Fans of "The Apprentice" who dream of being employed by the great man himself learned a very valuable lesson on Thursday: Donald Trump believes that angry, borderline unhinged people are better employees than weak leaders.
After Net Worth lost yet another challenge, that's the choice Trump was left with. On the one hand, there was Chris, even crankier than usual as he struggled to kick the nicotine addiction. On the other, project manager Stephanie, whose idea of leadership was to spend 90 minutes taking pizzas to Brooklyn while two of her teammates either nearly came to blows or simply had a loud conversation, depending on who Trump asked.
It probably shouldn't surprise anyone that Stephanie wound up being fired because she was gone during a key moment of the task, heard about that event second-hand, made it into a federal case, and fought a battle that even the offended party wasn't so interested in fighting.
She's been living on borrowed time for weeks now — gleefully traded to Net Worth by Kendra when the two teams "merged" (Chris then promptly tried to give her back, to no avail) — and is apparently seen by everyone in the suite as a fountain of negativity and a genius only in the realm of blaming others.
Chris and Alex may not have agreed on much during the task, but they did have one thing in common: the view that Stephanie was not ready to lead. And Stephanie probably sealed her fate by harping that she's not used to working in a volatile environment.
Since Trump considers a lot of his businesses volatile environments, it was one final case of Stephanie utterly misreading the situation and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. It takes a lot for Trump to ignore Caroline, who said of Chris: "He definitely has a temper, and I don't know if that's suitable for the Trump organization." It isn't, and Trump knows it, but it's obviously better in his mind to be temperamental than weak.
The odd coupleThe task for this week's episode was to make a new type of pizza for Dominoes, sell it out of a mobile kitchen, and make lots of money. In effect, it was a test of who could sell the most meatball pizzas, since any creative impulses to make something involving kiwifruit and rutabagas were likely squashed when Trump added an "I like meatballs" throwaway comment. When in doubt, please the big guy – that's a lesson even a grade-school dropout would have figured out by now.
Not the most fascinating task in the world, and therefore personalities were once again the focus of the show. And much like producers had in mind when they did the casting, the drama came between the stereotypical refined man of higher learning and the rough-hewn high-school graduate.
Alex and Chris would not appear to have a lot in common at first glance, and that first impression would be correct. Alex is a 29-year-old lawyer from the Pacific Coast; Chris is a 22-year-old real estate baron from Las Vegas. Alex speaks in measured tones and seems to pause to parse every syllable; Chris blurts out whatever the heck is on his mind, and usually what's on his mind requires a raised voice and some harsh words.
And yet, the relationship between the two seemed to start out so well, at least from Chris' perspective. Trump gave the decimated Net Worth team a chance to steal someone away from Magna, and the team didn't hesitate before choosing Alex. "Love him to death!" Chris gushed after the switch. "I think he's very honest, a very heartfelt individual."
Because both teams picked the same type of pizza to sell, the task essentially came down to marketing, and Net Worth was immediately wowed at Alex's ability to use alliteration and come up with the name "Meatball Masterpiece."
"It's why we wanted Alex on our team!" Stephanie gushed, as though the ability to pair M-words made him a rare brainiac. She also seemed impressed that the men managed to sell pizzas to a construction crew near their training site, though it was that sale that helped seal her fate.
But Chris was trying to quit his habit of chewing tobacco, after a series of lectures by Donald Trump prompted a "fire me if I don't manage to quit" vow. This was a train wreck waiting to happen — as Angie said in an (apparently unsuccessful) attempt to at least get him to go to a pharmacy and get the Patch, "you're short on a good day."
The big day came, Alex was flirting with the female customers at the register, Chris thought he wasn't working hard enough and … something happened.
What was it? Alex clearly told Chris not to curse at him, and Chris either threatened him with bodily harm or simply told him to buzz off in an intense way. Alex told Stephanie it was a threat; Chris said that was ridiculous.
Stephanie's subway ride to nowhereStephanie, as project manager, would have seen the event happen and therefore been able to decide for herself, except she decided to take the pre-ordered pizzas to the construction site by subway. "The New York subway is a great experience! Hell, I'd never been in the New York subway in my life," she gushed. Free tip for the future: Perhaps a time-sensitive task isn't the best time to take that opportunity for historic firsts like a subway ride.
Faced with that astute leadership, Net Worth predictably lost to a Magna team that took a long time to get started but then, in typical Magna fashion these days, thought big, got the big corporate orders, and won the challenge. Their reward: Breakfast with Donald — sausage, omelets and conversation. Clearly the most important meal of the day.
Stephanie still had one chance to prove her leadership abilities. It didn't seem that difficult a task. All she had to do was convince Alex, her teammate from Day One, and the man who had brought up the whole threat allegation in the first place, to join her in attacking Chris in the boardroom.
But Chris' comments in the beginning about Alex, laughed off as ironic by anyone who'd seen them arguing in the trailer, turned out to be spot-on. Alex was honest, telling Stephanie he couldn't guarantee her anything and telling the camera that "Chris has such great potential. Stephanie has used up everything she has."
That potential kept Chris around for another week, albeit with the knowledge that Donald Trump called him "a disaster" several times and warned him that he'd "better get it together."
Alex told the cameras that "[Chris's] fuse is so short and his pride is so big that he's a liability." Yet he keeps hanging around … for the time being. But while Stephanie got the boot this week, Chris will follow soon enough. Because in the end, potential won't be good enough without some better results.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.