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For ‘Apprentice,’ it's just like old times

Donald Trump isn't usually one who makes understatements. But when he told one of the new "Apprentice" teams that "people don't really change," he was being far too subtle and diplomatic as he was probably unintentionally describing himself and his reality show. As "The Apprentice 4" began, viewers immediately knew that Donald Trump and company had returned, and neither age nor time had changed anything.

The superlatives and exaggerations were unquestionably back: Trump started by telling us that "these candidates are by far the most talented group I've ever assembled," which was a lot more meaningful when he said basically the same thing during seasons three, two, and one.

Also making a return was . He split the teams by sex, incomprehensibly explaining that decision by saying, "Sometimes it's hard telling you apart; this way, it's a lot easier." Later, he couldn't help but say repeatedly how beautiful the women were. Oh, and talented, too. Right.

George and Carolyn were back, of course, although Trump introduced them not as executives, but as the "two very famous people" they've become since the series debuted more than a year and a half ago.

Trump's self-congratulatory side also reappeared. "My television show has given me access to some incredible talents," he said, noting that his choices -- Bill, Kelly, and Kendra -- had all worked out perfectly, making "invaluable additions to the Trump Organization."

The boy inside the billionaire made a return as well. Trump kicked off the competition by sending the candidates on a scavenger hunt; they were looking for his helicopter, which was hidden somewhere at Trump National Golf Club. How much fun would it be to hide your helicopter and then make 18 people wearing tailored suits and business attire run around a golf course looking for it?

Best of all, the boardroom was back. Not to be confused with Martha's bright, friendly conference room, Trump's boardroom has only small pools of light, and he emerges from the darkness to cast judgment on those who have disappointed him. The boardroom is where each episode crescendos, and this episode was no exception.

What also didn't change was the baffling stupidity of some of the candidates, and that's what made the boardroom fireworks all the more spectacular.

The men's team, calling themselves Excel, waited around for their cease-and-desist from Microsoft and made faces at their project manager, Markus, who initially protested being appointed leader. During the task, he solicited feedback from his teammates. "Is there anything that I either should be doing or could be doing better?" he asked, and they stared at him blankly. Josh told us, "Are you joking? Get some balls!" Of course, had they lost, Markus would have probably been blamed for not listening to his team.

Although Excel ultimately won the task, Markus still found himself on the other side of Trump's squinty-annoyed face. First, when Trump called to find out the team name, Markus babbled incomprehensibly into the phone. Later, at his team's reward dinner with Trump, Markus told us, "I thought this was a huge opportunity for me to connect with him, for me to build a rapport with him." Instead, it turned out to be an opportunity for Trump to make fun of him. "Do you think Markus talks a lot?" he asked another Excel team member, quickly letting the boys know that he likes his brown-nosing to be brief.

The women didn't get a chance to hang out with Trump, as they failed in the task. Challenged to create a fitness class for a Bally Total Fitness location, the women's team created a ground-breaking, thought-provoking publicity campaign using streamers and balloons. They also brilliantly targeted random people on the street rather than those already exercising inside the gym.

Best of all, Capital Edge announced their fitness class to the world with a flier headlined "Triple XXX Threat." For some strange reason, three large capital letter Xs wasn't the most effective way to let potential customers know that they were offering a class with pilates, abdominal exercises, and boxing.

Project manager Kristi tried to pawn it off on the typesetter, saying that the words "triple threat" should have overlapped the three large Xs, as if three Xs in the background would have clearly made people think about fitness, not hard-core adult entertainment.

Despite their screw-ups, the women made just $11 less than the men. And that loss was ultimately blamed not on poor decision-making, but on a personality conflict. At its center was real estate investor Melissa, who butted heads with project manager Kristi, a sales executive. Melissa showed great judgment when, in the middle of the task, she decided to vent.

To Carolyn. Oh yes, she did. "I'm doing everything," she complained. But Melissa quickly backtracked when Carolyn, like a vulture to a five-second-old carcass, demanded details.

'You did not do well'Project manager Kristi used the opportunity to show Carolyn that she was a leader by going Dr. Phil all over Melissa. "Don't give me negative energy; I need positivity from you," Kristi told Melissa. "I'm not going to have you being negative any more. Let it go."

That conflict spilled over into the boardroom, where Melissa made a compelling argument for Kristi to be fired. "I made a mistake in letting her get under my skin, now doubt about it, it wouldn't happen again," Melissa said. "But at the end of the day, my mistakes didn't cost us the task. Hers did. Her judgment was sorely lacking."

But Donald Trump fired Melissa because earlier, every member of Capital Edge told Trump that Melissa was a disruptive presence in their group. And that was followed by a women-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful-and-smart meltdown from Melissa, who all but said she couldn't work on a team full of women.

Thus Trump fired Melissa, which was perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, because of Trump's usual fondness for holding project managers accountable.

But even as he let Melissa go, and even though their team lost by just $11, Trump berated project manager Kristi one last time.

"You should not be proud of yourself, because you did not do well," he said, remaining the ruthless billionaire control freak we've grown to know and love.

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

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