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‘Apprentice’ incompetence leads to big layoffs

How can candidates be so cocky and yet so dumb? By Andy Dehnart
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Once upon a time, Donald Trump shocked viewers by firing “Apprentice 2” candidates. His move was unexpected, and totally surprised those on the other side of the boardroom table.

Almost a year later, Trump trumped himself, firing four people, almost one-third of the remaining candidates and more than half of a single team.

“You’re all fired. All four are fired. Go home. Go home,” he told Jennifer, Mark, James, and project manager Josh. It was quick and precise; their “Apprentice” careers were over before they ever saw Trump’s cobra hand come out of his tuxedo pocket. All four took the elevator of shame and then crammed silently into the back seat of a cab.

Why the massive layoffs? After three full seasons of “The Apprentice,” Trump has seen plenty of incompetence. But tonight, the Excel Corporation managed to out-suck every other “Apprentice” team to come before it.

Charged with creating an “interactive sales event based upon a sport of your choice,” as Carolyn instructed the teams, they had to work to increase the average sales for their products at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Excel’s performance, however, caused a 34 percent drop in average sales. Compared to Capital Edge’s 74 percent increase in average sales, it was a defeat of epic proportions.

Trump didn’t even have to resort to his usual hyperbole. “You know, I’ve been in a lot of boardrooms. And this is the worst defeat that we’ve ever had. No team has ever lost by as much as you lost,” he told Excel, and for once, he wasn’t exaggerating.

There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Project manager Josh blamed both himself and his entire team for their miserable defeat. “I hold the whole team accountable for the loss,” he said. “I think we did a good job rowing together, but I’m not sure we rowed the right direction, I’m not sure we had the right boat or the right oars for that matter.”

Josh was exactly right, but shouldn’t the project manager be aware that his team is heading in the wrong direction? Shouldn’t he have noticed, to use his metaphor, that they were in the wrong boat, and that it was sinking, burning, and carrying rats infected with bubonic plague?

Excel’s performance, like the performance of so many teams before them, was baffling. Almost every week, it seems, at least one "Apprentice" team makes moronic decisions, even as they brag about how wonderful they’re doing. Inevitably, they fail.

The winning team, Capital Edge, didn’t seem to be on the right track, at least not at first. They created a golf-themed display that included putt-putt for kids, although they admitted they knew nothing about golf. That was obvious when Carolyn, the chief operating officer for the Trump National golf courses, asked them, “What about giving these kids a putter instead of a wedge?”

Project manager Alla admitted they had no idea what they were doing. “We’re going to wing it,” she said. Her teammate Markus summed up his team’s approach succinctly: “I don’t play it, I don’t like it, I just know how crazy people are about golf,” he said. As it turned out, that approach was all they needed, since the task only required them to sell sporting goods to eager customers. Golf enthusiasts formed a strong customer base that Capital Edge capitalized upon by essentially imprisoning children and then selling to their parents.

While the team’s sales pitches sounded a bit too much like they’d learned how to sell at the University of Used Cars and Infomercial Products, they moved merchandise, and that’s all that mattered.

Excel, on the other hand, apparently thought that amusing themselves and their customers by playing with baseballs was all that mattered. While they constructed an impressive baseball diamond in a store, they covered it with a huge batting cage, turning it into a carnival instead of a store. Parents lined up so their kids could hit balls, but few people bought anything. While a few members of the team worked to sell items, the entire setup wasn’t conducive to selling anything at all.

Shortly after bragging about how she’d easily sell all of the radar guns in stock, we saw footage of Jennifer M. crying out, “Pretzels! Hot dogs! Lemonade!” She sold no radar guns because she was too busy selling food, even though that had nothing to do with the task. Mark might as well have been squirting mustard onto hot dogs, as he just fed baseballs into a machine and ignored everything else.

Bill Rancic, sitting in for George again this week, did everything except hit Mark in the shin with a bat to make him realize that he wasn’t helping his team sell products, but Mark remained oblivious. “How are the rest of your teammates?” Bill asked. Mark replied, “You know, I’ve been so damn focused here, I don’t even know.”

The rest of the team didn’t know, either. James, one of the four who was fired, delivered one of those prescient lines editors love to include just to make the person look like a twit. “It’s no doubt, it’s a sure thing, it’s a home run with this task,” he told us.

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How, exactly, could he have thought they would be successful? Why do the candidates always think they have great ideas that are so obviously awful to viewers?

Most of the 70 candidates that have appeared on the show’s four seasons have more personality than business savvy, and that’s why they were cast for a reality show that fundamentally exists to entertain viewers and enhance Donald Trump’s bottom line.

But this season, tired of incompetence, Trump and insisted he was impressed by their potential and skills.

Perhaps it’s just the editing that makes the candidates and teams look worse than they actually are, because producers show us only the worst — and thus most entertaining — moments. But complete ineptitude has been a theme from season one. Perhaps the most obvious example was the decision of teams on “The Apprentice 3” to create advertisements for body wash that featured the and a jogger lathering up his face.

There’s a third possibility. Perhaps “The Apprentice” offers a lesson to all viewers that people aren’t very good at analyzing themselves or their behavior, especially not when they’re in high-pressure situations. Watching at home, our omniscient perspective allows us to recognize that a train is coming long before any of those involved realize they’re tied to the tracks.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.