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Scott Duncan  /  NBC via AP
Will Bill Rancic win "The Apprentice"?
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msnbc.com
updated 4/28/2004 4:27:45 PM ET 2004-04-28T20:27:45
COMMENTARY

It’s down to two: Kwame Jackson and Bill Rancic are the final contestants on NBC’s hit reality show “The Apprentice.”

In Thursday’s episode, Donald Trump fired Nick and Amy, after listening to the recommendations of four of his trusted advisers who conducted a tough round of interviews on the contestants.

Trump’s advisers said that Amy was “irritating” and that Nick, while charming, “had little substance behind him.”

So, despite Amy's good record (she’s only ever lost once), and Nick and Amy winning the previous challenge, both were given the pink slip.

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Final assignments
For their final task, the last men standing were each asked to handle a large event that Trump’s company was organizing.

Bill, the 32-year-old cigar business owner, was assigned the task of putting together a golf tournament at Briar Cliff Manor. Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Kwame was assigned to manage pop star Jessica Simpson’s concert at the Taj Mahal.

Bill and Kwame were given a set of people to help them in their task. In one of the episode’s surprise twists, the group of people Trump called into the boardroom as “employees” were recently-fired contestants Amy, Omarosa, Nick, Heidi, Katrina, and Troy.

Donald Trump asked Kwame and Bill to choose their teams. Their selections, observed by Trump, were not only telling — they could very well determine their success or failure.

Bill chose Amy, Katrina and Nick, while Kwame chose Troy, Omarosa, Heidi (both in that order). Bill and Kwame ended with the exact same teams as in two earlier episodes. Bill’s team was essentially Versacorp, and Kwame’s team was Protégé. The difference though was that this time Bill and Kwame were the clear bosses — getting chauffered to the event location while the rest of their teams traveled together in SUVs.

The last 30 minutes of the program showed the contestants struggling with their jobs. Kwame’s team had somehow misplaced Jessica Simpson who was flying in for the concert, while Bill’s office at the country club ended up as a messy storage room for the golf tournament goodie bags (not to mention The Donald’s golf clubs).

Could Omarosa cause any more trouble?
The NBC promotional commercials promised her return, and now we see why. Omarosa remains the antagonist of the show, becoming Kwame’s ultimate challenge.

Omarosa was in charge of logistics, which included making sure that Simpson and her crew were to be picked up from the airport and driven to the hotel. At the end of the hour, Omarosa wasn’t doing her job, and even flat-out denied any responsibility. This is only the last in a series of incidents that cast doubt on Omarosa’s credibility.

Watercooler talk, though, has people speculating that perhaps Omarosa was deliberately brought back into the show as a saboteur. (Why else would she lie while being filmed?) There are even suggestions that perhaps, Bill has his own mole too.

Fingers have been pointed in Katrina's direction. She and Bill haven't gotten along well in the past, and Katrina was obviously upset when Bill got her good friend Ereka booted.

However, some fans raise a good point: Why would Trump deliberately sabotage his own event?

Bet on Bill
So who is going to be “The Apprentice?”

The money is clearly on Bill.

Here’s why: While Bill was not the “the star” that Amy seemed to be to Trump, he has performed consistently well.

Amy called Bill her “strongest competition.” But more importantly, Bill won the vote of most of Trump’s advisers.  Carolyn Kepcher, who has observed the whole series and who clearly has Trump’s ear, has also argued for Kwame’s dismissal. In a previous episode, she said that Kwame has no real-world experience to back up his Harvard education and that she has “not seen anything from him yet.”

If Trump weighs the contestant’s past performances, Bill also has a clear advantage:

  • In the first episode when the teams were put in charge of selling lemonade, Kwame, who was given the job of “location manager,” led Versacorp to the smelly Fulton Fish Market. The women opted to sell around 50th and Broadway, a higher-traffic area. Kwame has no excuse — he works in New York. He has reportedly defended himself off the air, saying that he originally suggested the tourist attraction South Street Seaport, but the crew was prohibited from shooting there.
  • In the third episode, Versacorp, then all men, was put in charge of Planet Hollywood. Bill managed the wait staff and even gave them a monetary incentive to the highest-selling waiters and waitress. In the same assignment, Kwame (who was the project manager) tried to push merchandise by posing as a faux celebrity and sold his autograph. It was false advertising that made Nick uncomfortable; some wonder why Trump did not fire Kwame or Troy for this stunt (which really didn’t work anyway). On a side note, if he does become “The Apprentice,” then maybe his autographs will be worth something.
  • On Week 9, the two opposing teams were asked to choose artists whose works they had to sell. Kwame was chosen the project manager, but his team chose the most eccentric artist. His reasoning? The artist was selling her art for a higher markup. Never mind that her pieces were eccentric and hard to sell. Kwame’s team lost, selling only one small piece.
  • On Week 11, the apprentices were asked to design and execute a promotional game to draw and keep gamblers to the Taj Mahal. Kwame was project manager, with Bill and Troy on his team. While Kwame and Troy watched a magic show at the hotel, Bill made a deal to get the VIP/high-rollers exclusively registered to his team — a move that was arguably responsible for the team’s win.

Kwame’s current staff does not inspire much confidence either. Heidi and Omarosa do not get along at all. Their team has also lost twice against Bill, Amy, Katrina and Nick. 

Votes for Kwame

Scott Duncan  /  NBC via AP
Will Kwame Jackson win "The Apprentice"?
But Kwame can be admired for staying power. His fans credit him for his cunning, and for managing to “fly below the radar.”

When he’s lost as project manager, Kwame has explained himself well, and at the same time, he's taken responsibility. He has proven to be more likable to the audience and his fellow contestants. He seems to get along with everyone — Omarosa included. He even retained Troy’s loyalty, despite going head-to-head with him in the boardroom.

As project manager, Kwame comes up with clear plans of actions very quickly. He also delegates and trusts his people to accomplish their tasks. At the end of last episode, however, this strategy did not seem to be going well for him — he should have stepped up in helping find Jessica Simpson.

He’s also the best-educated and credentialed: He worked for the multinational corporation Procter and Gamble, and later at Goldman Sachs.  He comes across as polished and together, something that probably helped him get the Trump advisers’ votes.

Fans are rooting for him too — Kwame’s bio follows the American formula of a success story by “having a good education, working hard, and being a nice guy.”

An informal survey of fan message boards show that most would rather work for the laid-back and trusting Kwame, rather than Bill who is more tense (and sometimes smug).

Trump once even asked him why he even bothered to join “The Apprentice” when he already seemed to be on the path to success. Kwame answered, “There are only certain opportunities that come along in your life to be extraordinary, and this is one of them.”

For his part, Bill has past performance, a stronger team, and the good word of Trump’s advisers on his side. He seems comfortable in a leadership role, even demanding respect from Trump’s country club staff. So unless Bill massively screws up, he is almost guaranteed a win.

Who knows though? The finale is a two-hour show and a lot can happen. Besides, it’s not called “must-see TV” for nothing.

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