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ISRAEL: Surviving 'Survivor'

May 19, 2008 | 12:03 am

Phew! Israel has finally survived its first season of "Survivor."

"I thought it would never end," said Israel Radio's TV critic Ran Bin-Nun. Since beginning in December, "Survivor Israel" has consumed everything from kids' birthday parties to Purim costumes among nearly everyone age 6 and up. Promoted, advertised and marketed intensely, the show has reigned supreme for months and was discussed ad nauseum everywhere from playgrounds to office buildings and even the Knesset, Israel's parliament. There was even talk of issuing a stamp (in Hebrew). And of course, "Survivor" metaphors have become a favorite with political commentators discussing the predicament of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under investigation in connection with campaign financing and bribery suspicions.

Saturday night, 6,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to witness the final moment. Nearly 1.5 million people watched on television, the already-high ratings going through the roof at 42.2% at precisely 11:38. (Last week, Olmert's announcement that he would resign if indicted on corruption charges had 24% ratings.) Popular-entertainment advocates said this was perfectly fine, a sign of normalcy in a country where the evening news has consistently topped the view charts for decades. Higher-browed cultural critics lamented the superficial escapism, while politically minded citizens scolded that the country should put its energy into real survival rather than "reality" programming.

100,000 have already signed up to audition for the next season of this reality import, which had its resident favorite, villain and underdog — and of course the surprise winner: a beautician  named Na'ama Keisari from the northern town of Karmiel, who had left her one–month-old baby and a father sick with cancer for the Caribbean ordeal. Cultural critics sure had something to say about that, too.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Video: Opening credits of "Survivor Israel."

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