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IMAGE: "Apprentice"
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Maria, shown with Andy and Sandy, got the boot on "The Apprentice." But this time, she wasn't alone.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/19/2004 1:24:18 PM ET 2004-11-19T18:24:18
COMMENTARY

"Maria, you're fired."

"Wes, you're fired also."

Two separate times "You're fired" rang out in "The Apprentice 2"'s boardroom last night, and it was not an echo nor another example of poorly recorded dubbing.

Instead, those words came as Donald Trump dispensed of yet another boardroom convention, this time firing two people with two quick successive shakes of his hand. "You both did a horrible job. ... And I just have to do this, I have no choice," he said. Half of Mosaic, the losing team, climbed into the back of one taxi for the cab ride of shame.

With two more candidates this season than participated in the first season of "The Apprentice," a dual firing was something that made sense, logistically speaking. It's the "Apprentice" version of the dual-tribal council episode we saw earlier this season on "Survivor Vanuatu," which also had a larger number of competitors than usual, but the same number of episodes to fill.

Including last night's episode, eight candidates remained on "The Apprentice 2" with just five weeks left; now there are six candidates and four weeks to go.

If there's one thing that's been consistent this season, it's been the unpredictability of the boardroom. A game of Yahtzee to determine the fired candidate would have left the decision to random chance, but would have at least been predictable within a certain statistical margin. Trump's decision making has been far less predictable. Previously, Trump has fired someone solely for giving up immunity, dismissed a candidate without even deliberating or allowing them to select their competitors, and let someone go because her teammates said she was crazy.

He added to that roster tonight with his one-two punch. But Carolyn and George stand-in Bill Rancic both seemed unmoved. Of course, Trump could decide to spin on his head, clap his hands, and shriek, "I'm made of Play-Doh!" and they'd nod and say, "Yes you are. Spinning on your head was the only real choice you had there."

In many ways, though, as erratic and shocking as Wes and Maria's dual dismissal was, Trump made the correct decision this time.

Project manager Wes once again led his team to failure. To see just Wes fired would have left us with yet another project manager taking the fall for his or her team's failure. Perhaps that's the way it should be, as in business, the leader is ultimately responsible.

But of course, as anyone who's worked anywhere knows, in business, those at the top insulate themselves, and the underlings -- especially those who stick their necks out or are annoying -- take the fall more often than not.

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How do you solve a problem like Maria?
Wes had an obvious fall person in Maria. Although he demonstrated poor judgment — best exemplified by his decision to present their Levi's catalog to company execs while wearing casual clothes but not Levi's jeans — their task was infected with and affected by Maria's negativity. But he did nothing about her behavior, and she was his responsibility.

Still, to see Maria spared firing would have been difficult for viewers to deal with, because her decisions were the ones that led to the loss, her behavior led to the team's conflicts, and her blather filled up precious work time. During the photo shoot, she appointed herself master of the universe ("Here's what I need for you to do," she ordered her teammates) and then verbally lunged at her team leader ("Back off," she said to Wes.).

As Wes said, "When Maria flew into the room on her broomstick, the whole attitude of the room changed." Even her teary breakdown and proclamation that she has no friends among the contestants was unmoving because she managed to be so abrasive.

But this was essentially Wes' fault. In his interviews, Andy said it best, discussing a protracted fight between Maria and Sandy. "This fight, honestly, would never have occurred if Wes, in the beginning, had not been afraid to say no to Maria when she needed it." Earlier, he also told this to Wes, but less articulately: "You're going to have to just do something here, dude."

Wes didn't, and Wes paid the price that he should have, and so did Maria.

During his weekly lesson, Donald Trump told us, "Never lose your cool, unless you have a reason for doing it." This week, he lost his cool, sort of, and fired two people. But at least he had a reason.

Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher. He publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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