The snake who beats the Seals

US-born sneaky 'Survivor' champion Arik Alper helps reinforce the adage that nice guys finish last.

Arik Alper 88 248 (photo credit: Guy Keren )
Arik Alper 88 248
(photo credit: Guy Keren )
Arik Alper, a pediatrician from Tel Aviv, is the big winner of the second season of Israel's version of Survivor (Hisardut). The son of an American mother, Alper narrowly beat out crowd favorite Mirit Vaknin of Lod and was the last survivor standing of the original 20 who began this season in Panama's Pearl Islands. A native English speaker, Alper grew up in Queens, NY until the age of seven. His mother's family still lives there. The reason he signed up for the show in the first place was to shake things up and add some "adrenaline" to his life in the emergency room, which he says was wearing him down. He said that he never actually expected to win. Armed mainly with his wit and an ability to maneuver himself in and out of alliances with his fellow castaways, the physically inferior Alper repeatedly admitted (with apparent pride) to being a "good liar." While Alper says he does not regret the way he played Hisardut, he did extend his apologies to those he hurt during the show's run. Vaknin, on the other hand, endeared herself to her peers as well as to viewers at home with her down-to-earth attitude and refusal to resort to dishonest tactics. To those with the final vote, however - those she outlasted for 52 days - it was ultimately not enough to just "be nice." In the end, with a vote of six to three, they gave the NIS 1 million prize (plus a jeep) to Alper, who won their respect for his calculating and at times ruthless tactics. "This proves that I beat the old, 'outsider' Arik, the Arik who doesn't win contests and missions. It's possible to achieve everything through persistence," Alper told The Jerusalem Post. Indeed, both Alper and Vaknin lacked the physical attributes that some of the other contestants brought with them this season, relying instead on their social skills. Two former Navy commandos, Idan Haviv and Itai Haefrati, dominated the physical aspects of the game. Not only did they stand out as physically superior threats to the other contestants, but the values they brought with them from their esteemed unit, such as integrity, honesty and loyalty, proved to be disadvantages in a game where such values are considered naïve. The "Seals" were eventually easy prey, not for the sharks in the sea but for those on land living with them. In fairness, while it is always disappointing to see the most worthy contestants fall - you know, those you'd actually prefer to be stranded with on an island if you really needed to survive - all of the contestants need to be congratulated. As opposed to last season, in which some contestants miraculously managed to gain weight while supposedly facing "harsh" conditions, this year it was obvious that Channel 10 put them through the wringer. Alper himself lost nearly 10 kilograms and was only an emaciated shell of himself by the end of the 52 days. Haefrati admitted that even in the army he never faced such hunger. One contestant was booted from the show for breaking the rules. Although the official reason was kept under wraps by Channel 10, it has been speculated in various media outlets and forums that his hunger drove him to a nearby village one night in a desperate search for food. One contestant was hospitalized after a life-threatening encounter with a stingray; another was knocked unconscious after running head-on into a boulder. All of them were scraped, bruised, bitten and battered. From thunderstorms to crippling heat, this season provided what people at home wanted from the show: to see ordinary people pushed to their physical, emotional and mental limits. Hopefully next season will be even better and the producers of the show will spare us some of the sappy subplots that divert attention from the game. And while it is only a game - one in which underhanded tactics are an integral part - let's hope that next season will provide us with a survivor who resembles more of a Seal than a snake, at least for the kids who watch.