Judge Lacey Worrell learned everything she needed to know about succeeding in the cutthroat world of DVD reviewing from Donald Trump.
"I've mastered the art of the deal. And I've turned the name Trump into the highest-quality brand. And as The Master, I want to pass my knowledge on to somebody else."
Frankly, I've always thought of Chef Boyardee and Frito-Lay as the highest-quality brands, but what do I know? This first-season DVD set of The Apprentice does not exactly convert me into a fan of Donald Trump, but as far as reality TV goes, it achieves the gold-standard set by shows like Survivor and the forever underappreciated The Amazing Race.
Facts of the Case
>From the creator of the über-popular reality show, Survivor, comes The Apprentice, where contestants from all walks of life compete for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for mogul Donald Trump. The tattered t-shirts and bathing suits of the island adventure show are replaced by designer business suits, but make no mistake about it: The conniving, backstabbing, and complaining are the same no matter what kinds of clothes the contestants are wearing.
Sixteen contestants with pedigreed backgrounds from elite business schools, or the fields of marketing, publishing, and real estate, share luxurious living quarters high above the streets of Manhattan in Trump Towers to compete for the ultimate job opportunity: the chance to work for and be mentored by Donald Trump in the high-stakes world of business. To earn the position, the contestants are split into two teams, who must complete business tasks as simple as selling lemonade or as complicated as creating a high-profile ad campaign. At the end of the task, the more successful team insulates itself from elimination; several members of the losing team report to Trump's boardroom, where post-game analysis occurs, input is given by Trump's advisors, George and Carolyn, and one unfortunate contestant must hear the dreaded words made famous over the first season: "You're fired!"
This show is about as compelling and suspenseful as it gets. There is a vicarious thrill in watching these competitive people size each other up and sell one another out in the boardroom and behind each other's backs in the living quarters. The boardroom scenes are chock-full of savvy business advice; Trump questions the contestants, forces them to provide their rationale for failed business decisions, and tells them in no uncertain terms where he believes they erred. The ability to view each episode on DVD, without commercial interruptions, is an added treat that only enhances the overall experience.
There is something very special about the first season of a reality show with such an original premise. I still get chills when I think of the first season of Survivor, as contestant Sue Hawk gave her famous speech at the final Tribal Council. Then there was the first season of American Idol, when Kelly Clarkson was crowned the winner. The Apprentice falls into this elite category as well; the suspense builds with each episode, leaving viewers with a sense of emotional investment in the contestants and, consequently, the final outcome.
Much was made during the original airing of the show of the female contestants' use of sex appeal to succeed in their assigned tasks. So what if it sets feminism back a few years; in the pilot episode, the women's idea to flirt and cajole in order to entice men to pay five dollars for cups of unappetizing looking lemonade is brilliant. The entire season is a very interesting study in gender differences in the workplace; as early as Episode Two, notorious contestant Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth is already making enemies among the women. The men stay composed and attempt to project logic even when many of their ideas fail miserably.
As Mark Burnett reveals in one of the included interviews, he came up with the idea for The Apprentice while filming Survivor: Amazon. Burnett smelled gold in the idea of throwing a bunch of overachieving Type-A personalities into competition and letting them duke it out in the boardroom. As he puts it, all these people, regardless of their upbringing or educational background, are used to being the leader. And in a group of 16, not everyone can be the leader, which makes the atmosphere ripe for conflict.
The Survivor comparisons are inevitable. The wilds of a bug-infested island have been replaced with a wood-paneled boardroom, but the scheming and conniving remain eerily similar—but just dissimilar enough to allow The Apprentice to stand on its own merits.
Trump, despite being the star of the show (and despite all the fuss made about his weird hairstyle), is rude, arrogant, and self-important. Characters like Trump, of course, are key ingredients to the success of a reality show. Trump is far more pompous than Survivor's first winner, Richard Hatch, another corporate type who dominated the premiere season of the reality-TV giant. Take, for instance, the time when Trump describes his apartment as "the nicest apartment in New York." Yes, it's lavishly decorated, just this side of tacky, but expensive does not always translate to nice. I've never seen the inside of a New Orleans brothel, but I'm willing to bet that it would look a lot like Trump's pad.
As annoying as Trump is, the business advice he dispenses is invaluable. I may never need to know how to make a fire on a deserted island, à la Survivor, but Trump's often brutal boardroom analyses of the losing team's mistakes are fascinating. Be sure to check out the special feature "Donald-isms," where Trump shares his rules to live by in the world of business. His explanations behind deceptively simple concepts such as "location, location, location," "deal with the boss," "do not beg…ever," and "God is in the details," should be required viewing for students of Business 101 or anyone ready to enter the corporate world.
The other included extras are terrific and sure to satisfy fans of the show. There are audition tapes, on which contestant Bowie Hogg jumps off the roof of a house and into a swimming pool, and Omarosa discusses the street smarts she picked up in her hometown of Washington, D.C. Those who view Omarosa as a villain can at least give her credit for her poise and confidence, which is evident even on her audition tape. Also listen to one of The Donald's interviews, when he refers to the contestants as "kids." Skip the very detailed written summaries of each episode unless you've seen the show before and are searching for a particular scene; the summaries stop just short of revealing who is eliminated in each episode.
Usually transfers from TV to DVD are unremarkable, but this one is better than most, especially given the exterior shots of New York City and the intriguing camera angles. The sound is excellent as well; in fact, the entire package demonstrates that the DVD was put together to please fans, and it is a worthwhile investment. The best reality shows leave viewers hungering for more knowledge about the contestants, and The Apprentice is no exception.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a sense of elitism among some television viewers, as many look at watching reality TV as being some sort of intellectual suicide. Thanks in large part to Mark Burnett, reality TV is a legitimate genre, but as with any genre there are good forms and bad (Bachelorettes in Alaska, anyone?). If you don't count yourself as a fan of reality TV, The Apprentice is a great way to get your feet wet without feeling like you've sold out your intelligence. But be forewarned: In no time at all you may find yourself feverishly anticipating the next installment of Paradise Hotel. Reality TV is addictive like that.
Mark Burnett has created another winner. Say what you will about reality television; Burnett's shows have an unmistakable air of quality and attention to detail that other shows imitate but never quite achieve. If you're getting bored with Tribal Councils, visit the boardroom for a refreshing change of pace and scenery.
The first seasons of reality shows are almost always the best. This five-disc set is a must for any lover of reality television.
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