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‘Apprentice’ not a test of corporate skills

Trump’s reality show is all about the drama
/ Source: contributor

The big question going into Thursday night's finale of “The Apprentice 3” is not, “Who will become Donald Trump’s next apprentice?”

The question is, “How is his show going to fill another hour without the help of Regis Philbin?”

While viewers will be spared a three-hour, audience-infested finale this season, last week’s episode covered most of what we’d expect to see this week. Tana and Kendra completed their tasks and faced off in the boardroom; as we left them, they were waiting nervously in the lobby for their team members to report back to Donald and friends. After that, there can't be much left.

Besides covering most of the material viewers would expect the last episode to include, last week’s episode also seemed to strongly suggest who will win. Based upon the way the tasks were shown, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Kendra will be Donald Trump’s first female apprentice. Although Tana is smart and competent, Kendra seems like the obvious choice because of the way she handled the final task.

Was Tana's task tougher?The tasks handed to the final two candidates on “The Apprentice” typically involve coordinating a number of people and smaller events at a large venue, and that held true in this, the show’s third season. Tana was assigned to manage the NYC 2012 Athlete Challenge, while Kendra ran the Best Buy Video Game World Championships.

Tana’s task appeared to be considerably more complex, at least logistically, and the episode focused on a number of her fumbles. She left New York governor George Pataki standing outside with nothing to do; she couldn’t find an American flag to be included in a processional; brochures that were printed all had to be trashed because of an embarrassing error. Meanwhile, after an initially icy reception from her corporate sponsors, Kendra’s event seemed to progress almost flawlessly.

Both the final boardroom grilling from Trump and the penultimate episode itself suggested that the candidates’ ability to manage and interact well with their teams was central to their success or failure. Although managers must be able to control and organize people, who are never perfect, Tana and Kendra’s teams were clearly selected based upon their abilities to screw things up. Donald Trump admitted this in a voiceover that preceded last week’s episode, as he called Kendra and Tana’s helpers “the most difficult members of their original teams.”

Terrible teamsKendra was blessed with Danny, Erin, and Michael, while Brian, Chris, and Kristen did their best to destroy Tana’s chances. The problem children delivered, screwing up relentlessly. Kristen created a brochure for Tana that was ultimately unusable because she included private notes about the athletes in the text. Then she helpfully got into a fight with Brian and Chris. While preparing for Kendra’s event, Danny humiliated himself yet again by singing a song to executives instead of just telling them that Kendra was running late.

Real employees face some kind of consequence for misbehaving; these candidates had nothing to lose except their reputations, which they’d pretty much already stomped to death. After she was selected to help Tana for the final task, Kristen confirmed that she had no reason to be invested, saying, “I don’t give a f---. My ass is no longer on the line.”

Kendra ultimately had more success with her team; after her task was complete, she tearily said, “I almost forgot what it was like to work with people who believed in me.” But Tana’s frustration with the situation earned a lot more screen time that Kendra’s hug-fest. Tana began the task by joking with Carolyn about her team members, and concluded by lingering “The reality is, I did this on my own. There was no love,” she said.

The irony is that Tana may lose as a result of the way she dealt with, and reacted to, her team, but ultimately, she was only treating the show like the product-placing farce it has become. How could she be expected to take her team seriously when the producers and Trump clearly did not?

An unaired scene from last week’s episode shows a part of Tana’s task that we never saw, and suggests that things went a lot better for her than the episode suggested. In it, she receives compliments and praise from event participants and from one of her teammates.

Perhaps Mark Burnett and his masterful editors were just trying to divert our attention and set us up for a Kendra victory. Still, last week’s episode and its consequences can’t be ignored. Once heralded as a model for business-school students and aspiring entrepreneurs, the show seems to have resolved to be interested only in drama — and attention for Donald Trump and the show’s sponsors.

This week, Donald Trump told Newsweek that the advertised prize for the show — letting the winner run one of his companies for a year—is not really genuine. “It’s a little bit too much to ask someone to be the president of a $800 million building when they haven’t had that kind of experience,” he said. Thus, Bill Rancic and Kelly Perdew have spent much of their time with the Trump Organization doing media appearances, not running a company.

“The Apprentice” is fun television. But it is no longer a test of corporate skills; it’s a test of television reality show skills. Whoever wins should be congratulated not on their business acumen, but on their ability to master the skills necessary to win a reality TV show.

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