The boardroom scenes of “The Apprentice” are, without question, the show’s most dramatic moments. Nothing can compare with the drama of watching B-school graduates verbally claw each other in order to win the approval of a billionaire mogul.
The boardroom is also where that billionaire, Donald Trump, shines. He’s a presence in the rest of every episode, certainly, but it’s here that he demands answers and casts judgments, and he’s clearly thrilled as his wannabe protegees brawl and fight for their “Apprentice” lives as Trump casts his judgmental eyes in their direction.
The scenes where Trump ridicules the losing team and then dismisses a candidate are so popular that NBC is producing a second version of each episode this season. Repeats that air on Saturday evenings extend the boardroom footage and get rid of comparatively boring scenes from the challenges and other parts of the episode. NBC’s promos focus on the boardroom segments as the height of drama, and Trump clearly knows that these moments make the show and become the topic of conversation the following morning.
Perhaps because of this, we’ve seen Trump turn into an even weirder beast in the boardroom this season, as he crafts terrific television while destroying another person’s dreams of becoming his lackey. This week, he fired Elizabeth on the spot — without first consulting either of his two wingpeople, Carolyn and George, and without even sending the candidates out of the room first. Both Elizabeth and her team were stunned at the swiftness of his decision and with this break from protocol.
This wasn’t the first shocking boardroom moment this season. During episode five, Trump had Pamela switch teams and appointed her project manager of her new team because he was so impressed with her performance. But shortly thereafter, he fired her . Despite the fact that she managed to bring her new team together, and even though her team lost the challenge by just $10, she became his fifth victim. In the second episode, he fired Bradford only because Bradford opted to give up his boardroom immunity.
Dub dub dub
But Trump’s sometimes irrational decision-making isn’t the only weirdness in the boardroom. Listen carefully during the boardroom sequences, especially when Trump issues his rationale for firing, and you’ll notice that the sound quality and audio changes frequently. While Trump speaks in a weird, slower, overlord voice, we don’t see his face and hair, but instead watch reaction shots of the candidates, George, and Carolyn. It seems apparent that some of the audio is being dubbed, replaced by voiceovers Trump records later.
While Trump fired Elizabeth, for example, we heard him scold her with, "Elizabeth, these people think you're virtually incompetent." Yet later, after Elizabeth limply attempted to defend herself, the show switched to an obvious voiceover and we heard a pre-recorded Trump intone “You let your team change your mind for you? As a leader, if you believe you’re right, you have to stand by your decision no matter what.”
After watching the team’s commercial, Trump made a witty comment, but we heard it from a voice-over: “Wow, based on that, I feel I live in a police state. Forget shooting 'The Apprentice,' I oughta go upstairs and lock my door.”
This was also obvious last week when little Stacy got the boot. During the final boardroom scene, Trump said, “The thing I really dislike, Stacy — and this is week after week, this isn’t just now — is that you’re always complaining.”
Then, while we saw only reaction shots of Stacy and the others, the sound quality changed, Trump’s voice became louder and deeper, and he said, “And when you failed to sell your ideas, you blamed Wes. You can’t just blame the project manager when you’re unsuccessful getting your point across — do you understand that?” Then the audio became clear again and we actually saw Trump say, “And I think he did a lousy job, and I think he made a terrible mistake, but Stacy, you’re fired.”
The week before, during the sixth episode, Trump’s voice actually changed mid-sentence as he fired John. He started out speaking normally, saying “John, you made some bad decisions, and you admit that you made some bad decisions. And I think you’re going to be a tremendous success some day — I really believe that."
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Then, in a jolting switch, the dubbed voice of Trump took over, saying "Kevin, you made a critical error by overpricing the designs, and in business, bad pricing can just kill you."
Before finishing firing John, Trump's voice had switched back to present-day, out again to the dubbed version, and back again for the oh-so-vital "John, you're fired."
What’s the problem?
The quality is bad and the audio is poorly modulated, so it’s distinctly different. Something is definitely awry.
We saw a lot of this in Mark Burnett’s other two overproduced NBC reality shows, “The Restaurant” and “The Casino.” “Restaurant” star Rocco DiSpirito was particularly bad at repeating back his lines (or saying new lines), and they sounded like they were being delivered by the star of a middle school play, not organically spoken by a celebrity chef.
In both of those shows, it seemed like the redubbing, and even some staged moments (phone calls being answered, an employee falling), were used to narratively connect scenes when camera crews missed important moments or transitions. Since those shows had fly-on-the-wall formats, it’s understandable that maybe some things would be missed.
But why is this happening on “The Apprentice”? The boardroom, with its dramatic lighting and cushioned chairs, is a set, not an actual boardroom. Thus placing microphones in the correct locations to catch every word should not be difficult. And it doesn’t appear to be, as the backstabbing and defensiveness from the losing team all comes across clearly, caught on tape without so much as a stutter.
Are these redubbed lines scripted? Rerecorded to be smoother than the original version? If not, why is the production so bad that Trump’s audio cuts out so frequently, both in the boardroom and elsewhere?
For all Trump's bragging about having the "number-one show on television," this inattention to detail feels cheap and jarring.
Maybe Trump is just jumping on the lip-synching bandwagon already favored by Madonna (allegedly) and Ashlee Simpson (definitely). Or perhaps it's just one more boardroom quirk in an "Apprentice" season full of them.
Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality-TV news.
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