Please allow me to provide a bit of context surrounding the writing of this column. As you may or may not know, I am the host of a radio talk/comedy show called "The Best Show on WFMU." We just concluded our two-week fund-raising marathon on Sunday night with a live karaoke event at legendary rock club Maxwell’s in beautiful Hoboken, New Jersey, in which all of the station’s disc jockeys do their best to sing.
I performed at around 12:40 a.m., singing/screaming a medley of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle Again” and “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag. I promptly beat feet afterwards and got home by 2:54 a.m. to begin tonight’s recap. So I’m writing this on post-performance adrenaline and a lot of coffee from the Quick Chek off Exit 14A on the Jersey Turnpike. My hands are shaking but I am ready to do this. So let’s get right to it!
This episode — the first without David Cassidy to kick around — starts with a post-firing powwow, with boardroom survivors Richard Hatch and Jose Canseco limping back into the suite to join the rest of the cast. Hatch is clearly invigorated by his razor-thin victory not unlike the way that Emperor Palpatine seemed juiced up to drag Luke Skywalker to the dark side. This guy is wormy and does he ever know it.
Star Jones then donates the check that she made from winning last week’s competition — running a pizzeria — to the American Heart Association, an organization that helps people deal with the health problems that come from harmful activities like eating food at pizzerias.
And to anybody who thinks I’m crapping on celebrities trying to make money for charities that are most certainly very deserving of everybody’s support: There are other ways to raise money for a charity. This show serves as a way for these fading stars to get their faces back on TV. The altruistic element is a by-product — half of these contestants would be on the show if the grand prize were cab fare and a fish sandwich.
Trump gathers the contestants in front of Madison Square Garden — the first place I ever saw anyone do cocaine, for the record (it was during a Scorpions concert and some dudes in the row in front of me were tooting it up off a Scorps tour program! I was 12 years old and terrified! Where were my parents?!) — to announce the rules of the next challenge. The teams must write and design a children’s book, with one of the contestants as the main character, that will be performed in front of a group of children. Wow, they’re out of ideas already!
And there’s no Ivanka this week! In her stead is her brother Eric Trump. Eric Trump? Who?! A quick Wiki search reveals him to be “Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions at the Trump Organization, Trump Tower” as well as “Founder and Chairman of The Eric Trump Foundation." Sounds like a real go-getter! Very individualistic! And what is the Eric Trump Foundation? An organization dedicated to publicly validating the existence of Eric Trump? Eric is best described as Craig Kilborn crossed with Donald Trump crossed with Craig Kilborn.
Marlee Matlin’s interpreter, Jack — WHO IS NOW TWEETING AT ME! — inserts himself right into the mix, even speaking for the women at one point! Man, this guy is a sea of questions that I want answers to. Does he hang out in the ladies’ suite with all the other contestants? How much of a presence is he? For example, is his shaving kit on a shelf somewhere in their bathroom? Does he cover his ears when they talk about lady things like bras or Spanx? And can Matlin shake this dude when she doesn’t want him hovering? Because man, does he seem like a hoverer.
Lisa Rinna is appointed the team leader for the ladies because, as we learn from NeNe Leakes, they thought they could get rid of her sooner rather than later by putting her in the hot seat as soon as possible. Which is ironic, because ASAP is the name of the women’s team! Meat Loaf is named team leader for the dudes. He says that as project manager “the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head,” which actually sounds like a lyric from Bat Out of Hell 2: Back Into Hell.
But Meat isn’t worried about assembling the children’s book because he says that he’s got two writers in the room — Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and John Rich of Big & Rich. Excuse me, but did Jose Canseco not write a book about professional baseball players, who are undoubtedly the biggest children on the planet?
But that’s Meat Loaf for you — you have a best-selling author two steps away but you hand the keys to the car to the brain trust behind songs like “Danzig Needs a Hug” and “Rollin’ (The Ballad of Big & Rich).” And hasn’t Lil Jon maybe put some words down on paper, what with him being a rapper and all?
The ladies start fighting right away, arguing over who should do what, with the end result being everybody being generally unhappy with Lisa Rinna. I’m sure she just loved hearing the sound of Jack the Interpreter’s voice joining the fray, saying, “Lisa, you’re in charge. Take charge.” I’m not saying I didn’t like it, Jack. And keep tweeting me! I’m still @Scharpling!
Dionne Warwick — whom I never had an opinion of either way outside of her ability to sing Burt Bacharach songs better than Burt Bacharach, which is not a difficult proposition — seems like a truly horrible person. She actually gets irked about the idea of there being too much diversity put into the children’s book, which at this point features La Toya Jackson as a lion who cannot roar.
At one point Warwick argues with Jack the Interpreter, not even looking at Matlin, who is signing away like the dickens one foot away! Plus, Warwick is wearing a dumb, dumpy sweatshirt and a ridiculous baseball cap that says "WORLD PEACE" on it. You’re on TV, lady — this isn’t laundry day!
But at some point the squeaky old wheel gets all the grease and they decide to let Dionne create the concept of the book, which is to "be yourself." Lots of people in the room are vocal about how flawed this concept is, stating that individuality is a concept that little kids simply cannot grasp. Even Lil Jon himself later says in the episode when told the theme of their book, “Hell no! They don’t even know who the fuck they are yet!” (I’m with you, Lil Jon. And I’m rooting for you, even though at some point you’re inevitably gonna get shivved by Richard Hatch.)
Maybe Dionne could’ve made the children’s book about a lion who is unsure of herself, so she starts calling a psychic hotline that is running commercials on television all night that star a famous singer talking about how great the service is. The lion pays $3.99 to get psychic advice designed to keep the lion on the line for as long as possible. Just an idea.
The guys have agreed on a subject for their book: It’s called Not So Lil Jon and it’s about Lil Jon not learning how to speak up or something like that (apparently to all of the windbags on this show the biggest weakness in the world is the inability to be loud).
So as they are prepping for their live performance, Meat Loaf accidentally sends the team members delivering the stage props to the wrong location thanks to his inability to correctly pronounce words written on a piece of paper. Canseco — who is one of the delivery guys — starts to get mad. It starts to feel like he’s going to turn green and rip through all those puny Ed Hardy clothes covering up his human form! CANSECO SMASH!
Things are even worse with the women at this point. Star Jones and Dionne Warwick are both lobbying for individual credits on this non-existent children’s book. And now Star Jones is in full-on dirtbag mode, showing her true colors as the skin crawling person that we all remembered her as on The View. How Marlee Matlin hasn’t smashed a chair over everybody’s heads yet I will never know.
The two groups do their performances to an audience of children. The women wear strange masks onstage like they’re in the house band at the Eyes Wide Shut mansion. It’s disconcerting and if I were a kid I would be really freaked out by them, because as an adult I was pretty freaked out by them. But the performance doesn’t go too badly overall, and Lisa Rinna declares that once they put the drama and bullshit (pronounced ‘dra-MA’ and ‘bull-SHIT’) behind them they made art up on that stage.
The guys’ production is unsettlingly low-rent and costume-heavy, bringing to mind pirate Mexican television, if there is such a thing. Gary Busey gets some laughs from the kids with his portrayal of a little boy — Busey is for the children! — and while Jose Canseco dressed like an attractive Barbara Bush is pretty stiff performance-wise, he is at least game and makes a go at it.
And then in the middle of this all, there’s a moment where I remember that the premise of The Apprentice was to teach business skills. It was referred to as "The Ultimate Job Interview” by its creators. Yet what I’m seeing on my television is convicted tax evader Richard Hatch dressed like a little girl jumping around with a bunch of other grown men in costumes, all of them aggressively throwing confetti at a group of seemingly terrified children. Unless I have fallen asleep and this is some sort of dream I’m trapped in, things have gone waaaay off course at some point.
With the performances completed, both teams are summoned to the boardroom. Meat Loaf gets all emotional talking about the accomplishments of his team, and you can just see the screw loosening on this dude right before our eyes. But overall the guys play it cool and for the most part compliment each other.
The ladies are another story, with the Lisa Rinna pile-on in full effect. And when Team ASAP discovers they lost the competition, the fighting only gets worse. It all boils down to Rinna versus Jones and Warwick in the boardroom.
Donald and Don both complain that Lisa isn’t ripping her teammates — who were responsible for the primary elements of the book that the judges panned — with the proper amount of force. So Trump is once again forced to fire someone who probably wasn’t the guiltiest because they aren’t shitting on their opponent with optimum force. Lisa Rinna is out.
This show is an f-ing crock, man. An f-ing crock.
But I will be back next week. Why? Because next week Gary Busey is Project Manager! I am signing off as the sun comes up, ready to sleep the Sleep of the Just.
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.