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Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Tom Scharpling Warms Up to NeNe, the Warwick Slayer

To paraphrase the philosopher Alfred Joseph Benza: Reality shows, ain't they a bitch? Last week’s Celebrity Apprentice was bizarre to the point of confusion — Gary Busey leading his team to victory? Niki Taylor just quitting in the boardroom? Strange and unexpected stuff indeed.

So I went into this installment hoping for some of the bread-and-butter moments we were denied last week: The finger pointing after a team loses a challenge. The moment when the project manager spitefully drags two other contestants into the showdown. The crazed accusations meant to swing the Donald’s final verdict. These are the staples that make the show so sickeningly watchable, and if wanting them in every episode makes me a monster, then paint me green and turn me loose on the villagers because I want it.

This episode starts off with the dudes of Team Backbone letting Gary Busey know that they were less than impressed with his leadership on the last task. Mark McGrath and Richard Hatch are especially vocal about Busey’s inability to command the team. And the ladies of Team ASAP are puzzled by the Busey victory: NeNe Leakes puts it best when she says incredulously, "We lost to Gary Busey? How did that happen?"

But since he was the project manager during the winning week, Busey gets to present the charity of his choice with a check. And Gary has chosen the Center for Head Injury Services, the organization that helped him after his horrific motorcycle accident back in 1988. This charity clearly means a lot to the man, and underneath all that crazy there is a dude who has a fair amount of heart.

I wish I could say the same about both Donald Trump and Camping World, the business that was showcased last week. They pony up a whopping twenty thousand dollars each for the Busey’s charity. So Camping World gets a two-hour commercial on NBC and can only part with twenty grand? I’m sorry, but that’s pretty F-ing cheap. And Trump can eat at the Sultan’s Feast buffet at his Taj Mahal casino — which is actually worse than telling someone to eat shit! — if he thinks we’re supposed to be blown away by his meager donation.

Donald Trump gathers the contestants in the lobby of one of his tacky gold buildings to inform them of the next competition, presenting two meatheads from a company called ACN. Seriously, these guys are creepy; one of them can best be described as a more evil-looking Jay Mohr, if that’s at all possible.

The teams have to film a commercial to showcase the company’s dumb-looking videophone. The dudes select Lil Jon as their project manager and the ladies choose NeNe Leakes to break their slump, after Dionne Warwick not-so-sneakily tries to dump Marlee Matlin into the PM seat by saying, "I think it’s already been decided. She uses [the same phones].”

Thankfully, Matlin’s interpreter steps in and explains that Marlee’s phone is specifically for deaf people. What a troll Dionne Warwick is. And what’s up with that ridiculous sparkly hat she’s wearing? It’s like something left over from the wardrobe from Baz Luhrmann’s failed Broadway adaptation of Newsies.

The guys settle in on a concept that they can’t stop referring to as “hip” and “cutting edge”: A young man speaks to his grandparents over his videophone to introduce his fiancée to them, with the reveal being that he is engaged to another man, who will be played by Jose Canseco! I know, shocking that two guys might love each other in 2011, right? Although this might be a groundbreaking concept in the eyes of the stiffs at ACN, who seem like the type who would go to a hair salon and say, "Give me the Mitt Romney."

The ladies decide to do a more heartfelt spot: A young woman in France checks in with her parents via this crummy videophone and speaks sign language to her hearing-impaired mother. And yes, I know the obvious choice is to give Oscar award winner Marlee Matlin the role of the deaf mother, but I really, really, REALLY wanted them to give it to Dionne Warwick. Just close your eyes and imagine how offensive this nightmare of a woman’s attempt at sign language would’ve been and you’ll agree.

And the ladies start cooking right out of the gate. NeNe is a pretty great project manager, delegating to everybody and getting things rolling. But it’s not all chocolate and Spanx on their team — Hope Dworaczyk says that the only thing she’s good at is “finding props,” causing NeNe to break off the greatest eye roll I have ever seen in my life. She is so great on this show and I am now rooting for her big time.

As the dudes prep their commercial, it becomes apparent that Gary Busey cannot go five seconds without being the center of attention. And he is sooo far off the mark performance-wise: He’s playing the role of “the Grandfather” like he’s auditioning for the Frank Booth role in a Blue Velvet webisode.

Oh, and one other thing with Busey: He doesn’t wear anything under his robe. And at one point the robe flew open, exposing what he refers to as “Big Wednesday” to anybody unfortunate enough to be huddled around Video Village. And this is the last we will ever speak of “Big Wednesday” around these parts ever again.

Jose Canseco has concerns about his portrayal of a gay person, and not only because his “Twitter is going to blow up” upon America seeing him act in this fake commercial. Jose is concerned that his father will lose his marbles, saying that “if my father sees this he’s basically gonna kill me.” If he sees it?! What’s your dad so crazy busy with that he might not get around to watching his son on a reality show? And how big is your dad if he can kill you at this point in his life? And if any of you readers want to make Jose’s Twitter really blow up about something, let’s get him acknowledging these recaps: Tweet @josecanseco about this and let’s turn this whole circus into a car wash!

NeNe slides right into the director’s chair like an old hand. Within minutes she’s saying "action!" and "quiet on the set!" with the detached regularity of someone who has directed television for years. And she admits that she likes it, claiming to have been "bitten by the directing bug," which is not shocking because directing something is the greatest feeling ever. Seriously, being in charge of a bunch of people who will do whatever you say? Who wouldn’t like that?

After concluding their shoots, the teams head off to edit their respective commercials. Except for Dionne Warwick, who begs off from the editing session because she’s tired. Or as she put it, “My body said ‘girlfriend, it’s time for you to lay down.’” Who doesn't hate this woman at this point? Anyone?

And then I thought I accidentally switched over to the conclusion of Inglourious Basterds until I realized I wasn’t looking at a theater filled with Nazis but rather a roomful of ACN executives gathered to vote on the commercials. The A-Hole Quotient in that theater was through the roof — all the suits gave Trump a standing ovation as he gracelessly clomped to his front-row seat. These are the people who can’t wait to vote for this dope.

And on a side note, who wants to break it to the brain trust at ACN that their product can be replicated for free by anybody who has a webcam and Instant Messenger? What a truly gross spectacle; if the producers had any guts they would’ve ditched the imperious keyboard music that accompanied Trump’s entrance and replaced it with something more appropriate, like “Greedy & Pathetic” by MDC.

The ladies’ presentation goes well. As creepy as Star Jones can be, she knows how to talk to an audience, and she brings it all the way home. Their spot is maudlin but effective, inadvertently coming off like a trailer for Taken 2: Re-Taken.

The dudes get up there and man does Lil Jon work them hard. He’s in control of the audience from the get-go, pumping them up and getting them to think that their already-outmoded product could be "cool." And they take the bait, whooping and hollering along with him. I’m surprised he didn’t drop the mike on the ground as he left the stage.

In the boardroom, the guys seem pretty confident that they won this challenge, with Lil Jon saying that the difference was their willingness to "think outside the box." Lil Jon mentioned thinking outside the box so many times throughout the episode that I suspect he’s getting kickbacks from the National Association of Box Makers.

Trump needles the guys about the possibility of their commercial being too "out there" or "risqué." Come on, Trump — as awful as you are, even you are better than trading on the fear of gays in society for false reality show tension. I would expect more of the next President of the United States.

During the men’s presentation, NeNe unexpectedly starts crying to herself. She says it’s because she wants to win so badly because her charity is My Sister’s House, which aids abused women and she wants the money. It’s a strange moment and it makes me feel for her. While she might be a total lunatic on Real Housewives — which I haven’t seen — she comes off as real as a human can on a show like this, and I like her even more.

Trump tells NeNe that she did beautifully during the competition, and he’s right — she really did do a great job. Their commercial might’ve been a little sappy, but it was as effective as any heartstring-tugging spot on TV right now. LaToya said the commercial made her cry, which I guess would mean that water would drip out of her ears at this point?

But the men squeaked out a narrow victory in the competition, leaving the women to duke it out in the boardroom. And the ladies went at it like nobody’s business. Star goes after Hope and LaToya; Marlee zings La Toya. And thankfully — finally! — NeNe turns her sights to Dionne. It’s clear that everybody is scared of this woman because she’s a legend. Whoop de doo, she sang on some records and had eleven top ten hits over her career. Would they all be tiptoeing around Buffy Saint-Marie? Or Mark Farner? Or Buckner? Or Garcia?

And just when it’s about to get good, it gets over! Dionne tells Trump that she agrees that she should be fired if that’s what everybody else thinks. But when Star Jones confronts her on quitting on her charity — which is the Hunger Project (which I had assumed would benefit people starving from losing their savings to the Psychic Friends Network before I learned it’s a solid charity that promotes the sustainable end of world hunger) — she decides she wants to stay on the show after all. Does she even know how this program works?

It’s too late anyway, because Trump promptly sends her packing. And she goes out like a total monster, calling NeNe a "coward" while waiting for the elevator. I am so glad to see her gone, but I am a little scared that I’m going to miss her colossal horribleness.

And that’s that — another shortchanging in the boardroom and I’m starting to get a little frustrated. It might be time to switch up the teams. A suggestion: Maybe Trump should consider moving Marlee’s interpreter to the men's team?

Next week: It looks like Meat Loaf has a meltdown. I cannot wait!

And let me take this opportunity to address a couple commenters:

To JJULIANCHRISTOPHER on the Vulture Comments section: I’m sorry I didn’t know that Meat Loaf didn’t sing the "sword of Damocles" lyric from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But it kinda does make you a Rocky Horror nerd to know that. Own it! Be proud of your garters and toast or whatever it is you guys throw at each other!

To DJC9, also from the Vulture comments section: You say that you used to watch SNL then go to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror? Really? Because here in America, Saturday Night Live would come on at 11:30 p.m. So unless you consider "watching SNL" to be catching the first half of the cold open then rushing to your local movie theater to see Rocky Horror, you are full of it. And you posted the same post three times. How can I take anything you say seriously if you don’t know how to hit "send" without upsetting the apple cart?

And to Ben Curtis (a.k.a. "the Dell Dude") on Twitter: Even though I mentioned that you would be great on The Celebrity Apprentice, I do not have the power to get you hired on the show. I do hope you get on next season and I’m sure that whoever is recapping next season will like you as much as I do. And let’s hang out some time! You seem like a fun guy!

You can live-stream Tom Scharpling's weekly radio show "The Best Show on WFMU" every Tuesday at 9 p.m. or subscribe to it as a podcast here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC