November 30, 2003, Updated September 13, 2012

Project Y winner Firas Houri: “The audience looked at me with objective eyes, they looked at who I was, and not where I came from.” Israeli youth culture has a new hero – and he is unlike anything that has been seen before.

In a surprising win, Firas Houri, a 21-year-old Christian Arab from a village in the north of the country triumphed over his 14 competitors in the Israeli reality show Project Y.

The television series resembled international reality programs like Big Brother, but with a unique twist. As in Big Brother, a group of young people were housed in a villa for three months, with no communication with the outside world, and cameras documenting every moment of their lives. Each week, viewers decided which of the residents to send home – the rest continued on – mixing soap opera with competition.

But the special element of the Israeli program was the fact that the last ‘survivor’ in the villa would get their own television show for a year. Each of the young competitors had show-business ambitions: and so they spent their time in the villa honing their talent, taking classes in acting, voice and movement.

Firas impressed the audience with his talent, and his humanity and sensitivity – he was mourning his mother, who died shortly before the program started filming. Throughout the course of the program, he was considered a popular figure – but the general assumption was that his Arab background meant that it would be unlikely that a sufficient percentage of viewers would vote for him to be the winner.

But he surprised everyone – and himself – at the final event of the program held at a crowded Tel Aviv club. With friends and family of the contestants present, along with hundreds of fans, it was announced that he had captured 35 percent of the viewers vote – more than any of his fellow five finalists.

“What happened today is huge, I am so happy that the audience chose me, this gives me a feeling of hope,” Firas said afterwards. “I feel incredibly proud. For me, my win means that people are looking at each other as human beings, just like they are. The audience looked at me with objective eyes, they looked at who I was, and not where I came from.”

During the course of the reality program, Firas chose not to talk politics. But in one soul-bearing moment, he told his housemates about his background, about his village and their history in the conflict with Israel. But, he stressed repeatedly that to him, what matters is the person and not his race or religion, and that he viewed his housemates as true friends and brothers. The other participants in the show expressed their affection and appreciation for him, several admitting that he was their first real Arab friend.

Firas lives with his Jewish girlfriend, Liron Zuckerman in Tel Aviv. The couple met while living in the dormitories at Tel Aviv University where both were film students (Zuckerman has recently completed her studies, and Firas has just begun his). He hopes to be a film director someday.

In addition to his television contract, Houri won a trip to Europe and a one-year scholarship to the prestigious acting school run by Yoram Levinstein, the theater instructor in the villa over the course of the show. Levinstein didn’t hide his glee at the results of the competition.

“Firas deserved to win because he was the talented and he is a real human being. He has a great deal to give the world. All five of the finalists were talented, but I had prayed that Firas would win because something like that would be tremendous and really give us hope at a time when we need it. I’m happy that the audience made that choice.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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