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Of all the blond, fair-skinned people who marketed themselves as brands - icons, such as Madonna, David Bowie and Andy Warhol - Gil Riva, a blue-and-white blond brand actually chooses to compare himself to Michael Jackson, a fair-skinned person in his own way, who has become grotesque. "More than a few studies of people like me show that the chances of ending up like Michael Jackson on crack are not impossible," he says.

Gil Riva is referring to his compulsive need to nurture his external appearance through artificial means, and as is his way, he goes in for the kill right away, leaping from a strange and unknown place. This is one of the weapons in his arsenal - trying to come up with the insult before someone else slings it at him.

Formulations, and language in general, are something he cherishes. He made this very clear during a conversation last week in one of the meeting rooms at the studio that produces his show, "Limousine," which is approaching the end of its season on Channel 10. "It's a crime to read literature in translation," he said when asked about his literary tastes. "The author's language and the words he chooses to relay what he has to say are something that in principle cannot be translated, it's contrary to all the rules of punctuation, movement and freedom of expression."

To be precise, Riva did not exactly say these things in conversation. In the list of numerous demands and requirements he presented prior to the interview with him, there was also a request to let him review the quotes from the interview so that he could reformulate them. The quotes sent to him were returned in a long version, sometimes hair-splitting and sometimes more convoluted than what was said out loud. That doesn't bother him, he explained; he has no interest in sounding authentic.

He is not particularly meticulous about an authentic look either. His appearance and the realization that the external side is the face of everything are another component in his arsenal for being an interviewee and an interviewer - a childlike appearance (not to mention girlish); refined, fawning speech; big smiles and other sweet mannerisms that serve as a Trojan horse. And if it's not a weapon then it's certainly a distraction. Anyone who doesn't grasp that falls into the trap - people like Noam Federman of the Kach movement, who explained to him in detail his vision of what transfer would be like and Aviva Granot, a convicted murderer, who admitted to him that she felt more shame when she was caught than she did from the actual deed.

Those who buy the lightweight image of someone busy shopping from morning until evening prefer looking at him over listening to what he says, and they're just wrong. Riva, who started his journalism career very early and left his mark on the Shlihut Katlanit (The Terminator) column in Yedioth Ahronoth, does a 35-minute show on Channel 10 once a week, and in between takes part in the Channel 2 satire program with the highest ratings today, "Fixed Game," is not someone who leaves himself a lot of free time. Apart from that, "how much can you really believe me when I say I'm not intelligent," he told his interviewee, Einat Ehrlich, on one episode of "Limousine." "Let them think what they want; lips, no lips; blond, not blond. Gay, not gay. A gossip columnist, not a gossip columnist."

Secret weapon

Not that he doesn't have a blond soul, which, as he defines it, "breathes Donna Martin [from Beverly Hills 90210], iss nourished by Donna Karan and thinks [former Israeli model] Karen Donsky." Whether it is a distraction, a secret weapon or whatever, his appearance is very important to him. The remark about Jackson came in response to comments made by two different interviewees during the program's last season. They were Aviva Granot and model Moran Attias, who spoke with him about fear of aging. It's something he can relate to, even though he is only 29.

His program last week, a golden age ceremony he did in an old age home, was initially scheduled to air at the same time as the final of "A Star is Born." He had planned to issue awards to "the nudnik [pain] of the year," "the husband of the year" and "the arrest of the year," and from the start he presented it as an alternative to the kiddies' program on Channel 2. It's strange because he isn't much older than most of the participants on "A Star is Born," and on top of that, he admits that under different circumstances, he himself would have been a contestant on the show (and even won).

In the end, due to concerns over libel suits, the outgoing director general of Channel 10, Nir Lampert, canceled the show. The somewhat abbreviated version, which was censored by the channel's legal consulting department, was aired last week and was added to the list of scandals stirred by the show this season, among them the interview with Larissa Trimbobler, the wife of Yigal Amir, the man who shot Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the one with Aviva Granot.

Riva's definition of blond, as well as his choice of interviewees, the centers of scandals that outraged the country years ago, reflect a different worldview than that of most journalists who are prisoners of their predictable agendas. However, this worldview is also foreign to many of Riva's contemporaries.

"Old age is not an illness," he says. This statement leads to a discussion of cosmetic measures to try and stop the clock. The considerable speculation over whether he had plastic surgery on his lips infuriates him. As proof of how natural they are, he inclines his head toward me above the meeting room table where we are sitting opposite each other, spreads his puffed lips and asks me to touch them so that I can be convinced that they are real and that he is speaking the truth, and understand once and for all that he is very proud of them and they have been his since birth. Admittedly, in the absence of any experience in distinguishing between collagen and the real thing, touching them wouldn't have clarified anything and so it didn't happen. In any case, the stoic statement of "let them think what they want" popped into mind as he stood pulling on his lips and suddenly it wasn't so convincing.

A lot of carbohydrates

What can be said is that in light of all the cosmetic intervention that Riva does admit to - Botox injections, for example - and which he also encourages everyone to get, and the sooner the better, it seems petty not to believe him in this particular case. He willingly reveals he regularly supports a hairstylist, dermatologist and two stylists and works hard to maintain his slim figure. "It's not my body the way it should be," he explains. His real body, the one he had when he was a child, belongs to "the soul, which needs to be comforted with a lot of carbohydrates.

"If I was someone free of worries, over-satisfied, full of self-importance and rightly more arrogant, but mainly free of any basic need to support my family with dignity and pay my taxes to my country, clearly at the age of 25 I would have been a pensioner making mosaics and eating myself to death until, at age 30, I'd reach the dimensions of London and Kirschenbaum put together." In the meantime, in the absence of more comforting carbohydrates he makes do with the potassium in bananas and warmly offers one to his guest, repeatedly.

At times during the conversation, he rocks in his chair, distractedly, back and forth. In the past he said he suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and also in this interview he admits he takes psychiatric drugs in small doses, but does not specify which ones and why. He doesn't go to therapy, he says, because he always finds himself interviewing the therapist and not vice versa.

Not surprisingly, without a camera nearby, Riva seems and acts differently. His large mouth and spiky hair are just about the only remaining signs of his well-known visage. For the meeting, which takes place as the show aired on Monday, with Kochavit Hadar and Eitan Ben Eliahu, is being prepared, he comes dressed messily: a blue and red long-sleeve T-shirt, blue jeans that are sliding of his narrow waist and rubber slippers over dark socks - a definitive anti-fashion statement. It's almost surprising to find that his baby face needs shaving.

And one last thing about the product he is selling - a man with red lipstick, who curls his hair and talks of his fondness for skirts. Gil Riva is a married man, and he reminds anyone who may have forgotten that he is not gay on a Yair Lapid show on Channel 2 and any further discussion is like "any shout, which in the end becomes an echo of itself."

About Mom and Dad

The combination of interviewees on the show this week - the former air force commander and the wife of a well-known anchor who released a disc - which took place during the interview and was handled by his researchers and his editor, Ronit Zak, who is also his wife, as well as the mother of his 4-year-old son, Yonatan Josie Turtle (the name that appears in his identity card), leads to a conversation about the media in general. From his point of view, the law should treat the prime minister just like anyone else, and not only is it permissible to interview everyone, but he has actually already done it. It doesn't matter what Razi Barka'i, one of his biggest critics, does.

"Media hierarchies are related to periods that are time-bound, which, if I'm not mistaken, ended in the early 1990s, when Mira Avrech and Nahum Barnea were the hottest gossip columnists and Shelly Yachimovich comprised the Voice of Israel. In television interviews I chose to experience this season on `Limousine,' I'm much more interested in the opinions, dreams, values, personality and character of my interviewee than I am in talking about the pulse of the nerve system and value system that I adopted for myself."

In his opinion, TV presenter Dan Shilon buried all the boundaries of the hierarchy in his circle, whether or not he realized it, "when he seated a transvestite next to a rabbi and a supermodel next to a pedophile in rehab, who had released a disc, next to a new pantomime actor and a prime minister."

His show has changed lately - sometimes there is only one interviewee and he no longer travels in a white limousine, but does his interviews in stationary places. In general, he doesn't travel much. The first time he went to New York was three years ago. Maybe it's because when he flew abroad in the past, he had to conceal state secrets. It happened when he went on a bar mitzvah trip to Egypt, he says, when he had a briefing and was told not to reveal that his mother is an employee of the Defense Ministry and to stick to the story that she is a homemaker.

His mother now lives in Ra'anana. She is a jewelry maker and a very involved grandmother, who taught her grandson how to salute when he was three. The three flagpoles from which Israeli flags fly in the yard outside her home are perhaps souvenirs of those secretive days. "With her whole rich and glorious career in the defense establishment, and all the stories I told her and fabricated in front of her and/or behind her back, against her will and contrary to her basic right to privacy, as well as her dedication to the State of Israel and the Zionist sex appeal that she tosses in every direction, at the end of the day, I always have a sense that I'm a lot more Israeli than she is," says the son.

And in the family competition over who is more whatever than whom, a curious fact about his father emerges that could provide a solution to the puzzle behind the interviewee. For years, he says, he lived with the belief that his father was Yemenite. "Only as a teenager did I realize he was very tanned. He is a real hunk, frighteningly functional and apparently the funniest man in the world. Even though he is stuck in the outsider image of a lecturer at the Technion and an expert in engineering and management, he is basically the real Gil Riva. I swear."