I can’t wait to see the celebrity version of this show. Maybe they’ll follow themes similar to the US version with a Middle Eastern bent, like “Crazy Warmongering Dictators Week”, or “Spoiled Rich Oil Sheikh Week”. Of course, now you all think I’m racist. But this is a hilarious concept: an Arabic woman verbally lashing poor (mostly male) contestants in a region where women can’t even show their faces in public. Wow.
Sharp-tongued quiz hostess outrages Arab audience Reuters June 10, 2002 12:34:00
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Not long ago Rita Khoury was an obscure radio presenter, but everyone liked her.
A few months into the first series of ”Al Halka Al Ad’af,” the Arabic version of the hit global quiz show ”The Weakest Link,” the petite Lebanese presenter is a television starlet, but almost no one likes her.
With her school mistress spectacles and scathing one-liners, Khoury has caused outrage among Arab audiences, especially men, more accustomed to a bland diet of political rhetoric and dubbed South American soap operas.
Khoury’s curt ”you are the weakest link — goodbye” has become an infamous put down among the Arab masses who tune in twice a week to watch the program on the Beirut-based satellite channel Future Television.
Appearing in suits and veils, nine contestants drawn from all over the Arab world must vote off one player — ”the weakest link” — at the end of each round.
Khoury promptly follows each vote with a sharp review of the contestants’ performance. Her quips have added resonance when directed against men from Saudi Arabia, where women have fewer rights, unable to vote or drive cars, for instance.
”She’s a bitch,” said Dabbah, a barman in Beirut. ”There’s no need to humiliate people just because they don’t know the answer. God help her poor husband.”
Reams of newsprint have been dedicated in Lebanese papers to criticizing and even insulting Khoury’s stern manner.
And while younger women tend to admire her bold approach and older women have grown to respect her, some still take a more traditional stand.
”She behaves just like a man,” said Mona, a school teacher and avid watcher of television games shows. ”Who does she think she is? She should be more polite and feminine,” she said of the crop-haired presenter who always appears in a sharp black suit.
INSULTS FROM PASSERSBY
When the show first began airing seven months ago, Khoury says she avoided sitting in cafes and restaurants as passersby muttered insults at her under their breath.
”People would cross the street to avoid me and jump back when I walked past,” said Khoury, a smiley and bubbly thirty-something off-screen, over coffee at her Beirut home.
”You can’t imagine how many insults the telephone receptionist at Future got,” she said. ”I knew people would react like this, but I didn’t expect it to be so strong.”
Whereas Anne Robinson, the presenter of the original British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) show, has gained the admiration of British and American audiences who respect her no-nonsense persona, Khoury has offended viewers in Arab countries where women traditionally defer to men and rarely answer back.
”No one congratulated me when the first episode aired because the Lebanese are not used to anyone being so direct and in your face,” said Khoury, who lived for years in Paris.
The show has been reproduced in several languages, each with its own tough presenter.
The Lebanese producers of ”Al Halka Al Ad’af” say they were after controversy but wanted to avoid the Arab social taboos that would be stacked against ”reality” TV shows like Big Brother, which has been enormously popular in many countries.
”Educated and urbane men who come on the show relish it as a challenge,” Khoury said. ”But the more traditional ones have more difficulty putting up with it. I try to provoke them, not humiliate them, but it’s not my problem if they can’t answer.”
Khoury says she regularly turns down pleas from men, anxious to protect their honor back home, that she edit out some particularly acid remark.
”No woman contestant has ever got upset,” she said, flashing a cheeky grin. ”Maybe it’s because Arab women are so downtrodden.”