The Apprentice USA

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 by

Donald Trump has one of Wall Street’s more eclectic business portfolios, if The Apprentice USA is anything to go by. The ebullient billionaire made his fortune building a string of glittering ozone-scraping edifices, that much we knew, but already this series, we’ve learned that he also owns a modelling agency and has plans to move into the ice-cream parlour game.

It’s this comic-book brand of entrepreneurialism that makes Trump – part Lex Luthor, part Willy Wonka and part Charlie from Charlie’s Angels – the perfect ringmaster for the show.

Never was this more effectively demonstrated than at the start of episode seven, as he unexpectedly called the protagonists away from the dining table and into the boardroom (“I wanted to eat my taco,” moaned one hungry candidate) for what Trump called a “corporate restructure”. Until this episode, team Mosaic had largely comprised of indistinguishable square-jawed Ivy Leaguers, while the Apex corporation had been dominated by a more disparate bunch of pouting harpies, united only by their love of air punctuation and bitching about each other.

Having seen Mosaic triumph once too often, Trump had decided to mix things up, but this being The Apprentice, it had to be done with maximum chicanery. The teams now had to elect new leaders on the fly, who each had to dispose of the three members they didn’t want.

Regrettably, the reshuffle proved the high point of the most lacklustre episode of the series to date. Setting the week’s mission, Trump boomed that the pet business is worth $30 billion a year, and challenged the teams to get a slice of it, anyway they wanted.

It’s ironic that although The Apprentice USA is notionally glossier than its grittier British counterpart, somehow it never looks and feels as impressive. For all Mosaic’s “Extreme Doggie Makeovers” banners, the reality of the task amounted to a lot of people hosing down dogs in Central Park for a few lousy bucks, not the fancy-schmancy pooch parlours the audience might have been expecting.

Not that this prevented garrulous legal munchkin Stacy from conceiving of a grander vision for Mosaic, namely dressing up dogs in costumes (“Badass dog, girlie dog …”) and taking Polaroids to sell to their owners. Unfortunately, a lack of funds prevented this master plan from being realised, but it did give Stacy another opportunity to talk a lot.

Her colleague Andy was hardly having a better time of it, losing his mobile phone in a cab (“If this was a military manoeuvre, he could lose an entire battalion,” declared melodramatic guest judge Allen Weisselberg) and seeing his idea of donating a cut of Mosaic’s profits to charity backfire when the only animal shelter he could find turned out to be a cats home. “The last thing dogs want to know,” Trump noted astutely, “is that they’re helping cats.”

Even in a rare uninspired episode like this, the real attraction of The Apprentice USA has always been its relentless dedication to the mechanics of the game, ignoring all the tedious detritus of their day-to-day lives. Nobody ever appears idly lolling on a sofa, unless they happen to be bitching, scheming or plotting at the time, something more and more of the contestants have a commendable enthusiasm for doing in front of the cameras.

In constructing a format where aspiring tycoons have to live and work harmoniously alongside people they secretly want and need to get rid of, the producers have accurately recreated the executive jungle in microcosm.

But what makes the game really succeed is that overtly setting out to “win” it somehow always seems to end in defeat, proving that there is more to success in life than a sharp suit and a big mouth. Perhaps the biggest waste of the programme’s brief 45-minute slot is the segment dedicated to Trump expounding on his cracker-barrel business philosophies (“SELL YOUR IDEAS”).

For Apex, things ran scarcely more impressively. Chris, the modest self-made New York stockbroker (“I have the largest salary”) complained that the task meant that the “dawgs” got dangerously close to his Rolex. Even Raj looked subdued, having begun to establish himself as the show’s hit act of late. In episode one, he loudly announced himself as a Republican party reptile with a Eubankesque penchant for canes and bow ties. But as the weeks have passed, he has become more likeable, even if his most notable moments have been running around in his pants in front of Anna Kournikova as John McEnroe and his team-mates fired tennis balls at him, and schmuttering up to Trump’s models during the fashion challenge.

Raj’s chief contribution this time round proved to be his poetic lament that Apex were “marching down a path to defeat and doom” after project manager Jennifer selected a poor location and priced doggie baths at $20. In fact, Raj and his team-mates turned out to be the winners, earning three times as much profit as Mosaic. Their reward was a meeting with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who dispensed fortune-cookie nuggets of corporate wisdom such as “Don’t ever compromise on your standards.”

In the boardroom, mercifully the shrill Stacy got the bullet for not showing enough responsibility. Trump’s engaging combination of showmanship and gimlet-eyed ruthlessness continues to chew up the unfortunate contestants. “I’m a strong leader,” asserted Mosaic’s optimistic project manager Wes. “I think you’re a lousy leader,” countered Trump. Nobody ever got to be a models-and-ice-cream magnate by being nice.


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