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Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Tom Scharpling on the Unraveling of La Toya

Sitting in front of my TV? Check. Laptop across my torso, cooking my innards? Check. Two venti Starbucks iced coffees handy? Check. Then to paraphrase the Thing, “It’s recapping time!” And when I say the Thing, I mean Ben Grimm, not that gross pile of dogs from that John Carpenter movie!

The last time we left the men and women of The Celebrity Apprentice, Richard Hatch was just booted from the boardroom into the Town Car of Fate. But things were not all prime rib and FloMax on the guys’ team. The remaining four dudes have just about had it up to here with Gary Busey.

Meat Loaf in particular is at the end of his rope, starting to sound like the protagonist in a revenge movie who just got told by the police that their hands are tied and they can’t do a thing about the dude terrorizing his family. It seriously seems like Loaf is about to go Full Bronson on Busey, who is bizarrely — or willfully? — oblivious to the seething hatred gurgling up all around him.

Things aren’t much peachier on the ladies’ side of things. La Toya Jackson is once again moaning about how the rest of her team is scheming against her. Perhaps she can seek solace in the lyrics her late brother penned when he was feeling that outside forces were conspiring against him. He sang, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me, kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me” to keep his demons at bay. Hopefully La Toya can find comfort in these words as well.

Since she was the project manager for last week’s competition, Marlee Matlin hands over a check for last week’s winnings — ONE MILLION DOLLARS! — to the head of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Now I’m sure that Bill Austin is a great guy. His charity does some seriously great work by helping hundreds of thousands of people around the world get hearing aids.

But the way this dude stays slumped back on the couch when Matlin drops a check for ONE MILLION DOLLARS in his hands was puzzling. He reacted with an enthusiasm comparable to a grandfather opening a birthday card with an Olive Garden gift card inside, after he thought he made it perfectly clear that he didn’t like eating at Olive Garden anymore.

No joke: I tip my cap to Matlin for her insanely amazing accomplishment and hopefully someone working at Starkey can get Bill Austin a cup of coffee the next time he’s on the receiving end of a seven-figure donation.

The two teams meet on the rooftop of one of Trump’s skyline blights to find out the parameters of their next dumb task. Before Trump can get to the inaugural mention of whatever third-rate company ponied up enough money to be on the show, John Rich obsequiously thanks the Donald for his benevolence in allowing both of last week’s project managers to donate their money to their respective charities.

Trump reiterates that he wouldn’t have allowed it if he were in the competition but the two PMs must be nicer than him. It’s kind of hard to imagine someone being more unlikable than Trump at this point — Michelle Malkin? Colin Cowherd? — and it’s very telling how Don Jr. laughed just a little too hard at his dear papa when he made the same observation last week.

This week’s competition is stupid even by Celebrity Apprentice standards. Both teams are required to decorate a ten-by-ten box in the middle of New York City to promote a suntan lotion called Australian Gold. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would prefer that the one thing standing between me and skin cancer not sound like it’s named after a strain of kind bud.

The guys select Mark McGrath as their project manager, and La Toya Jackson volunteers herself to lead the ladies. NeNe Leakes looks at the Other Ms. Jackson like she’s insane — to paraphrase Julie Klausner during one of our many Celebrity Apprentice discussions, you can almost hear NeNe Leakes roll her eyes!

Mark McGrath talks about how he’s playing for Save the Music, an organization that helps keep music education in public schools. Which is pretty selfless when you think about it, because the first thing that any music teacher would explain to a group of kids is that bands like Sugar Ray are fucking horrible.

And the cheap shit suntan-lotion company proudly announces that they’ll match Trump’s meager twenty grand with a twenty grand of their own. That might sound generous if you’re one of the people who only experience this show through these recaps. But if you’re actually watching the show, you know that works out to about three dollars for each time they say the words "Australian Gold." By the end of the episode I was so sick of hearing about Australia that I threw my Saints records into the street and canceled the Google Alerts I had for Natalie Imbruglia and Hugo Weaving!

The dudes break off to figure out their marketing strategy, eventually settling on the concept of pirates hoarding the buried treasure of … suntan lotion. Gary Busey disagrees with this because he has never seen a pirate slather himself in SPF 15, and as dumb as that sounds right now, you will be shocked at how prescient it is later.

On the ladies’ side, La Toya is running things with an iron fist, delegating jobs to everybody but herself. And she won’t settle on an actual concept. She was running things with what could best be described as “a Charmin fist." If she were half as indecisive during the recording of her album No Relations as she is on this episode, she must’ve driven both the executives at Pump Records and Menace — the producer of the album’s hit single, “Sexbox,” duh! — positively crazy!

(As a sidebar to the above sidebar, if you’re watching the show on DVR and want to effectively fast-forward through the commercials, here’s a tip: go full steam ahead and stop only when you see either Paul Reiser’s face or Christina Aguilera sitting in an abnormally large chair.)

While Team ASAP is trying to figure out the whims of La Toya Jackson, the trio of Australian Gold magnates shows up to give them guidance. Man, this is a uniquely creepy-looking group of executives. The two women look like the kind of overly made-up pharmaceutical reps who drive around clogging up doctor’s offices across the country — something I’m hoping President Trump changes when he gets into office! — but the guy is something else entirely. The best way to describe him is this: First, imagine that the occasionally goateed cadaver who hosts Good Morning LA hides a painting in his attic that ages while he continues to look the same. Got it? Now imagine what that painting would look like: "A Picture of Steve Edwards," so to speak.

The execs encourage Team ASAP to utilize their brand mascot Sydney the Koala in their challenge. Now I love koala bears just fine, but Sydney the Koala looks like a straight-up dick, wearing dark sunglasses like he’s too good for the rest of us. Sydney looks like a jerky koala the way that main dude in Avatar looked like a fratty version of a Na'vi.

When the lotion execs visit the dudes at Team Backbone, Busey makes a point of mentioning that their product gives people "a sexual feeling." And Meat Loaf once again inflates the horror of what Gary said, claiming that Gary told the female exec that the product makes him "horny." Meat then chastises Busey for his foul talk, saying, "This is not a Barry White record and we’re not in a bedroom." Pretty judgmental talk from a guy whose biggest hit was overstuffed with so many moans that it may as well have been recorded at Plato’s Retreat.

The ladies settle on a concept based around two bathing-suit-clad people painted gold in an attempt to highlight the concept of "the gold life." But La Toya nixes the idea of making one of the models Playmate of the Year Hope Dworaczyk, because La Toya needs her to work the calculators for the team. I’m surprised Trump himself didn’t come down to their office and demand that Hope strip down to a bikini for the challenge, but the man has class. Or he’s too busy looking for Obama’s birth certificate. Either or.

And can Star Jones please leave her dog at home? Nobody loves dogs more than I do, but trust me — your dog wants a break from you once in awhile! They like sleeping at home! That way they can rest up to give you everything they’ve got when they hear your key in the door! Plus you don’t have to make everybody else you work with hate you and your pet because they're sick of seeing your dog's face every day.

Star is faced with the unenviable task of explaining to La Toya that while she wants twelve promotional banners for the presentation, the costs will reach $7,200 and their entire print budget is $3,500. La Toya responds to this information by basically saying “Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa! I want you to get me an Oompa Loompa right away!”

Is it surprising that she has no idea how money management works considering that her brother had enough money to buy the moon and still went belly up? And, like clockwork, La Toya takes this as more proof that Everybody on Her Team Is Conspiring Against Her. And suddenly I’m not rooting for La Toya at all.

Lil Jon is stuck babysitting Gary Busey while the other guys plan out the construction of the glass box, so they head off to the costume shop to gather some props. And it is here that Gary Busey says what might be the scariest line ever while admiring a wall covered in Halloween masks. “Look at those masks … I’m in heaven!” Now, I might be overreacting, but Gary Busey should need some sort of governmental permission to buy any kind of face-concealing garment. Again, we can only hope that President Trump will look into this matter!

It is strange at first hearing the dudes constantly throw around ad-speak as they prepare for their task, mentioning what might offend the client and how they need to think outside the box when it comes to marketing the product. But it all makes sense when you remember who they are: a bunch of marginally talented musicians who have managed to keep themselves afloat in an industry that prefers people go away once the hits stop coming. These guys have kept themselves in the game whether people want what they’re selling or not, and for that I give them some qualified respect. To paraphrase the Minutemen, it might be a four-way tie for last, but these guys are in it for the long haul.

The women are operating on the other end of the spectrum. Everything is pure chaos, nothing is coming together, and God help me but I’m gonna stick up for Star Jones. You can love her or hate her, but this woman does do the work. I thought she’d be one of the biggest creeps on this show, but she manages to keep her head down and focus on the matter at hand more often than not. Good for you, Star, although I have a feeling I’ll eat these words Very Soon.

La Toya manages to tap into another layer of crazy the next morning when she suggests that the women add a winter theme to the summer theme she’s been beating everybody over the head with. That might not sound too bad, but the day before her flight of fancy she made the women pick up 175 bags of sand from the hardware store. At 50 pounds a bag! NeNe’s eyes rolled so hard at this development that I thought this was the moment that she would ditch this nonsense to assume her rightful place as a nosy neighbor on a sitcom.

The dudes start setting up their presentation — and can we just marvel one more time at the colossal stupidity of dressing up a huge glass box at the South Street Seaport to sell suntan lotion? — and McGrath is concerned that it’s just not coming together the way it should be. And then, like the beacons of inspiration they are, Lil Jon and John Rich show up dressed as pirates. And they've got Two Foot Fred with them! Apparently he stayed in New York for the week! (I’m assuming the two other degenerates whom Fred showed up with last week are reveling in authentic NYC experiences like eating a bagel or visiting the 9/11 site.)

Team ASAP is prepping their stuff as well, and there are few things as unforgettable as watching NeNe Leakes badmouth La Toya Jackson while wearing a full-body koala suit. She tells the camera during one of the confessionals that "if we win that means the guys sucked." I love you, NeNe!

Trump drags everybody into the boardroom and before you can say “NeNe shits on La Toya,” NeNe starts shitting on La Toya! In previous weeks, the look across LTJ’s face read as “scared fawn in the big city.” But now it seems like she’s doing everything she can to not blurt "Don't you know who my brother is?!"

When Trump turns the spotlight on Team Backbone, Mark McGrath says that his team will live and die by its risky marketing edge and that he will take the responsibility if his team loses. But the team is high on their chances — John Rich brags that “people who could not even speak English were having a blast with us!” That is until you and Two Foot Fred called the INS on them and had them kicked back into the Atlantic Ocean.

Trump has a bombshell of a reveal for Team Backbone: The executives didn’t like the pirate concept at all and the women won. You were right all along, Busey, you magnificent bastard!

This should be over quickly since McGrath said he’d fall on the sword if they lost. But nooooo, suddenly the discussion is all about how Gary Busey is the big problem. And guess who is leading the charge? Meat Loaf!

Meat gets so worked up about Busey because I think he realizes that they're pretty much the same person: two vaguely over-the-hill performers with a tendency to lose their marbles at any given time, albeit in wildly different ways.

I think the solution to this dynamic is for these two guys to bury the hatchet and take their routine to Broadway. They could star in True West together, trading off the roles every five minutes instead of every other week!

Even though the ladies won, you’d think they were in the hot seat the way NeNe and La Toya are brutalizing each other back in the victory suite. NeNe pretty much lays it out, telling La Toya that she disappeared during the task — she even calls her Casper! — and ends her tirade by saying the only reason she has gotten where she is in life is because of her last name. The "reality star" part of NeNe is coming out and it kinda scares me.

Back in the boardroom, McGrath is backing off his nobility like the sneaky little sneak I knew he was, telling Trump that he should fire Gary because he’s such a liability. Trump asks Mark to pick two other members for the final confrontation, but he says he can only pick one because all the other guys were so scary perfect. So it’s Mark and Gary going down the line.

The final battle between Mark and Gary is pretty ponderous mainly because Gary doesn’t put two coherent thoughts together. And as much as I don’t pick on Busey, I can only imagine how colossally annoying it must be to spend more than ten minutes with this guy. Think of it this way: If the five guys on Team Backbone are the band Pavement, at some point Gary Young just has to go, no matter how chaotically thrilling he makes things. It has to happen.

But Trump holds McGrath to his word and fires him. It’s kinda great at first because the dude was being such a weasel, but ultimately I’m saddened by it because the only reason Trump didn’t show Gary the door is because he knows that Busey makes better television.

Maybe Trump is trying to gaslight Meat Loaf in front of America. Make him think he’s crazy. Get him to confess where he buried those diamonds. Then shove him off the roof of Trump Towers! It’s a perfect plan, although I can picture Don Jr. getting kicked out of the escape helicopter by his father when the plan falls apart, screaming “We had a deeeeeeeeeeal!” as he falls to his death.

Next week: La Toya is out of control, and the dudes work overtime to run Gary off the show!

COMMENTERS CORNER:

To DANIKRIST in the Vulture Comments section: Where’s Tompkins? He’s writing two recaps a week for American Idol. Do you think he’d want to write these recaps also? Should we ask him? I’d bet he’d be into doing recaps around the clock! And if you don’t like me complaining about the politics of Donald Trump, I’m really sorry. I know Mike Huckabee is recapping Celebrity Apprentice over at Newsmax, so maybe that’s more up your alley!

To MATH_UK in the Vulture Comments section: It is clear that I accidentally tripped up and used part of a joke that Seth McFarlaine did on the Donald Trump Roast when I wrote last week that Trump looks like a curious shaved orangutan who stuck his head inside a cotton candy machine. MacFarlane asked Trump during the roast if he fell head-first into a cotton candy machine.

But do me a favor and Google “Donald Trump cotton candy.” See how many references there are to the Donald’s hair being like cotton candy. Your hero didn’t create that comparison by any stretch of the imagination. There are articles using the phrase going back to at least 2004. And the “curious orangutan” part? I came up with that … but when you Google “Donald Trump orangutan,” people have making that reference for years as well! You’d almost think this Donald Trump was a famous guy or something!

So basically I made the mistake of using the concept of a cotton-candy machine. And for that I apologize. But you do realize I write these things in one straight shot from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m., right?

But in conclusion, I will gladly mail MacFarlane his share of my profits from this column if he writes me with a mailing address and/or PayPal account. I’ve run the numbers and his cut for my using the word "machine" is about five-eigths of one cent. I’m on Twitter, Seth! I’m @scharpling! Look me up!

To ROBBIEMALKS in the Vulture Comments: Thanks for the grammar lesson! You seem like a fun guy — maybe you and DANIKRIST should start hanging out!

To RYAN2011FORREAL: Firstly, I’m glad I’m not talking to some faux Ryan 2011. And secondly, you’re "so glad you don’t know Tom Scharpling"? That wasn’t nice. And yes, there are things I don’t hate. Some of them include … I can't think of anything! You nailed me cold, Ryan. I am a hateful little man who expresses all my jealousy and rage through these lowly recaps. I guess the only thing I like is … you.

To all the tons of nice people who said nice things — thank you.

And how is it that we haven’t gotten one damn retweet from any of the contestants on the show! I guess I have to up the ante — I will give the first person who gets me an actual retweet from one of the contestants on the show (NOT MARLEE OR JACK!) a T-shirt from the Stereolaffs warehouse and a ten dollar gift card for Panera Bread! I’m serious! Get to it, you guys and see you all next week!

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.

Photo: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC