Last Friday evening the Twitter account of Assi Ezer, one of two moderators of "Big Brother," was inundated with messages. Scores of his followers begged and demanded, even hinted that he would be paid - if only they could get their hands on a particular photograph. All this took place shortly after one of the peak moments on the popular reality show this season.
Keshet, the Channel 2 franchisee that broadcasts "Big Brother," had organized for the contestants a "week that wasn't" - full of events which made up one long pretense - which climaxed with the expulsion of one tenant followed by his return. The contestant chosen by the audience to take a glimpse at the outside reality, apparently without any real competition (proving how well-liked he is), was Eliraz Sadeh.
Seconds before Sadeh's return to the house, Ezer, who accompanied him to the staircase, asked him to hold the microphone for a moment, pulled out his mobile phone and photographed the two of them together. The image can be found in Ezer's Twitter account, but he is refusing to show it to anyone.
In the book on the history of reality TV that will someday be written, at least in the chapter devoted to the wonders of the genre in Israel, considerable space will be devoted to the phenomenon of the admiration for Sadeh. Apparently no reality show contestant in Israel has ever elicited such a clear, consistent response.
In his percentage of fans, Sadeh has superseded previously favored contestants, such as Ninet Tayeb from "A Star is Born" and Dan Mano from "Survivor." This, it would seem, goes far beyond being the exclusive province of teenagers.
Sadeh, 27, dark and good-looking, is a Tel Aviv waiter, born in Hadera, who according to the Keshet Web site spent most of his childhood in Caesarea. He has said he has a propensity for gambling and lost his money on the stock market, and that one of his most formative experiences was when a bullet was accidentally released from his weapon during his military service, narrowly missing one of his commanders.
Thicket of pretenses
Before the program began, he related that he is "old-fashioned with Mizrahi touches" - referring to Jewish origins in the Middle East - and indeed during the first week of "Big Brother" was labeled as a macho punk who was not especially smart. Since then, however, in the thicket of pretenses and manifestations of hypocrisy, Sadeh has stood out.
It hasn't been just his amusing stock of vocabulary and expressions, but rather his conduct in general. This was seen, for example, in a stormy and vociferous quarrel with Sa'ar Sheinfein - the second most prominent male figure in the house and Sadeh's diametric opposite. The quarrel split the tenants into two camps, but ended surprisingly when Sadeh put aside his dignity and apologized, and in a sweet and touching way.
Another memorable event occurred when contestant Edna Kanti, an activist on the left, wanted to show the tenants a map of the roadblocks and the separation fence. In contrast to other contestants who expressed great anger and called Kanti a wealth of disparaging names, Sadeh said he saw no reason to deny her request, just as others had had their requests granted.
All this, it would seem, places Sadeh way above the others. He's already managed to be featured in a cover story in the youth magazine Maariv Lanoar and in the "Sweet Arse" project in Rating magazine. He has been crowned the official favorite of "Little Sister" Efrat Abramov, who hosts the program on the Beep channel that immediately follows "Big Brother." Last Saturday Dana Spector devoted part of her column in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Aharonoth to him (as an a example of a sensitive, different and high-quality man). And all this alongside countless water-cooler conversations and increasing buzz.
An online survey shows that Sadeh is unquestionably the audience front-runner. He has not only 2.8 million hits on Google, but there are also local initiatives by fans. He has more than 95,000 friends on his Facebook fan page, nearly 6,000 of whom joined only this past weekend. This is especially impressive compared to his housemates, who have far lower numbers (the most popular contestant after him is Alin, who has 4,411 fans signed up).
In addition to Facebook, on Sadeh's "official" page he has more than 30,00 fans signed up. On the "Eliraz Sadeh for the Finals" page, more than 3,000 have signed up, while another 109 have joined "I Also Want to Marry Eliraz Sadeh." He also has an official fans forum, on which 9,000 people have registered and where at any given moment about 200 surfers are active.
'He's always been there'
For the sake of comparison, says the manager of Sadeh's forum, teen idol singer Harel Scott has an average of 80 surfers active at any one time. Moreover, there are hundreds of thousands of discussions and scores of computer-generated pictures of Sadeh (as a king, a knight or a powerful wizard).
"I don't remember another reality show contestant winning such a wave of admiration," says blogger Omri Hayoun, who manages the "Everyone Loves Eliraz" fan page on Facebook. Go'el Pinto, another contestant, said people love Sadeh because what you see is what you get. "And really, he is just himself," Pinto said. "Eliraz and Alin are the only ones who apparently aren't playing a game. If I have to think about why I like him, it's because he feels like a friend or a brother, somebody I know."
"Eliraz gives the feeling that he's always been there, the kind of guy who's already taken an interest in you and you hadn't paid any special attention to him, but suddenly you discover he's a wonderful person," says M., a fan.
"Compared to him, Sa'ar looks like the kind of guy a girl would prefer to date," she continues, "but when you put them next to each other there's no comparison. Guys too, I believe, feel something similar. Like Eliraz is someone accessible, who might be their friend."
But it isn't only young people who like Sadeh. Members of his family relate how older women call his mother to tell her how much they like her son and ask how she raised him so well. "There was a period when they were a little mean to him in the Big Brother house - they talked about him unkindly and behind his back," relates Eliraz's brother, Ofer. "People phoned our house to offer our mother support. None of us believed anything like this would happen. Yesterday I was recognized as 'the brother' and people ask to have their picture taken with me."
So is the Eliraz in the house and the Eliraz outside the house the same person "There are a lot of contestants who are aware of themselves, who deliver monologues to the camera," Ofer says. "He acts natural, the way he is. I can imagine that when the program is over and he leaves the house, he won't believe what has happened here."
"Eliraz is intelligent and funny. He has an interesting and original linguistic repertoire and he's gorgeous," says R., another fan. "There isn't a contestant there who manages to pull ugly things out of him. He's intelligent without being a smart-ass intellectual, and he expresses himself with seeming simplicity, but it's clear there's a lot of thought behind it all." "Those who love Eliraz are the teenagers and 'the people,'" says Liat, another adult fan, "and also the media in-crowd, journalists, public opinion makers. Girls love Eliraz because he's an old-fashioned kind of guy. He is charismatic - so even when he says stupid things sometimes, we forgive him. Altogether, this season there's no war like there was in the first season between Shifra and Bublil. The house is pretty homogeneous with respect to the type of people inside. There isn't anyone strong enough opposing him, there's no Bublil who will push him to the edge."
In any case, according to unofficial sources, the show's finale will be held on March 4. If the manifestations of adoration are a measure of successes, it can be predicted that Sadeh will rake in the million. However, if manifestations of adoration are truly a measure of success, then Sadeh might well need it.
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