Reality shows are rarely surprising. Even when a show tries to feint in one direction and convince us Person A is up for eviction/firing/getting voted off the island, there's usually a Person B or C lurking just off-camera, and viewers aren't too startled when that person bites the dust instead.
But the firing on Thursday's second episode of "The Apprentice 2" came out of nowhere, and the fired competitor has only himself to blame.
Bradford, the 33-year-old lawyer and real-estate investor from Florida, was sitting pretty after the first week of the show. He volunteered himself to head up Apex Corporation, the only man on that team. For his gutsy move, he was rewarded: His team won the toy challenge, so as project manager, Bradford earned immunity from being fired on the second challenge.
His team did a fairly decent job selling red-velvet gelato, but when an irate street vendor chased them out of a prime location near the half-price TKTS ticket booth, Apex seemed to briefly fall apart. But Bradford was no longer the project manager — he'd passed that title on to the overwhelmed Ivana — and as far as hustling and selling the product, he led the group. Yep, it was all looking great for our man, Brad. He'd done a decent job, and it didn't even really matter: He'd managed to shine even with that precious gift of immunity all sewn up.
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Since the beginning, Bradford's been a mouthy type. Some would say that's a necessary trait in a leader, but some of what he said seemed sexist and downright offensive. He cracked to one male competitor that the man would have to "grow boobies" to compete with "my girls." And he encouraged the women to wear short skirts and revealing tops when going out to sell the gelato. (Did he not see last season, when the women coasted on their sex appeal for so long even semi-sexist Trump chastened them for it?)
But while Bradford's mouth may have ruffled some feathers with his fellow competitors, he saved the biggest blunder for himself.
They never learn
The boardroom, where the losing team must go to choose and see one player fired, is never a nice place to be -- unless you're Trump or helpers Carolyn and George. But Bradford had the luxury of being able to sit in the boardroom and observe, without the danger of his own neck on the line. If contestants can get over the fear of the intimidating position they're in, the boardroom can be a great place to get an education. You'd learn, for example, not to speak until spoken to, and when spoken to, to respond firmly and immediately. Trump doesn't like mouthy types and he doesn't like wimps, either.
And failed project manager Ivana, not Bradford, was on the hot seat. She kept snapping back at Trump and crew, and was getting herself deeper and deeper into trouble with every attempt to defend herself. She tried to shunt some of the blame for her team's loss over to Stacie J. — not a bad move, really. No one likes Stacie and that fact only makes her look worse as she tries to defend her often-weird actions (hiring 5 temps without speaking to anyone else on her team?).
Bradford was sitting pretty: Two contestants looked bad and one of them was bound to be momentarily hearing "You're fired" from The Donald. Surely Bradford would live to compete another day, with two solid weeks and one winning project under his belt.
But Brad just couldn't play it safe. Overzealous thanks to the immunity he knew he had earned, Bradford suddenly found Trump asking him if he was especially willing to be blunt in his assessments of the other players: After all, he couldn't be fired.
There were so, so many correct answers to Trump's challenge. "Yes, sir, I'll be honest, it's nice to know I'm safe," was one answer. "Oh, no sir, I'd express my opinion firmly whether or not I was safe," would have also been acceptable. "Maybe a little bit, Mr. Trump," would also have sufficed. Everyone would have had a small laugh, and Trump would have returned to hurling darts at Stacie and Ivana.
But Brad's head was swelling from his immunity and two solid performances. He felt untouchable. Perhaps he forgot for a minute that he was still a competitor and thought of himself as a Trump peer, along the lines of Carolyn (whose name he unforgivingly mangled as "Caroline") and George.
I am not only better than these others, he might have thought, but I am so much better that I don't even need this advantage that I have earned. Forget immunity, I spit on immunity! I don't need it, I give it up! I could beat them with one hand tied behind my back! Both hands! Both hands and a foot--uh, wait, what's that you're saying, Mr. Trump?
I'm saying, Bradford, that I accept your offer to give up your immunity. I just took it back.
The real world
Even after Bradford lost his immunity, it was obvious that no one on the show thought he'd be the one fired. Sure, he'd made a stupid gesture — a brainless one, really — and Trump was trying to teach him a lesson. But surely that's as far as it would go. Ivana and Stacie brushed it off, and immediately went back to sniping at each other. Even when given this essentially free shot at Bradford, they felt he didn't deserve to be fired for one utterance. They, and many viewers who immediately posted their views on the Internet, felt that one minute of making a dumb offer should not have wiped out Bradford's two weeks of hard work.
Bradford, himself, never thought his loose lips would get him fired — obviously, or he wouldn't have made the offer.
It was obvious, though, that Trump thought he could take this moment and make an example out of it. He called it a "life-threatening mistake," which obviously it wasn't to Stacie, Ivana and even to poor Bradford himself.
But it was easy to follow Trump's train of thought. Each week, his contestants fought tooth and nail to stay out of the boardroom. Some of them made stupid mistakes -- some of which were their fault, others of which could be chalked up partially to luck or fate. Immunity was a reward, a pat on the back from Trump, and to reject it was as insulting as if you'd just criticized the famous Trump hair.
Bradford was given a gift, and he threw it back. If a company gets an advantage, Trump seemed to be saying, that company is smart enough to run with it. No big executive takes a gift given to his company and says "Yeah, that's great, but I'm such hot stuff I don't need it." You take every advantage you can and are grateful for them. You may not get another.
Bradford obviously was starting to think of himself in larger-than-life terms. I'm so great, so magnaminous, that I will go right into the trenches with my team. If they are at risk, so I too am at risk.
What Trump knew and Bradford didn't was that if everyone piles into the trenches, everyone gets shot and no one lives to fight another day. You lose the war for losing the battle.
Like Marcellas Reynolds on "Big Brother 3," who was protected by the Power of Veto, chose not to save himself, and was promptly evicted, Bradford learned that much too late.
Trump didn't fire him. He fired himself.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's TV Editor
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