Why Are More and More Israelis Starring on American Reality TV?

For a small immigrant community, Israelis have left an oversized mark on an American cultural institution.

As if Israeli reality was not sufficiently visceral, Israelis have become a fixture on American reality television programs, bringing a little piece of the Holy Land to American living rooms.

Israelis have appeared belting out power ballads on mega hit program "American Idol", living like castaways and eating non-kosher shellfish on "Survivor", as well as bludgeoning (and being bludgeoned) on "The Ultimate Fighter".

Some of the most prominent Israelis on the U.S. small screen have included American Idol contestant Eliot Yamin (born to an Israeli father) who finished third place in the fifth season of the show, Pugilist Ido "The Hebrew Hammer" Pariente from "The Ultimate Fighter", Yonatan Kashanian, winner of "Grande Fratello", Italy's version of "Big Brother", and Mr. Clean look-a-like Ami James, a tattoo artist on Miami Ink and owner of his own clothing line.

For many viewers outside of Israel hooked on reality television, the participation of Israelis in these programs may provide an inside glimpse of Israeli life that rarely makes it past the nightly news. For instance, on the Web site for the Australian version of Project Runway, the bio for Israeli contestant Oren Nuri reads like an archetypal Israeli coming of age tale as it mentions Nuri's four years in the Israel Defense Forces and the long backpacking trip to Australia he took after his discharge.

For many Israelis, their appearance on reality television can become a ticket to fame or entry into American society. Unlike other more-established immigrant communities, Israelis don't have a "Chinatown" or a "Little Italy" of their own. Also, when it comes to reality shows like "Survivor", it's hard to doubt that athletic Israelis who spent years in the army before backpacking across the Andes or the Himalayas may have a leg up on middle-aged Americans fresh from their suburban cul-de-sac.

Estimates vary on how many Israelis currently live in the United States, with an Israeli Immigration Ministry report from 2008 saying that around 450,000 Israelis reside in the United States and Canada. For such a small minority in North America, the number of Israelis chasing their fifteen minutes of fame far from home is delightfully out of proportion.