The Apprentice, S01 E02: “Don’t Negotiate With Underlings”

Next thing you know it’s the end of April, and the Great American Primary Machine itself is showing signs of fatigue.

Continuing Republican Frontrunner Donald Trump’s irascible occupation of the airwaves has lasted so long that the media itself is tiring out. The Republican field has narrowed to a pair – either it’s Ted or it’s Trump – and reporters have gratefully shifted to cover the Dems’ race, where both Hillary and Bernie’s most fervent supporters are currently doing everything they can to undermine the opposite faction’s candidate. I think the Pope just got dragged into it all over again.

(I won’t go into much more detail on the Dems, because lord help me, this is supposed to be a close reading of the first season of NBC’s The Apprentice, a Mark Burnett / Donald Trump production. Short version: it’s a mess, but the DNC will be like Marvel’s Civil War, where both sides make a lot of good points and the people involved have legitimate, often deeply valued reasons to support their stances. Whereas the RNC will be like Batman V Superman, in that anybody who’s still interested will have to choose between two horrible assholes with marginally incompatible philosophies.)

Anyway, until New York votes there’s nothing to be done. Trump or Clinton could practically clinch their nominations tonight; Sanders and Cruz would still face huge delegate deficits even if they won the state. Right now the media just seems relieved to report on something else for a change. I turned on CNN yesterday to see reports of an earthquake in Central America. The Senior Latin American Affairs editor compared the reports to a similarly devastating one in 1987 which killed a thousand people. The lead anchor: “Oh my goodness, very tragic. All right. Thanks so much, keep us posted. Appreciate it.” A natural disaster in a foreign country: Very tragic. Keep us posted. One segment on a suspicious drone sighting later, and I realized I’d spoken too soon. Our lead anchor, who never seemed to get identified on screen, visibly perked up for the lighter side of the news: Donald Trump had picked his nickname for Hillary Clinton, which is “Crooked Hillary!” Could there be a clearer sign that she’d clinched the Democratic nomination in Trump’s eyes? And so on.

The Apprentice DVD retains the original previously-on… segments. Trump narrates a montage that belabours each rule of the show that isn’t the same as on Survivor; then he blasts a single-verb summary for each incident in the contestants’ first few days on the job interview.

In my last post, I quoted this as “Women!” Sorry, Protégé Corp! I misheard you and I thought the “winning” part was implied as part of the cheer. Also, I assume Trump will continue referring to you as “the women,” perhaps even after being corrected.

Sam and Troy arrive home, and for the first time it dawns on the remaining contestants that “this really happens.” Everyone’s very shaken that Trump has fired David, surely dooming him to a life spent sleeping on park benches and wearing sloppy jogging pants while some wealthy yam films him as illustrative footage for a business-themed game show. “If the men don’t win the next task,” says Sam, “we’re all as good as dead. Because Mr. Trump does not give second chances.” Kwame prays over his mattress while Sam voiceovers about how Trump has no faith in “the male team.”

In the morning, Omarosa designs a logo for Protégé. The logo has some problems. I can’t remember if it ever comes up again, so savour it while you can.

Omarosa brings a glass bowl to the table, proposing that the team decide the next project manager at random. Ereka prefers a vote: “We know who the people in our group are now that motivate, that encourage…”

From off-camera, Omarosa (?) asks, “Can we vote? Can we vote?” and Ereka stops to ask, “Can I finish?”

“Wow,” says Omarosa. “Did you see how you get towards me?” She’s goading Ereka for the camera, and suggesting narratives for the editors. Remember, Omarosa is a political consultant, and I suspect a very skilled one. Years before Trump brought the unchecked id of reality TV to politics, Omarosa brought a very particular brand of mudslinging and image manipulation from DC to his TV show. It’s not like he didn’t notice. In an interview conducted while she dresses for the challenge, Omarosa describes the quarrel as “Let’s shut Omarosa up” – smack of fist to palm – “but open it up to the other women” – hands outstretched in welcome. Like I said: skilled.

Protégé nominates Amy. Ereka seconds with a fuck-you smirk to Omarosa, who’s now gotten firmly under her skin. Amy cheerfully accepts the nomination, and decides this is the moment to heal team wounds. “Both of you guys are above this bickering,” she says. Omarosa: “This exchange is always personal.” Ereka: “I’m seriously shaking.” How much did they cut out of this conversation? There are enough edits that this probably resembles reality about as much as Liam Neeson climbing a fence. All we know with certainty is that Ereka and Omarosa have sunk back into bickering, thereby proving their project manager’s faith misguided within literal seconds, which is a Business No-No.

Ereka calls Omarosa “sweetie pie,” which threatens to turn ugly very fast. Kristi sums it up better than I can.

The next morning, Trump calls “the Apprentice Suite” from his car phone (?!) and tells his TV secretary to have them meet him at the Deutsch Advertising Agency. The men still need to pick a project manager. Bowie suggests the whole team could raise their hands at once and all be captains (!?!) while Kwame points out the task may benefit from, you know, advertising experience. He seems to be throwing his hat into the ring, but Jason pipes up from literally the back of the room saying he once worked in an ad agency. Bill utters a perfectly incredulous “You did?” (credited to Kwame in the subtitles, who steps aside).

Jason is visibly terrified.

At the Deutsch Agency, Trump introduces the contestants to Donny Deutsch, an ad exec who runs a very free and open office. Then I swear this happens:

Trump sits the teams down in the agency’s sunny, open-concept idea of a board room to tell them what he thinks about advertising.

“Advertising is an amazing thing. It’s a powerful, powerful tool – weapon – and there’s nothing like Madison Avenue.”

– Donald J. Trump

The teams will develop a campaign for Marquis Jet Card, with the winners taking a flight to Boston for dinner. Trump, very busy, leaves Donny D to babysit. “At minimum,” they’ll have to design a TV commercial and magazine ad for a company that rents private jets by the hour. Today Donny probably makes the viral videos you have to watch for five seconds on YouTube before you can skip to the viral video you clicked on. In the glory days of 2004, Donny has unlimited resources, with “access to everything you could need to put anything on paper, to film anything,” and he encourages the contestants with the same words he gives his own employees. “Number one: swing for the fences, and failure is not an option.”

Back from commercial, Trump has advice of his own:

“Making deals can be tough,” says Trump. “I learned at a young age that you have to deal with the boss. It’s very simple: deal with the boss wherever possible.” Anybody working a retail job should thoughtfully consider the potential ramifications of a Donald Trump presidency.

At Protégé, Amy schedules a meeting with the Marquis executives. Omarosa attempts to join in, but Amy delegates her to stay at home base, citing “some tension.” Interviewing in a red top and blue jeans faded to white, looking a lot like Old Glory, Omarosa calls this “the most ineffective decision Amy could have made, [leaving] her team without a timeline or a plan of action.” Omarosa is constructing a narrative for the event of the team’s failure; but she won’t need to place blame if they succeed. Watching this now, I only vaguely recall the details of how she ends up imploding during this season. But having spent the intervening years becoming increasingly, distressingly familiar with Trump, at this moment she seems like a favourite to win the whole game – sorry – win the whole job interview. The home base faction, concerned about their 48-hour deadline, head to the airport to capture footage with no real direction.

At VersaCorp, Jason lays out their strategy: “I’ll have to be the floater. I’ll go from back and forth. Okay?” He delegates Nick and Bill to the creative department. “I think you guys should come up with, ‘Okay, here’s how we’re gonna do it.’ That’s it! Come up with your print ads, talk to who you need to talk to…” Jason gets so panicked his face dissolves into a magnetically distorted digital smear.

Troy interjects that they should really find out what their client is looking for. “They are the ones who have employed us to do their marketing campaign,” he says, very sensibly. “Honestly, do I think we need to meet them?” asks Jason. “I don’t think we need to meet with them,” says Jason. “It’s gonna take a half-hour, hour.”

I had sympathy for Jason as someone clearly in way over his head, but this is insane. “It’s a waste of time.” Troy is still trying to get through to him when Jason sends a crew to the airport to shoot footage. My deepest sympathies to whichever NBC editor will have to assemble both these teams’ efforts into commercials that will pass Donald J. Trump’s intense scrutiny. Bowie, Kwame, Nick and Bill head to the hangar while Sam, Troy and Jason sweat at home base.

At Marquis Jet, a pair of executives tell Amy and Ereka they have “no limits” and want to be “wowed.” One of the executives says “absolutely,” devoid of any context. Maybe this meeting wasn’t as vital as I thought.

Amy passes along her inside info to Tammy, who’s a little busy approving the large cardboard Marquis Card they’ve designed for the shoot. Tammy describes her overall concept as “something that’s very risky: I wanted to show a phallic symbol. Because it’s a plane, and if you buy the Marquis Card, you’re gonna go up – you’re gonna go way up.” She jabs the air with a pen. A professional still photographer who’s above all this shit says, “It’s pretty bold.” Omarosa calls the idea “the most disgusting approach to such a quality and luxury type of service.” Omarosa is nailing the Trump brand of rhetoric. Unshaken, Tammy explains they’ll “merge serious with funky.” Re: Donny Deutsch, “he’s either gonna love it, or he’s either gonna hate it.”

On the way to the airport, Bill gets a call from Sam. “Close your eyes and get this image…” In the car, Bill rolls his eyes. Sam won’t get to the point. Jason tries to steer Sam back to a task. They argue. Bill is still listening to all of this. In an interview, Sam’s gaze is blackening.

Bill and Nick arrive at the airport. “You ask Sam what time it is,” says Bill, “he tells you how to build a clock.” These two bros hash out an idea on Deutsch stationery, and Bowie calls it “phenomenal.” Nick, on the steps of a private jet: “Victory. Victory for the men.” Bill:

But don’t count feminism out just yet, because Protégé’s dick pics are finished!

At VersaCorp homebase, Sam falls asleep on the floor with no real setup or explanation.

This classic Apprentice moment gets immortalized on the DVD packaging.

On pitch day, Protégé Corporation roll into the Deutsch Office wearing flight attendant uniforms. Donny D introduces his firm’s managing partner and media director, two “serious pros” who look utterly humourless at first but get a chuckle out of the print ads – like this one for newspapers, which is about fucking a jet engine:

Apparently Protégé opted not to shoot any video footage for their commercial, because this is literally all we see:

Amy summarizes their presentation as “sex appeal and… a little bit shock value,” and Donny makes a joke about how the team’s set the women’s movement back about 70 years. Everybody laughs. They’re having a wonderful time!

VersaCorp is jittery in advance of their pitch. Nick gives some good feedback to Kwame about directing the energy in the room. They walk in confident, each wearing their best suits. Kwame shows off their print ads; Jason presents a PowerPoint deck where a pie chart of their marketing budget spiral-flies onto the screen, bless his heart. Their commercial is shaggy in a way that feels prehistoric now that every film school grad has a DSLR.

Oh yes, and it turns out Bill was dressed as a pilot, and Sam hands out cigars to the Deutsch execs on their way out the door. After quick deliberation, both teams are put on speakerphone with Trump for the verdict. At his office, Donald says, “Hello,” and “Right.” Deutsch questions the women’s concept but says in the advertising business, “you’re buying people.” He chooses Protégé, who scream. Tele-Trump:

“For the women, as a reward tonight, the women are gonna hop on a jet, you’re going up to Boston to a great restaurant. You’re gonna have dinner. The men, unfortunately, also did well, but they lost. There won’t be any dinner. There won’t be any private jet. And I’m gonna see you in the boardroom, and I’m gonna fire somebody.”

The women cheer: “One, two, three – Boston!!” and take a limo to the airport. Boarding the plane, Omarosa’s the only one not freaking out over the jet. Back at the Apprentice Suite, VersaCorp shake salad out of plastic bags and burn a bunch of steaks. Protégé order from a menu where the waiter promises everything is delicious. The women finally stumble from “Olives” restaurant at 4 AM. Omarosa asks for quiet in the limo, citing exhaustion – they’ve been up since 6 the previous morning. The ladies, all woozy on TV victory and expensive wine, keep it up.

Omarosa: “They decided to get louder. They just collectively decided. ‘Hey, you know, let’s disregard what she says.’” Ereka explains (in an interview recorded later) that when they tried to rouse Omarosa at the Boston airport, she “started going nuts.” There’s no footage of this.

At the departure gate, we cut to Omarosa telling Ereka (rather calmly) to stay out of her face. Ereka, agitated, argues that she was asleep too, and escalates: “Now I’m done. You’ve threatened me. It’s over… Being a bitch is your problem. You have to live with that for the rest of your life.”

The next day, Omarosa interviews: “I called her a baby. I told her to go in the corner and get her pacifier and her blanket and go cry, which is what she always does.”

Oh, we’re still not done! Jesus, it’s all coming back to me. Okay. So. Now on the plane back to New York, Omarosa calls Ereka “emotionally unstable.”

Ereka: “That is like calling the kettle black.”

Omarosa: “See, there you go with your racist terms. What was that you said about black people?” Ereka goggles as Omarosa continues. “Try to contain your prejudice, okay? You’re very intimidated by black women, right?” And then the argument just… ends? Omarosa sleeps alone on their descent back into New York, while the rest of the team sits awake around a meeting table. It is all just as confusing and disorienting as I’ve described it.

The next morning, Sam is freaking out about their boardroom meeting. Troy, concerned for the guy’s cardiac system, sits him down, pops a Stetson onto his melon, and tells him to picture himself as “Sammy the Country Kid.” Troy takes a big bite out of a Golden Delicious. I kinda love Troy.

Pre-boardroom, Jason believes Sam is the team’s weak link. Kwame and Bill blame Jason’s decision not to meet with the client. They trudge into the room and find their seats. “Hello, fellas,” says Trump. “Well, here we go again. What happened?” Jason calls their package “phenomenal” but says it wasn’t what the agency wanted. “Fellas,” says Trump again, “What do you think of your team leader?”

Troy and Nick defend Jason. “I thought he performed well,” says Nick. “His choices were well thought out.”

“Are you saying that because you don’t want him to pick you?” Trump asks.

“Not one bit. Not one bit.”

Trump turns to Sam. “Do you think Jason was good? Or terrible?”

Sam hesitates. “I don’t think he was good. I don’t think he was terrible. Are those the only two options?”

Trump gets excited: “I’ll bet he chooses you. Because of that statement.”

Kwame doesn’t place individual blame but says they should have met with the client. Troy ties that mistake to Jason. Trump calls it a terrible decision. “If you’d met with the president, you would have known he wanted a flashier campaign.”

Asked to pick two teammates who “contributed to their failure,” Jason chooses Sam for sleeping on the floor. “Sam was the easy one, guys,” he says, looking up and down their side of the table. “Um – I’m probably going to pick Nick.”

“Nick! Wow!” says Trump. “That’s surprising. He was very nice to you. He said you were a wonderful guy. He said you did a good job.” Trump says Jason could be seen as disloyal; Nick affirms that he still thinks Jason did a good job.

In deliberation, George takes the long-term view that Sam would be a terrible candidate to ever run one of Trump’s companies. Donald says, “I think he’s gonna get some company in huge trouble, or he’s gonna take some company to a level they never knew about. But he is not the reason this particular event failed.”

“It’s your decision,” says George. Trump brings the trio back in. Nick leads the charge before they’ve even sat down: “Mr. Trump, can I have a chance to defend myself?”

“Yes,” says Trump. “You look angry walking into the room, actually. And the answer is yes, go ahead.”

“Mr. Trump, George, Carolyn, I’ve come here to win; I’ve come here to earn the apprenticeship through performance. Now, I have no idea why he’s choosing me on these grounds specifically. At the end of the day, I was asked to critique the performance of the overall presentation. If you ask Kwame, I gave him a crash course in public speaking. Is that true?”

Jason, realizing he’s botched this, hangs his head. “Yes. Yes, it is true.”

“Then, with that being said, if I’m not capable of having the apprenticeship, why are you asking me to do these responsible things?”

Jason freezes.

“I would just like for it to be backed up.”

“It has to be somebody,” says Jason.

Trump cuts through the cruft:

“So, Nick, you’re very angry at Jason. I guess the biggest problem I have with you picking Nick is he was the one guy that really defended you. So there’s a little disloyalty there. But – I mean, that’s all life is. Nick, you’re gonna get used to that.” Trump assures Nick that he’s safe: “I was a little surprised you were picked. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m gonna make the decision. You’re not gonna be thrown out, okay? So now we’re down to these two.”

“Jason’s making a lot of mistakes,” says Sam. “He’s shown a high capacity for making mistakes!”

“Weren’t you asleep for most of this?” asks Trump.

“No, I did not sleep,” says Sam. Jason says Sam curled up on the floor in the middle of the project, at minimum.

Trump is delighted. “In the fetal position?” Jason confirms: “In the fetal position.”

Everyone starts to chuckle, including Sam. Trump zeroes in on Nick: “Don’t say anything. You’re not gonna be chosen. Don’t blow it. Sit there. Be good. You look like a West Point Cadet. If you say something, who knows? But these two are fighting for their life.” Sam takes issue with that summation. Trump snaps back, “Sam, in many respects you’ve been a disaster.”

Jason rails on Sam for falling asleep. Sam asks Nick if he remembers it happening. “Nick wasn’t there!” yelps Jason. He’s floundering. “It was Troy and you. And you fell asleep doing that job. I’m not trying to attack you, Sam, but when you say that I’m a bad leader – if I have another opportunity to become a leader, and it’s a little bit earlier than when we’re crunched for time, I would have taken this home. No doubt in my mind. And I’m not saying it was just that. But you’re focusing on the fact that I didn’t meet with the president personally.”

“That’s a big fact,” says Trump. “That’s a big fact.” He turns to Sam. “Don’t take offence…”

“I don’t take offence.”

“Don’t take offence. I mean… everyone hates you.”

Sam, grinning: “I don’t think they hate me.” Trump: “Pretty close. Some hate. Some hate. So far you’ve got no respect from anybody. Would you say that’s a correct statement, Nick?” Hilariously, Nick is still trying not to say anything.

Trump, about Nick: “See how happy he is? He’s quiet. He’s a great guy. And I happen to think he’s a great guy,” indicating Jason. To Sam: “You… I haven’t figured out yet. The problem is – Jason – you made the mistake of not meeting the president – and you made a mistake!”

Jason, his spirit broken, says, “Mr. Trump, I’m sorry to interrupt you–”

“Jason. Jason, this is a tough one. You’re fired.”

The men wait for their elevators in the lobby while Trump voiceovers: “Jason is a spectacular young man, who I think is gonna be tremendously successful, who didn’t deal with the boss. And that’s why he was fired.”

Sam says, “Take care,” as he boards the elevator back up to the suite. Jason descends. “That was tough,” Trump says to George and Carolyn. Jason gets into his death cab.

Good night, sweet, scared prince.

In the backseat interview, Jason wonders how the team’s next leader will deal with Sam. To Trump: “I just wanna let… Donald Trump know… I… I enjoyed myself with you. And I would definitely look for me in the future, whether I’m working for you or not. You know? Give me five years and I’ll have my first building. And then we’ll talk. I’ll call you direct.” I wonder what his LinkedIn looks like now. I tried Googling him, but the search was choked with results for a more interesting Jason who was on the UK Apprentice, which pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

Trump was nearly a non-entity in this episode! It leaves me very concerned that I may spend the next few months recapping, analyzing and goofing on a bunch of bickering, camera-hungry weirdos with bizarre ideas about how to run things. That’s not all this blog is meant to be about. It’s also supposed to be about Republican politics. Hopefully we’ll all have plenty to discuss after the New York primary, which CNN says they’ll begin covering in T-minus 6 minutes, ticking countdown timer on the screen and all, just as soon as their current segment about the New York primary is over.

If it makes you feel any better: there will only be seven more months of this.