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‘Apprentice’ turns into a dogfight

Contestants battle each other rather than using teamwork. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

This was officially the last week for team competition on "The Apprentice" this season, but you’d never know it from watching Thursday’s show, since there was almost no teamwork to be found. The winning project manager did almost everything herself and ignored her teammate except when she had the chance to snipe at him, while the loser took a cab ride to Staten Island in search of beads.

The Harvard Business School won’t exactly be calling NBC to get a tape to show its MBA students as an example of strong management skills. It may, however, want to show the broadcast to its marketing students.

For all those much-maligned marketers in the business world who face questions from upper management every day questioning the value of what they do, this was truly must-see TV. One team utilized a creative marketing approach that got collectable T-shirts in the hands of a small market of affluent buyers, and the other team just kind of sat around and hoped business would come to them. Not surprisingly, the team that had the better marketing strategy carried the day.

That left Net Worth in the boardroom for the ninth consecutive week, and Alex alone had to make his fifth straight trip before the Trump-George-Carolyn firing squad. However, Alex may be the best "Apprentice" contestant in history at outsourcing enough work to serve as a nearly impenetrable blame deflector in his weekly trips to the boardroom.

For whatever reason, he seems to inspire his fellow losing “Apprentice” team members to give up the fight and meekly surrender when the chips are down, and he nearly pulled off the same trick again this week. But he made two factual errors in the boardroom Thursday, and it proved to be his downfall.

One was saying that the New Jersey Generals went 4-14 in Herschel Walker’s first season with the team, the year before Donald Trump bought the franchise in the ill-fated USFL. The team actually finished 6-12. A minor point, and at least he erred on the side of making Trump look better – the Generals went 14-4 the following season under Trump’s management.

Unfortunately, the second error was costlier. He pleaded ignorance as to how many times he’d lost as project manager, giving himself one defeat instead of two. Tana, finally deciding to fight back after a clever boardroom edit had seemingly left her teetering on the brink of elimination, rightly pointed out that she was 2-1 when left in charge, including a victory over an Alex-led squad.

Sidetracked by the Bedazzler
Tana hasn’t gotten this far on "The Apprentice" by making many miscalculations. But this week, a season’s worth of impressive performances was nearly undone by her insistence that a few fancy beads would both inspire people to shell out big bucks for a T-shirt and bedazzle Donald Trump at the same time. It was the dumbest move by a project manager since Stephanie decided to take the subway all over town delivering pizza a few weeks ago, made worse by the decision to sell the Burton Morris-designed shirts for $42.99 and $54.99 apiece.

It’s doubtful that Morris has had anyone else feel the need to dress up his artwork with knick-knacks from a Staten Island crafts store, but that turned out to be OK because it wasn’t marketed as a work of art. In fact, it wasn’t marketed at all.

While the Kendra-led Magna duo pitched its Romero Britto-designed shirts to collectors of his work, Net Worth seemed to hope that enough random passerby with money to burn would shell out the needed cash.

Tana may have assumed that Alex would do the marketing, but if there’s one constant storyline all season, it’s been that project managers make such assumptions about Alex at their peril. Alex wants his team to succeed, but also wants to be sure that someone on the team fails while performing the task, just in case things don’t work out. His comment on the ill-advised trip to Staten Island – "I have a list of Tana’s decisions … I won’t call them mistakes, unless we’re in the board room." – sums it up in a nutshell.

And though Alex was in the boardroom for the fifth consecutive week, it looked at first like Tana would be the one to go. First of all, Trump doesn’t have a whole lot of bedazzled clothes in his closet, so he was predictably unimpressed that so much time was spent finding beads to glue onto T-shirts instead of figuring out how to effectively market the finished product. More importantly, she seemed less determined to fight for her survival, especially compared to a guy who’s been in the boardroom enough times to practically warrant keeping his coffee mug and family photos on the desk.

Trump sent the two out of the boardroom, and both Carolyn and George seemed to indicate that Tana didn’t have what it takes to run a Trump company. But the timeout seemed to reenergize her. She came back in, got aggressive, and focused on her track record, leading Alex to make his fateful math mistake.

Catfight turns dogfightThe struggles of Net Worth made the Craig-Kendra team little more than an interesting sideshow. Still, the world’s most dysfunctional winning team since Shaq and Kobe had their share of discord.

At least in previous weeks, there’s been a buffer between them. But Bren’s elimination last week left Alex as a one-man crew entering the new task, and Trump allowed him to pick his new teammate.

Before the selection, Tana asked Kendra if Alex was really mean enough to pick her and leave Kendra and Craig to fight it out amongst themselves.

Well, let’s see. Alex is a lawyer. He’s lost four times in a row. He knows that picking Tana leaves him one Magna implosion away from being among the final three hopefuls. She didn’t need to be Nostradamus to forecast that choice – even Carolyn noted later in the broadcast that "Kendra and Craig clash."

The two work together like oil and matches … one spark away from a big explosion. But while the task was filled with flare-ups, they somehow managed to keep from blowing up."

That’s particularly impressive, since Kendra trusted Craig enough that she seized control as project manager and did pretty much everything herself. As Craig pointed out, "The only time Kendra wants to know my point of view is so she can decide the opposite."

Fortunately for both, they won’t have to work together again. It’s officially every contestant for themselves starting now. For all practical purposes, however, that’s not much of a change for any of the final three.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.