Pop Culture

Trump turns ‘Apprentice’ into ‘Idol’

At first, everything seemed normal. Donald Trump quizzed the two "Apprentice" finalists in the boardroom, and then, after a break, viewers found themselves looking at a boardroom that had suddenly doubled its square footage and changed its layout. We’d entered the live portion of the finale, and we were salivating at the prospect of hearing “You’re hired” escape Trump’s lips.

But then, everything changed. Donald Trump broke down the fourth wall as he delivered one of those pre-written lines that he has such trouble presenting convincingly. Looking into the camera, he said, “I want your opinion. What do you think? Right now!” The crane camera flew around behind Carolyn and Donald, the back wall soared up into the flies, and the house lights brightened, revealing hundreds of people. Spotlights scanned the inside of Lincoln Center, and a live audience went crazy.

That’s when “The Apprentice 2” went all “American Idol” on us.

Executive producer and series creator Mark Burnett is a master storyteller, as he’s shown for nine seasons on But during the finale of “The Apprentice,” he let ratings or something else get in his way. He interrupted his narrative and the tension dissolved. Before concluding his story, he jumped to the appendix, handing over control to Regis Philbin and, worse, a shrieking audience. Had all of this followed Trump’s hiring of Kelly Perdew, it would have been an engaging final episode with a schmaltzy coda. Instead, a reality-based evening drama transformed into a tawdry daytime talk show.

“This year, at this moment, I have absolutely — I just don’t know. I don’t know what it’s going to be,” Trump said. First, he asked the audience to vote by cheering, and Kelly easily earned the most applause and screams; even a few standing ovations. Then Trump pretended to spontaneously ask Regis Philbin to come out early and interview audience members, starting with last year’s winner Bill Rancic. Perched atop a stool near George for most of the segments, Regis morphed into an aged Ryan Seacrest, introducing clip segments, interviewing people, and bringing out Jenn and Kelly as if the show had already concluded.

‘The Apprentice’ or ‘The Clone’?When Regis trolled the audience, everyone from “Apprentice 1” contestants to Trump employees praised Kelly and said he was the obvious choice. Then Regis reunited the 16 fired “Apprentice 2” candidates and asked their opinions; again, it was nearly unanimous in favor of Kelly. A parade of people heralded Kelly’s virtues and kicked Jenn in the shins. At one point, John said, “I’m impressed that she didn’t get up and walk off earlier, with what was going on. ... She’s getting thrown under the bus here, and she doesn’t deserve it. She’s a great lady and she performed well.” Trump agreed.

Especially during the final task, when Jenn got pushed against a wall, she punched the pusher in the brain. She all but screamed at Chris Webber’s assistant when she found out he wouldn’t be attending the basketball game. When Kelly got pushed against a wall, he slid down it, crawled between his attacker’s legs, and snuck out of the room. While two of his team members got drunk and started goofing around instead of working, he just sat idly by, eeking out a tiny complaint but doing nothing. Trump loved that attitude and drive from Jenn, and although they were both strong candidates, Kelly was the more passive and least passionate of the two.

In truth, though, Kelly was the better choice — to be Donald Trump’s apprentice. The title of the show is not “The Clone”; one Donald Trump is enough, and that’s why contestants with the most dynamic, irritating, and otherwise forthright personalities were systematically eliminated throughout the season. George and Carolyn may be competent, talented businesspeople, but they do not overshadow Donald Trump. And neither will Kelly.

Trump said in interviews this week that the decision between Kelly and Jenn  was a toss-up, and repeated that claim on “The Today Show” Thursday morning. Then, he reiterated his ambivalence during the finale, a mere half-hour before he announced the winner.

There are two possibilities: One, he’d already made up his mind, and just pretended that he hadn’t for the sake of the audience segment. Two, he genuinely had no idea and made up his mind live.

Did audience determine winner?
Either way, his decision now looks like it was based upon the audience’s feedback.

By selecting Kelly, Trump affirmed the audience’s Kelly-love and Jenn-hate. And he didn’t just do that by hiring Kelly after the ridiculous audience-participation segments. Half of his rationale for firing Jenn was based upon what other people think. Just before hiring Kelly, he turned to Jenn and, after praising her, said, “But, you know, one of the problems was that your teammates did not really like you too much, and you did lose quite a bit.”

Since when does Donald Trump cave to peer pressure? Although there are exceptions, such as because of her teammates’ reports about her odd behavior, most of the fun this season has been watching his erratic boardroom decision-making. Trump takes feedback and then processes it, and makes his own decision, regardless of whether or not it matches with the consensus, or even rational thought.

It’s especially annoying that the consensus at the very least appeared to come from a live studio audience. This isn’t “American Idol”; it’s “The Apprentice.” Viewers don’t watch “The Apprentice” because they care what a crowd of planted sycophants thinks; they watch it because they want to see Donald Trump be Donald Trump. By handing over the finale to its fans, Trump gave up control, the one thing his series depends upon.

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