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Quitting time on reality TV

Mark Burnett's golden children, "The Apprentice" and "Survivor," each delivered a surprise during their most recent episodes. And for once, it wasn't editing that led viewers astray; instead, at tribal council and then in the boardroom, contestants who appeared safe both gave up, altering the courses of the games.

Throughout both episodes, one person was clearly identified as the obvious guest for the Friday morning talk shows: Stephenie of arguably the strongest woman to ever play the game, and Alex of "The Apprentice 3," the goofy lawyer who seemed to have lost his competence somewhere in the loft a few weeks ago.

At tribal council, Stephenie knew she was about to be picked off by an alliance who saw her as a threat. At first, a languid Janu practically begged the tribe to oust her, although she stopped short of quitting. Her tribemates seemed determined to keep her around, an easy competitor to dispose of whenever necessary.

After a barrage of questions from Jeff Probst at tribal council, however, Janu changed her mind, deciding to lay down her torch and quit the game, thwarting the alliance's plans to get rid of Stephenie.

A similarly surprising turn of events came during the boardroom on "The Apprentice." Alex's sheer incompetence as a team leader — he literally phoned in major portions of the task — made him the obvious choice to go, but Bren's unwillingness to fight back and admission of a fault left him at the pointing end of Donald Trump's index finger. Although he didn't quit as dramatically as Janu, Bren clearly gave up.

Can you hear me now?
As the thinned-out teams of "The Apprentice 3" worked to create a new office product for Staples, Alex decided to have a meeting with the store's executives. Idiotically deciding that they weren't very important ("they're not a client, they're just judges, right?"), Alex decided against a face-to-face meeting. Instead, he called them using a cell phone. When bad reception caused the call to break up, Alex admitted "that was a screw-up." Then he did nearly the same thing again.

On the other team, Magna's Kendra and Tana learned what customers wanted by accosting a man at Staples. They rifled through his shopping cart, later laughably referring to that encounter as a "focus group." But they did gather useful information that ultimately helped them construct the winning product.

Alex, however, instructed Bren to cold-call office managers and survey them over the phone. This focus-group plan didn't go over well, either with Bren ("Are you kidding me?") or with the equally incredulous people he reached on the phone. Thus, the product Alex and Bren invented came from their wickedly creative lawyer imaginations.

While Magna created a functional product that's now for sale (the ), Alex and Bren constructed a product that Bren described as "a little table to help clean up the office clutter that plagues America." Alex was convinced that they "knocked the ball so far out of the park" with the desk that Magna would burst into tears and fall to their knees in awe when Bren and Alex entered the room.

Alas, they created a product that Trump called both a "piece of crap" and a "monstrosity." It was a side table with a translucent surface. Underneath the hinged glass lid, they hung In and Out baskets. Of course, as the executives and others pointed out, getting to those two baskets would require clearing the top of the table and then lifting the awkward lid. With the exception of storage space for an electric stapler, the desk was otherwise unadorned.

Boardroom bedlamIn the boardroom, Alex and Bren both defended their lame product.

George asked why they didn't just add easily accessed drawers, but neither would admit their product was flawed. Trump was clearly disappointed with Alex's performance as project manager, and was about to send him on a journey to locate his credibility.

"I thought you were a star and you're not really a star. You're not a star, and I'm disappointed," Trump said.

But then Bren admitted that he wasn't a risk-taker. Admitting a fault to Donald Trump in the boardroom is like jumping in a tank at Sea World, running a cheese shredder up and down your arm, and then waving at a shark.

Sensing Bren's misstep, Alex suddenly sprang to life, listing off all the dreadfully boring ways that he takes risks. Bren just listened, and Donald Trump was appalled.

Castigating Bren for not returning Alex's attacks, Trump found a way to gnaw on the long-decomposed carcasses of FOX's "The Rebel Billionaire," Richard Branson's reality show, and ABC's "The Benefactor," Mark Cuban's series. He said, "Branson went after me, I killed him. Cuban went after me, I killed him."

Bren wasn't willing to "kill" Alex, or even grab him by the ears and head-butt him. Instead, Bren told Trump, "I could have stayed at home with a job that I absolutely loved, be with a wife and kids that I'd much rather be with than being in here getting my ass chewed on."

With that, he signaled defeat. Alex was saved, and Donald Trump made Bren's firing official. "You might be a very good lawyer, but you're really very far behind."

While Janu on "Survivor Palau" seemed to give up before she even arrived on the island, Bren at least stayed competitive until that final boardroom. In his cab ride of shame, Bren admitted that he'd realized "The Apprentice" wasn't for him. "The truth is, I'm exhausted and I'm tired, and I don't really think that I had the hunger in me for this job that Alex does," he said. "I came up here wanting one thing, and in the process realizing that what I really wanted was back home under my nose the entire time."

That realization alone is easily worth more than $250,000 and a year with the Trump Organization.

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

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