Ah, the point of no return. When you are as close to the beginning as you are to the end. If I were smart enough, I would work in some reference to the Rubicon, but I just found out that "Rubicon" isn’t a gathering of Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts. But why would I even make these references? Because that is where we are at in our journey, fellow traveler. We are at the point of no return. What was once a Celebrity Apprentice packed with sixteen hopeful contestants is now eight beaten-down men and women forced to engage in humiliatingly fake tasks in the name of a fake team to hopefully win a fake contest. Hey, why isn’t Gaspar Noé hosting this show?!
Last week’s episode ended with Gary Busey getting shipped off, and as the remaining three members of Team Backbone headed back to the lavishly tacky (or tackily lavish?) suite to celebrate, they could not have been happier. Especially Meat Loaf, who seemed positively giddy that the man who drove him to the point of screaming, “I bought those motherfucking sponges!” on national TV was no longer a part of his world.
John Rich tells the camera that he sees Gary’s departure as a chance for Team Backbone to soar, declaring that "we have three racehorses now." Meat Loaf is in a different place — he uses this moment to recount "the flavored steak incident" from last week as if it was the funniest thing that ever happened. Trust me, Meat — it wasn’t. You handed Busey the keys to your head and you’re not that far from Crazy Town yourself, in your head and in your music.
On the women’s side of things, NeNe Leakes doesn’t feel like celebrating after Team ASAP’s victory. She wasn’t happy that La Toya Jackson positioned her as a negative force in front of Mister Trump during the boardroom confrontation. I don’t know where La Toya would’ve gotten any inkling that NeNe was anything other than wildly positive. You know, outside of the time she told Jackson she thought she was a piece of garbage riding on her late brother’s coattails. Where does La Toya get off making up such things?
After the commercial break — and who out there can’t get enough of Alec Baldwin?!! — we see last week’s Project Manager Hope Dworaczyk handing off her check to her charity, which is Best Buddies International, an organization that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hope is bowling with her buddy and eating a spread that seems weirdly elaborate for a bowling alley — the most gourmet thing at the lanes near my house would probably be something from the Skittle family — but she did a great job and donated money to a great charity. Well done!
The two teams gather together to learn of their next task at the Trump Soho, an ugly downtown hotel that is responsible for tying up traffic outside the Holland Tunnel. What a great location — 200 feet from where eight million cars a day are trying to leave Manhattan. Well planned, Trump!
Before telling everybody what’s what, Trump asks the contestants if they’d vote for him for president. Meat Loaf looks way too excited about the possibility, and the other contestants half-heartedly go along with him, acting like they would of course vote for the guy controlling their fate on this reality show they’re currently on. He seems to know that they’re just not saying they wouldn’t vote for him, but you can tell he kinda thinks that when push comes to shove he has their votes.
It turns out that the crummy corporation that the show is shilling for this week is none other than Trump itself! Oh, so that's why the show hauled ass to this segment, blowing through the post-boardroom stuff like a liar who just discovered that his pants were alight! The goal is for each team to create a conceptual advertising campaign for the Trump Hotel Collection, with the winning ad earning a four-page spread in Saveur magazine, which is apparently a magazine about food. Look, I’m not so much of a “foodie” as I am a “fooder." I like good food, but I am also very happy eating a hoagie in a Wawa parking lot while listening to sports radio. (Where and what do you like to eat? Tell me in the comments section below!)
Trump announces that Ivanka and some dead-eyed white dude from the Trump organization will check in on the teams’ progress while his two sons will assist him in the boardroom. Yes, the Trump boys — Don Jr. and Eric. By now I feel like I know Don — the weak chin, the slicked-back hair, the vaguely Ray Romano–esque cadence of his voice. He looks like a guy who in a different life would be collecting autographs outside a porn awards show held in one of Trump’s shitty casinos.
But holy moley is Eric Trump a different thing entirely. Yes, he has the same Pez dispenser head that Don has, a noggin bent too far back like someone shoved one candy too many inside. But he makes Don Jr. seem like George Clooney — this kid is so sadly overeager, reciting his prepared lines with all the suave confidence of Stephen Sealy from Pre-Teen World. Simply put, he is Fredo Trump.
It’s time to pick a Project Manager. The ladies select Star Jones, but suddenly none of the three racehorses on Team Backbone wants to leave the starting gate! John Rich eventually gets forced into the PM slot, and blathers on and on to Trump about how he knows nothing about hotel advertising. Guess what? Hardly anybody knows anything about hotel advertising! This is an inherently dumb task even by this show’s increasingly low standards, and if anybody should get the boot this week, it is whoever suggested this challenge.
Trump tells the guys that they are operating at a disadvantage when it comes to the concept of "super luxury." Seriously? Do people in this America really like having unattainable concepts like this shoved in their face? And the guy isn’t even walking the walk — for anybody who has ever been to one of his atrocious casinos in Atlantic City, you already know that his definition of "luxury" is cigarette-burn marks on tacky purple carpeting and hotel rooms that bring to mind the final scene of The King of Marvin Gardens.
The ladies start brainstorming about their project, with Star talking about how she knows how it is, having walked the streets of Paris and London and Morocco and San Tropez. She knows super luxury, people! And she sums up this lifetime of extravagance with the advertising concept of "individual elegance, collective luxury," which means absolutely nothing! Just think about it — collective luxury? It sounds simultaneously exclusionary and futuristic, like something from Atlas Shrugged in Space (which they’ll make if the first two movies do well!).
But La Toya isn’t buying what Star is selling. She thinks Jones is an overconfident bully who flattens everybody in her wake. And she’s not one bit wrong, although I’m not sure what La Toya thinks she’s bringing to the table either, but who am I to judge? I’m the guy who eats hoagies in his car, remember?
On the dudes’ side of things, Meat Loaf pitches an ad with a guy looking in a mirror with the version of himself that he aspires to be looking back at him. This sounds more like the cover of a Roger Daltrey solo album than an ad campaign for a hotel chain, but I guess that’s where this guy’s head is at. And surprise of surprises, John Rich starts talking about Meat Loaf in exactly the same way that Meat Loaf used to talk about Gary Busey, saying that he can’t understand whatever it is he’s talking about. Oooh, suddenly John Rich’s team of racehorses has a crazy horse in its ranks!
Star begins delegating jobs to her team members, pairing up La Toya and NeNe as errand runners. And that is the moment that all goodwill for Star goes right out the window, because she is playing the game by jamming two enemies into artificially close quarters. NeNe catches on within five seconds of her plan, recognizing it as a power play designed to create a meltdown between one or the other of them and demands that it be addressed.
And her way of addressing something is for her to just start crapping on La Toya right in front of her by saying stuff about who is real and who is fake and blah blah blah. So the two of them start having it out right then and there, with the words flying so fast I thought Marlee Matlin’s interpreter/hanger-on Jack was going to break his fingers in an attempt to keep up. Eventually they all reach a compromise, and La Toya and NeNe hug it out like the heroes of my previous favorite Sunday night program, Entourage, used to do whenever they quashed a beef.
Before long, the ladies are navel deep in super luxury as they shoot their campaign. They’ve got manicures. They’ve got bathtubs with rose petals floating atop the water. They’ve got male models, including one dude who looks like a homeless Stroke and another who answers the question, "What would it look like if Alec Baldwin had a kid with Daniel Baldwin?" As she’s getting the aforementioned manicure, Star pompously speculates that there’s no way this kind of super luxury is happening with Team Backbone.
How right she is! There’s a quick cut over to the guys showing Lil Jon burping while they sit around, followed by a shot of Meat Loaf’s face with a quick fart sound quickly dropped in.
Now I don’t know what to make of this — it certainly sounded like the fart was added in postproduction. Which is horrifying. But there’s also the possibility that Meat Loaf actually befouled himself in front of his compatriots, which is actually pretty believable. But why would they put that in the show?! When it’s November 2012 and you’re in the voting booth considering flipping the lever for the Trump/Santorum ticket, remember that one way or another Donald Trump made sure that Meat Loaf farted on Celebrity Apprentice. I mean, yeah that stuff is fine for a Descendants album, but this is network television, for goodness sake!
Don Jr. catches up with Team ASAP and promptly cracks one too many jokes about how attractive Hope is, eventually drifting into a riff about how he’s gonna be in attendance when she does her photo shoot in the bathtub. The Donny protests too much! Although I don’t know what the big deal is — I heard that there are security cameras hidden in every Trump hotel bathroom. I mean, there probably aren’t really, but who knows? Either way, we should just assume that there are until proven otherwise, right? To quote Eric Trump talking about Obama’s citizenship, “I have no idea. I think there is a real question.”
It’s time for the guys to get their photo shoot rolling, and it is supervised by Meat Loaf, who is holding a Francesa-size cupful of soda while pumping up the actor portraying a hotel employee like he’s winding up a boxer before a big match. “You are the best of the best of the best of the best!” he intones. “No one is ever better than you. Anybody walks in this hotel, they look at you and know you’re the best!” It’s a little too intense for the job at hand — the actor is standing as still as a mannequin and is never asked to change his facial expression once! — and you can kinda picture Meat Loaf saying the same things to himself Dirk Diggler–style as he tries to get revved up to sing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” for the four millionth time in whatever tertiary market he’s playing that night.
NeNe and La Toya arrive from their errands, and Star immediately jumps on them for being late, saying that they have five minutes to get ready. NeNe doesn’t like this at all, feeling that she’s being set up by Star to fail. After yelling back at Star for intruding on her photo shoot, NeNe brags that she’s the only one who will snap at Star. But to be fair, I think that NeNe would snap at the Kraken if it were starting to irk her.
The guys are prepping their ads for production, and John Rich is losing his composure, driving home the point that there can’t be one misspelled word on the entire thing. So naturally these three idiots start shouting the proper spellings for words across the room. What’s wrong, John Rich? A country boy like yourself can’t cotton to a big city contraption like spell-check on your ‘puter box?
Then it’s show time for Team Backbone, who put together a presentation so sad and off-kilter. The lettering on one of the ads is absolutely bizarre, doing a better job at conveying what the next Ariel Pink album might look like than any concept of super luxury. And the two dead-eyed executives judging the proceedings just sit and stare at the guys the whole time. Man, are these dudes horrible! The exec that works for Trump reminds me of every white guy trying to tear down the rec center to make room for a parking garage in every eighties breakdancing movie. And the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine looked like his head was literally going to explode from struggling to tamp down the contempt he had for the three boobs standing in front of him.
As the guys leave the room, John Rich halfheartedly claims that they "knocked it over the fence," not even mustering the ability to say they knocked it out of the park. You know it’s bad when you’re pulling your punches with your shitty metaphors.
Team ASAP does their presentation, with each lady reciting a one-word catchphrase to the two lumps of goo behind the table. Atmosphere. Escape. Lifestyle. Discreet. Uncompromising. Original. It’s so stilted and overly formal that at this point I wonder whether the execs will be bamboozled by it or not. This is the kind of stuff that guys like that eat up when it’s served to them the right way, but they’re holding their cards pretty close to their vests.
And as soon as the women leave the room, the two execs tear both teams to pieces. Look, I’m not saying either side did a great job. Or even a good job. But the glee with which these guys tore the ladies apart spoke volumes: No matter how hard someone like Star Jones — who I am not a fan of! — tries, she’s always going to be on the outside looking in at the pretentious dickwads who never bring two ideas to the table themselves but somehow seem to end up in charge of everything. Maybe the Saveur guy is some sort of genius — I have no idea and I don’t really care. But I wouldn’t be so quick to judge anyone if I were wearing the dopey jacket-and-tie-and-jeans combo he was sporting.
Trump pulls both teams into the boardroom and lets them spin their pinwheels about how great a job they each did, knowing full well that the execs panned everybody up and down. But it’s not all smooth sailing — NeNe says that she thought other women on her team were "crawling up Star’s ass," and Trump interrupts her to make the cogent point that the act of crawling up Star Jones’s ass would be "much nicer now that she lost all the weight." Which is so unfunny and dumb and inappropriate, causing Don Jr. — always ready with the heightener! — to say that he’s “having a hard time getting over the visual.” Don needs to start an improv troupe right now. What would it be called? Give me your suggestions in the comments section below!
Trump eventually tells both teams that they did horribly — the women created a campaign that was too cluttered and had too many photos, and the guys forgot to include any telephone number or website in any of the ads in addition to having numerous spelling mistakes.
The Donald says that these were the worst results he ever got from two teams on The Apprentice, which again might be because it was a flawed challenge. Why would you expect people to figure out how to do an advertising campaign in one day and hold them to the letter of the law in the process? The creep from Saveur singled out that there was an unopened Champagne bottle in a shot in which Hope was drinking Champagne, which is nothing more than playing an extended game of "gotcha." The producers blew it and the teams took the fall for their sloppiness.
And after beating up both teams, Trump reveals that the ladies did worse than the men. Which means that with Star Jones as the PM, we are going to get some good old-fashioned Passing of the Buck and Shirking of the Blame.
And oof, do we get it! Star starts with the lawyer talk from the get-go, trying to spread the blame anywhere but on herself. La Toya says that Star needs to take the fall for such a flawed job, but Marlee initiates a La Toya pile-on that seems to keep growing and growing until Star drags NeNe and The Other Ms. Jackson into the room with her for the final verdict.
La Toya is at a disadvantage because she’s suffering from laryngitis — from the countless hours she’s spending in the studio crafting her upcoming record, Startin' Over? And while she tries to put up a good fight, both Star and NeNe stick it to her and Trump has no choice but to fire her. Actually he does have a choice, but why fire Star — who was responsible for the components of the presentation that led to their loss — when she’s gearing up to do battle with NeNe on a cosmic scale?
As La Toya leaves, she refuses to say a word to Star, but gives NeNe a farewell hug. And once she’s in the town car she rips into Star, saying that she’s an evil person and that Trump made a mistake. She’s got a point, but the teaser for next week’s episode pretty much validates her booting, because in the one-minute preview, NeNe rips on Star even harder, like she’s getting paid per zing! And just when I was starting to flag with this show, once again I cannot wait till next week.
To MORRISTHEWISE from the Vulture comments: You say that America has "had enough of a sweet guy as president" and now wants "a leader that will kick arse." You say “Vote Trump,” but why would you use the word "arse" if you were from the U.S.?! How dare you insert yourself into our political landscape? Do we ever get involved in the politics of your country? Except for everything that the U.S. has done in the last 110 years, I defy you to cite one example of this country sticking its nose into someone else’s business!
To MUZIX_38 from the Vulture comments: Thank you for clarifying that the “Steak Brothers” weren’t actually brothers but were cousins, thus explaining why they didn’t look like brothers. So while they are justified in not looking alike, they are not off the hook for looking dumb and weird.
To BANANARAMA from the Vulture comments: Yes, I was a writer and executive producer for the show Monk. I am glad that you enjoyed the show, but if you didn’t, that’s fine too. But what homies am I supposed to be pouring some out for as I rise? Is going from executive producer to Celebrity Apprentice recapper "rising"? I don’t remember pulling too many all-nighters when I was working on Monk, but now I’m writing while the sun comes up every Monday morning. If this is "rising," let me fall!
Still no retweets from anybody else on the show. Sickening. The prize goes up to 30 dollars in Panera Bread gift cards and three items from the Stereolaffs warehouse! Come on, you degenerates — get me a RT from someone on the show other than Marlee or Jack!
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.