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Beauty and the beasts

Donald Trump had every reason to fire Net Worth project manager Audrey. The problem is, he gave the wrong one. Audrey deserved to be fired because she was incapable of managing her team, never mind her frequent temper tantrums and the fact that she betrayed her closest "Apprentice 3" friend Angie. But after a perfectly rational discussion of Net Worth's lack of respect for Audrey, Trump showed no respect for her as an individual, focusing instead on her appearance and sex when he actually fired her.

All of this began at the beginning of the episode, on the suite's balcony. There, Audrey had, as NBC's promos proclaimed it, a "meltdown." Shaken after her previous visit to the boardroom, where her teammates identified her as the weakest candidate among them, Audrey confessed that her "parents both went to prison," and said she spent part of her life "living out of a car. At 17, I had nothing, nothing at all to my name, nothing. I am where I'm at today because I have crawled and begged," she said. Visibly upset, she also told Angie and Chris a horrifying story. "As a child, girls hated me because I was beautiful. I wanted to scar my face because I was so beautiful, I wanted to be ugly so that they wouldn't hate me. I have tried and tried for my entire life for people to just accept me."

Audrey would soon find that the opposite had become true: Boys liked her because she was beautiful. Joining the conversation, and immediately clashing with an equally belligerent Audrey, John tried to compliment her. "You probably will make more money than anybody else because you are gorgeous and you are a sweetheart."

Audrey replied, "That's an insult. You think I'm sweet and a pretty face? I have a goddamn brain, too, and that's why you don't respect me, John."

"Respect has nothing to do with it, sweetie. It's trust," he said. Audrey ignored him, immaturely telling John, "F--- you" as she stormed off. Later, during the task, John demonstrated his lack of respect for Audrey once again. Talking to her on the phone, he said, "Audrey, you're an idiot. We're going to win this task in spite of you. … I'm sorry, thanks for coming out. Have a nice day. We have some lovely parting gifts for you."

His animosity and insubordination is somewhat understandable. Although his actions were childish and unproductive -- calling your boss "an idiot" is probably not the best career move --Audrey wasn't exactly a star on this task or on others.

In the boardroom, though, John again went back to the comments he made on the balcony. Instead of concentrating entirely on Audrey's deficiencies as a team member or leader, John referred again to her youth and sex. Responding to a question from Trump, John said, "I think she is what she is."

"What is she?" Trump asked.

"She's a 22-year-old girl," John replied.

Audrey recounted the balcony conversation, and a somewhat amused Trump asked, "Did you say that? Do you consider her beautiful?"

John said, "I do; she's gorgeous."

"You think she is? A lot of people would like to trade places," Trump not-so-cryptically said.

This exchange was, of course, completely irrelevant. Beauty and age and sex weren't directly related to her failure -- except in the minds of Donald Trump and Audrey's teammate John. Both relentlessly focused on her age and beauty, in the boardroom and outside of it, and were ultimately unable to look past those external characteristics. Especially in a business environment, where ideally (or perhaps naively), people advance based upon their actions and merits, their focus on her sex, age, and appearance were unacceptable.

This was so obvious that Trump's own right-hand man mentioned it. Ashley Cooper, a Trump executive sitting in for George, was disturbed by John's comments. While the candidates waited in the lobby, Cooper said, "This 22-year-old girl comment is killing me, that John made. I'm not a John fan."

But this didn't faze Trump ("interesting" was his only reply), as he was even more blatantly sexist when the candidates returned to the boardroom. After Carolyn asked Audrey about the respect her team had for her, Trump butted in, "They think she's good looking but they don't respect her," he said.

He didn't say, "She has a strong resume but they don't respect her." And when it came time for Trump to make his final decision, he said, "Audrey, you're constantly blaming everybody on your team. You never take any responsibility yourself. You were the team leader, and nobody from your team respected you." Trump was exactly correct. But he should have stopped there, because the next words out of his mouth revealed an ugly truth.

Referring to John's earlier comments, Trump said, "And he is right, you are a beautiful young woman. But often times, beauty doesn't do it. And in this case, Audrey, you're fired."

But those things are not necessarily connected. Had she been more beautiful, Trump basically said, that would have compensated her for her failings as a leader. Perhaps there's some truth to what he said, as in our highly visual culture, appearance is significant. And as we've seen on past seasons of "The Apprentice," women and men have used their physical appearances to try to gain an advantage. And although Audrey was infuriated earlier when John made a comment about her physical appearance and not about her intellectual abilities, Trump's comment caused her to swoon during her taxi ride of shame. "Mr. Trump did say I was beautiful, so that was nice of him," Audrey said.

Still, for a man of Donald Trump's stature to continually refer to a candidate's physical appearance during a job interview suggests that he's not viewing her as an equal, or at least is unable to look beyond her sex. And Trump seems to know that this is true, because after the candidates left the boardroom, Trump sat back in his chair and sighed, "Well, at least they can't say I picked the best-looking one."

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

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