Donald Trump hated the last season of "The Apprentice" and its cast. And he wasn't really too fond of the second season, either.
Executive producer Mark Burnett also wasn't thrilled with the third season. He told the New York Times that having college-educated contestants face off against those without higher educations negatively "changed the tenor of the show."
Unhappy and upset, and with his executive producer dissatisfied as well, Trump did what he does best: He took control, insisting upon changes for season four. Specifically, he wanted a better, stronger cast, one that he didn't hate. "There wasn't going to be another 'Apprentice' 3 thing where I end up with a cast where I have to pick people to work for me and I don't believe in them," he told the Times.
Thus, for "The Apprentice 4," Donald Trump personally interviewed roughly 200 finalists. No longer would casting producers select those who would face him in the boardroom every week. Of the resulting 18-person cast, Trump is responsible for the selection of 17 of them. (The identity of the lone cast member selected by producers and not by Trump remains a mystery.)
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Among this mostly hand-picked group are the series' first openly gay competitor, a former NFL player, and a former Miss Oregon. And, as The Smoking Gun revealed this week, one of the candidates is an ex-stripper whose client robbed and killed three people to support his $1,500 lap-dance habit. Everyone, including the stripper, have experience in some business-related field, and many of them have real estate backgrounds. And Trump says he is exceedingly happy with this group.
All about the candidates
Most reality TV shows reinvent themselves by changing the show's format or structure, so it's almost revolutionary that "The Apprentice"'s principles have acknowledged that this show, like all reality shows, really lives and dies by the strength of its candidates. After all, the title of this show is "The Apprentice."
Last season, however, there was a shortage of people who'd make good apprentices; most of them would barely make effective interns. If the copier broke down, these candidates were not the type to, say, fire the company that maintains the office equipment; instead, they probably would have pulled out the toner cartridge, blanketed the room with toner dust, and then left the mess for the custodial staff to clean up.
They were cast for the show perhaps to compensate for the somewhat boring second season. So the third season's cast had a preponderance of over-the-top, abrasive, and moronic cast members. Remember loud-mouthed, explosive Chris? Quitter Verna? Guitar-playing twit Danny?
Competence was unquestionably in short supply, but was the cast really to blame for Trump's — and the audience's — disaffectedness? Did the "street smarts" versus "book smarts" angle really negatively impact the way the game was played?
When that decision to split the teams by education was first announced, it seemed like a brilliant way to structure the show. Trump is generally looking for capable, skillful, experienced individuals. He likes to reward success, and success comes from many different sorts of backgrounds.
The problem is that Trump is also short-sighted and likes to punish people for mistakes. In season two, that resulted in some smart, able people going home early on, like Bradford and Pamela. Trump's especially fond of dumping project managers who fail, assigning the leader most of the blame for their team's problems. If the kids on the bus are rowdy, Donald Trump throws the driver out the door. This is generally the most frustrating part about watching the show, but it was especially horrible last season, when there weren't many competent people to fire.
Trump is also fond of making absurd pronouncements that sound good until you think about what he just said. The "street smarts" team members were often forced to prove themselves worthy of breathing the air in Trump Tower, while the "book smarts" team was constantly belittled for their failures, as if attending college somehow can turn a bumbling nitwit into a brilliant entrepreneur. Trump admits that he was irritable all during production, and it showed.
Looking back, it's hard to find more than a handful of truly apprentice-worthy individuals in the group. The third season is a textbook model for what happens when a cast is assembled because of its external characteristics. While some of the drama that resulted from the casting may have been entertaining, the series' premise was lost.
Producers probably thought it'd be amusing to have someone who liked to strum ludicrously corny songs on his guitar instead of focusing on the task at hand. And while it made good television to have a young, ticking bomb in the boardroom, someone who could explode for no particular reason at any moment isn't really the best person to work in a corporate environment.
"The Apprentice" isn't "The Surreal Life" or "The Real World," where personality conflicts are the fuel that powers the show. It's not even an urban version of "Survivor." Instead, "The Apprentice" is a talent competition that's more closely related to "America's Next Top Model" than "Survivor."
Although the candidates point fingers and disagree with each other, they're not there to impress each other in order to stick around and secure jury votes. They're there to impress Donald Trump by proving they have a wide range of business-related skills. Interpersonal problems certainly kept us engaged (remember Omarosa?), but they weren't the reason we showed up in the first place. Donald Trump is looking for an apprentice, not a sideshow act.
The question is, will a cast that has already earned the praise and attention of their surrogate help to pull "The Apprentice" from its slump?
Although the show has slid in the ratings each subsequent season, it's still one of the top 15 shows on television. Like its cousin "Survivor", "The Apprentice" has a formula that works.
Donald Trump tells The Washington Post that the new season is "phenomenal — better than 1, 2 or 3." His propensity to speak in meaningless superlatives makes that declaration sort of useless, but at least he has a cast he can believe in, at least until he tells 17 of them, "You're fired."
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