people of a 'certain age' that they can handle difficult challenges, maybe even more successfully than younger people. I haven't accomplished anything that is not within the capabilities of anyone my age or even older." In fact, Metz wasn't the oldest participant of Survivor - that honor belonged to Tina (Elisheva) Berkovitz, who is 57. Even though she was fourth to be eliminated, she managed to survive for a month - and as far as Metz is concerned, "she's the real winner of this contest." As far as who he's rooting for among those remaining, he won't say - but he does say he was happy he went. In fact, he has always been something of a survivor. He grew up in Moldova until age 13, when his family came to Israel. "I always had a lot of trouble when I was a kid, getting into fights with local anti-Semites, who didn't think a Jewish kid could - or should - be so good at sports," he says. "So my experience on the island was sort of an extension of my earlier experiences." He is also glad Channel 10 picked him along with the 19 other participants - out of the 30,000 that applied! And he's also glad that the challenge took place in the Caribbean. "True, it was just like the American Survivor, but for Israelis, it was different - seeing green hills and valleys, rivers and beaches was a nice change for us, and for viewers." But what makes him happiest is knowing that his presence on the island has made a difference. "Many people have come up to me and told me how inspired they were to see someone of my age participating," he says. Even on exit, he was inspiring people: After he was voted out, he spoke of his experiences, his goals, and his hopes for himself and teammates. "I got a letter from a man in Givatayim thanking me," he says. "He wrote that his four sons cried when they watched my goodbye speech, and that they learned more about being a mensch [from me] than they did from years in the public school system." With that kind of job satisfaction, who needs a million shekels?