What if you had the opportunity to be a star on an MTV reality TV show and had a chance at winning $125,000? What if it meant cramming nine weeks of schoolwork into four and leaving everything behind to travel halfway across the world?
Twenty-one-year-old Ohio State University student, Aviv Melmed had that chance and she took it, but only by a fluke.
After her younger brother Alon decided to check out an MTV casting call in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Melmed found herself tagging along.
"I think my brother needed a ride," she joked. "But then they ended up calling me back and not him."
Though initially skeptical of the opportunity, Melmed was whisked off for two months in Australia during the fall of 2005 to appear as one of 12 "fresh meat" rookies competing against 12 MTV Road Rules and Real World alumni on "The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat."
Every week Melmed and her partner Darrell, an original cast member of "Road Rules 11," tested their physical and mental capabilities that would push them closer and closer to the $250,000 grand prize.
"One of the scariest challenges was when we plunged 30 feet under the water, staying there as long as we could, without equipment in order to grab a flag," Melmed said.
Other challenges involved swimming with sharks; dangling from a dive boat 25 feet in the air; an un-harnessed walk down a plank 175 stories in the air while tied to another person; breaking out of "jail" and completing several obstacle courses, including the final challenge -- a 10-mile run along the beach.
Ultimately, Melmed and Darell came out the winners and $250,000 richer. In addition to the grand prize, Melmed picked up a $1,500 cash prize, a 32-inch flat screen TV, a DVD player and a one-year subscription to Netflix.
Melmed attributes her team’s success to staying drama free. "We just let everyone kill each other," she said. "It's kind of like, do you want more airtime or do you want to win."
The following summer "The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat" aired on MTV.
"It was really weird to watch myself on TV," said Melmed. "There were times when I was sitting there thinking how I should have done this or how I maybe should have caused more drama. But, with each episode you never know what they are going to show, so you keep your fingers crossed the whole time."
While many MTV reality stars milk their instant fame, Melmed, now 23, has tried to keep her life as similar to the way it was before the show.
"I invested my money and got a job," she said. " I don't see a point in spending that money right now. I think it keeps me grounded, working like everyone else has to.”
While Melmed currently works for a dot.com company creating promotional materials for sites such as YouTube and MySpace.com and is a part-time Hebrew school teacher, she hopes to eventually return to graduate school for pharmaceutical/medical sales.
A career in the medical field was not always what Melmed aspired towards. Growing up in what she described as a very Zionist home where she listened to her Israel-born mother’s stories about her time served in the Israeli army, Melmed dreamed of becoming an Israeli soldier herself.
“I wanted to be a G.I. Jane,” she said.
It is no surprise that one of her most meaningful experiences was traveling to Israel at the age of 15 to participate in Hetz Vakeshet, a summer program for Israeli-American children that includes one week in an Israeli army camp.
“It was one of the happiest times of my life,” she said. “You just connect with Israel, connect with Judaism and connect with lots of people your age.”
Three years later, after turning 18, Melmed made aliyah to Israel and was placed in the Air Force. Unfortunately, six months after entering the army her dream was cut short when she was kicked out of the program and placed on administrative duty.
“I was told that being American I was some sort of security breach, which of course wasn’t true,” she said. “I was mad because I didn’t go to Israel to be a secretary so I came back to the States and started college.”
Melmed attended Ohio State University, graduating in December 2005 with degrees in Hebrew and pre-nurse practitioning. When not in class she frequented Chabad on Shabbat and was active in social justice activities.
“I tried to do whatever I could, whether it was with Chabad’s Israel program, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or volunteering at a local hospital,” she said. “I was very busy while at school.”
It seems busy times are still ahead for Melmed, but that simply goes along with her philosophy to take as many opportunities as she can.
“Opportunities come and go and they won’t sit around and wait for you,” she said. “Take the ride for all it’s worth.”