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Celebrity Apprentice Recap: Tom Scharpling’s Epic Take on the Finale

The competition. The battling and the striving and the struggling. The outpouring of heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears. The endless fight. Watching lesser candidates fall by the wayside as the truly great keep powering on with only one thing in mind — reaching the promised land of ultimate victory. But enough about the NBA Playoffs, which I am not watching tonight because I’m contractually obligated to recap the finale to The Celebrity Apprentice, the biggest and fakest show on television!

I’m not trying to be too hard on this show. Yeah, this season has kinda sucked and had more vamping than a band comprised of vampires playing bluesy extended versions of Vampire Weekend songs. Sorry about that one, but they all can’t be winners!

But in all seriousness, this show can be so incredibly frustrating — every time it seems like there’s an interesting dynamic being established the air comes out of the balloon and we’re back to watching endless sequences of whoever the editors have deemed the Crazy One this week doing their crazy thing.

But now that there’s some real money on the table, the focus has shifted from “celebrities primarily interested in getting their faces back on TV to also raise some money for charity” to “celebrities trying to raise some money for charity and it’s not such a bad thing to be back on TV too.” And with that in mind, I will tell you right now that during this recap I will occasionally slide out of Attack Mode because there were a few “goof proof” segments in the show that hit me square in the heart. I never said I wasn't a human being!

But don’t worry — most of this thing was still the same old Celebrity Apprentice that we’ve come to know and tolerate, and I will treat it accordingly. Like the show’s opening, which might actually be the dumbest thing I have ever seen in my life. And that’s coming from someone who bought 21 VHS tapes filled with episodes of the Morton Downey Jr. Show off eBay.

Things start off with Donald Trump stepping out of one of his ridiculous buildings — saying things that at this point sound like “TRUMP BEST MOST BIGGEST BEST BEST MOST BIGGEST TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP” to my tired ears — before walking down a New York City street on a massive red carpet that is being rolled out by a couple of guys a few feet ahead of him.

Does Trump really think this bizarre show of faux-majesty is in any way regal? Because it’s actually kind of insane watching him stomp down the sidewalk on a carpet that’s being unspooled by two slobs who would be his sons if they weren’t to the tacky manor born. And it also sums up Donald Trump perfectly — what he thinks is spectacular is merely spectacularly low-rent to the rest of us.

The two working stiffs run out of red carpet and Trump hilariously "fires" them before entering the Skirball Center at NYU, which I believe is the room that GG Allin performed at in his biopic Hated. Trump steps onstage to rapturous applause from an audience packed with sad sacks who clearly think landing tickets to this "event" was some sort of "get." Even his own children applaud him, which made me sad.

And that audience is a virtual "who’s who" — and I mean that in the most literal sense, as in "who is that other guy with the cowboy hat?" and "who else here is famous except for Dee Snider?" You know you’re in bad shape when Two Foot Fred doesn’t even turn up for your taping.

Trump sits down at a fake desk — including a fancy blotter! — and launches into something that feels like the worst installment of "Weekend Update" ever, stiffly reading "funny" lines about how NeNe Leakes fought with everybody on the show.

Then it’s Recap Package One, summing up the exciting season that we just slogged through. I am legally unable to recap this because I am a licensed Recapper, and this is the job of a Re-Recapper. Let's hear it for the Recappers Local 149!

But I will remind you that Marlee Matlin and John Rich are the two finalists and their task is to produce a multi-tiered advertising campaign for 7-Up Retro — a soda with real sugar in it, fatsos! — including a display, a commercial and a live presentation. They have each picked a decade to represent in their respective ads, with Matlin taking on the seventies with assistance from the Harlem Globetrotters, and Rich doing the eighties with a hand from Def Leppard.

We pick things up with Marlee’s team shooting their commercial spot. They’ve lured Geoffrey Holder — the original stentorian voice of 7-Up from the seventies — to do the spot. But he hasn’t shown up because his lawyer objects to the contract; which, as someone who has worked with NBC, I’m sure was amazingly fair.

But then like a bolt of magic that wants to get his face back on national television, Geoffrey Holder shows up! And the hatemongers who provide the musical cues for this show do not disappoint: In the past, they’ve repeatedly dropped cheapo hip-hop on us whenever Lil Jon was "doin’ his thang" onscreen, and for Holder they’ve got some lousy canned Caribbean music ready to go. (Somewhere there’s a gong and a koto gathering dust in their studios just waiting for an Asian contestant.) Holder nails his lines and makes everybody happy.

John Rich heads over to the venue with Star Jones to work out the logistics for his presentation. He has his own set of struggles to deal with because the tour manager for Def Leppard won’t have the band play a kick drum onstage to introduce themselves. It’s maybe the least dramatic piece of drama in the history of television and all I can do is wonder what’s going on with the Bulls-Heat game.

We return to the live broadcast, and Trump tells America that both Ivanka and Don Jr. are expecting kids and that he thinks they’re both great. And in that moment, a new layer of Donald Trump is revealed. He’s a little doddering, trying his best to show us all that he’s normal and has the capacity to care about things that everybody else cares about. With all of the presidential nonsense behind us forever — nobody will ever take him seriously again on any sort of national stage — it’s clear how ultimately unimportant this guy is. He’s back to being the buffoon who will never do more than shill mattresses or stuffed crust pizza. He’s an obscenely wealthy version of Erik Estrada or William Shatner, a cultural punch line who still has to exist as a human. And the worst part is that no matter how many times he tells us how mean he is, he needs us to like him so badly. He needs this show more than we need it.

John Rich finally gets Def Leppard to show up and gives them the hard sell about his charity and why he needs them to play that kick drum. But for whatever reason, Def Leppard — the five of them coming off like such a parody of the dazed British rock star that Russell Brand would call foul — refuse to do it. And they’re slightly condescending to Rich, which makes me feel weirdly protective of him. Like I said last week, he’s my punching bag, not yours! What’s the big deal about playing the kick drum? Get back in the presidential race and declare war on England, Mister Trump!

Back to the live presentation. Trump brings out the fired contestants one by one to join him on the stage. Can you believe that they’re all here?! David Cassidy, Lisa Rinna, Niki Taylor, Mark McGrath, Hope Dworaczyk, Lil Jon, La Toya Jackson, Star Jones, Meat Loaf, Gary Busey, and NeNe Leakes! The star power is blinding! And notable by their absence are Dionne Warwick, Richard Hatch, and Jose Canseco. I’m not sure where Canseco and Warwick are, but Richard Hatch is sitting behind bars for failing to file federal income tax returns.

Trump asks David Cassidy — whom Hatch bullied during the Week One showdown that got the former Keith Partridge fired — if he’s happy that his nemesis is in the clink. Cassidy has had months to ponder his retort, but when he launches into his putdown he inhales on the pea shooter, failing to say anything clever and coming off like a dick in the process. “He’s in the right place at the right time,” Cassidy stammers. “When you take the low road, where else would you end up but on a cold slab somewhere, and frankly I think it was just.” Firstly, a cold slab? He’s in jail, not the morgue. And where does Cassidy get off acting like some white knight? He barely evaded jail time from a DUI last November! Seriously, between him and Danny Bonaduce, it’s hard to find someone in the Partridge Family to root for! Thank goodness for Brian Forster or I might have to jump ship to the DeFranco Family!

Trump asks Lisa Rinna whom she blames for her firing, and she hems and haws about answering for some strange reason. A dim bulb in the audience shouts out “STAR!” which is the correct answer for anybody who saw the episode where Jones ran her off the show. And then it’s clear — Rinna won’t mention Star by name! Jones responds that Rinna should’ve brought her "A game" to the show. And now I’m back to feeling sad because these people are pretending that there’s a game to be played on this dumb thing. Trump changes the rules every third week and you can potentially argue your way out of anything. Imagine a sport where if you pleaded to the refs enough they’d make a call in your favor. Actually, I can imagine that sport — it’s called Miami Heat Basketball. Is there a bigger group of whiners on the planet right now?

And on a sidebar to the sidebar — lawyer talk! — there is a commercial that has been shown more than once during The Celebrity Apprentice that freaks me out a little bit. It’s the Samsung Focus spot with the dude staring at his phone while his ladyfriend is showcasing her lingerie in an effort to garner his attention. It’s not the commercial per se; it’s the way the woman moves her arms robotically down her body while maintaining the same facial expression. She seems like an animatron you’d see at an adult Chuck E. Cheese. (Which would be Dave & Buster’s, right? I’ve never been to one. Do they let kids into that place? And if they do, are they serving alcohol all day? Are there drunk adults playing Whac-A-Mole alongside children? Answers in the comments, please!)

As we come back from the creepy commercials, The Celebrity Apprentice pays tribute to the one and only Gary Busey with a montage of him desperately trying to get everybody’s attention with his "witticisms." Now, I have gotten an e-mail or two from people who felt I was picking on Busey by calling him a "dick" during one of the episodes. And to that I say a respectful “Give Me a Break."

I have never made fun of this guy because of his head trauma. But if you think that someone who suffers from a head injury is incapable of also acting like a dick at some point, I am not sure what to say to you. The guy is a human being just like everybody else, and just as I have afforded him the respect for overcoming his head injury, I won’t declare the guy to be any less imperfect than everybody else.

Trump asks Busey if he’s “crazy, or crazy like a fox,” and Gary &#&212; who is seated next to Meat Loaf! — starts blathering that mumbo jumbo he’s been spouting for the last three months, eventually claiming that he is trained in neurolinguistic programming, which allows him to tell when people are lying. Perhaps he should take a course in Getting to the Fucking Point Once in a While. He then transitions into his classic Omaha Steaks monologue about the children making steak for their father, but Trump cuts him off.

Meat Loaf tells Trump that he’s cool with Busey and gives him a very weird hug to prove it, although his primary goal might’ve been to show the world that he finally got the other sleeve of his jacket Bedazzled. Busey manages to slide back into his Omaha Steaks tract, but Trump cuts him off again to ask Lil Jon what he thinks of Busey. Lil Jon says now that he’s had a break from him they’re cool and that they even hung out in Vegas together.

And Busey repays this compliment by going back into the steak rant for a third time, now talking about the meat-themed kite that he envisioned the two kids flying in honor of their father. He reaches in his jacket and pulls out his mock-up of the kite, which he fails to unveil properly. And be honest — who here thought he was going to pull some sort of detonator out of his jacket?

Back to the Battle. John Rich is setting up the presentation room, prompting Mark McGrath to gush that the eighties can is like “staring at the Mona Lisa but with 7-Up Retro cans.” Why this guy isn’t in some sort of juiced-out version of Glengarry Glen Ross is beyond me. Think about it — Joe Rogan, Dane Cook, Hulk Hogan, Kimbo Slice, and Glen Danzig all rocking the Lunt Fontanne with McGrath (who will be playing the James Lingk role while doing a different P90X session each night!). Paging Dave Mamet!

Some people show up and drop 25 grand on John Rich’s charity, which is nice of them. Maybe they could’ve gotten their names on the show since this thing is one giant commercial and that’s five grand more than any of the corporations have coughed up all season long, but that’s not for me to decide.

Meanwhile, Marlee’s team is prepping their facility to host the Globetrotters. Richard Hatch moans about how Marlee isn’t asserting the proper leadership, which makes me happy that he’s behind bars on some cold slab. They get the room in order and while it falls short of the Mona Lisa, it still looks pretty good. And as the event begins, Meat Loaf greets everybody at the front, which seems a little hokey but makes the whole thing seem very managed in the best possible way.

Marlee’s presentation is pretty impressive — she’s wearing a cool green 7-Up-inspired outfit as she unveils her commercial to the room. And man that commercial is something else. It’s half weird, filled with Meat Loaf–ish touches that Lars von Trier would find out of bounds. But it’s also half solid. The casting of Geoffrey Holder seems to work fine, and the 7-Up execs are impressed.

Then Marlee leads the room into a gymnasium for an awesome display of Harlem Globetrotters basketball. Which reminds me to pause the DVR and check in on the Actual Basketball Game Going On, which makes me a little angry because the Heat are putting things away and the notion of Chris Bosh getting a ring makes me sick to my stomach. Am I wrong on this? Comments, please!

As their demonstration ends, Marlee seems really happy with things because she worked hard and everything came off without a hitch. And she’s right to feel good about it — there’s honestly not much to fault about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, John Rich is gearing up for his presentation. Right before it starts some other dude shows up and lays 250 grand on him, which is really impressive. And again, I don’t know his name, while I am way too familiar with the cheapskates at Camping World. I’m assuming this guy is in the music business, which only solidifies my belief that it might be time for me to "go country." There is still money in acting all down home, and while I know there are talented country performers, I believe in my heart of hearts that I would get sent to Hollywood if I sang a country song for the American Idol judges, and my voice is much closer to Pink Eyes than Pia Toscano (who was robbed!).

The 7-Up executives are bummed that they were neglected by John Rich when they arrived at the presentation — waaaaah! The man with the big dumb hat didn’t talk to us! John is too busy corn-poning it onstage as he unveils his team’s commercial. And wow it is a wad of hot garbage. John Rich and Star Jones play a pair of casting directors auditioning various eighties archetypes, and their performances are so all-encompassingly bad that I’m sure there are porn stars at home screaming out acting tips at their televisions.

But when Dee Snider transforms into his "classic" Twisted Sister look, the audience goes bonkers. Why exactly am I knocking myself out in this life of mine trying so hard to be Actually Entertaining when the bar seems to be sooooo low? I might have to refine my goals and become an advertising exec catering to the country audience, writing up commercials for things like novelty long-form birth certificates and cowboy hat cozies. (They exist!)

After the spot ends, John Rich starts his a cappella Def Leppard intro, stomping his feet and shouting "Seven-Up Retro, keeping it real!" again and again before welcoming the band to the stage. Except they never show up. Because John Rich mis-timed things — they’re not due to appear onstage for another fifteen minutes! What a total flop move, and it was kinda great to see the guy who ran his soup coolers for the last three months about how you can’t underestimate a country boy get flummoxed by a bunch of British dudes.

There’s a long weird moment where John Rich is figuring out what to do. He decides to come out and play a few of his terrible songs while waiting for Def Leppard to take the stage and play their terrible songs. He picks up an acoustic guitar and entertains the crowd with classics like “Don’t Fire Me, Mister Trump,” looking upwards at the Donald — who stands in the balcony looking down at the stage in what I’m sure he sees as an imperial move — and Rich appears weak for the first time ever.

Then, after a few songs, it’s Def Leppard time and John Rich goes back into his foot-stomping introduction, which gets Don Jr. to lamely chant “7-Up is rocking the country!” like a broken robot — one that would presumably be tucked in the back room of a Dave & Buster’s.

Def Leppard play their reedy but catchy hits, and I am reminded that while I know all these songs, I never needed to actually own a Def Leppard album. If they do it for you, more power to you. It’s hard to find things that you can enjoy in this hard life we’re all living, so enjoy your Def Leppard records all the livelong day, Fans of the Recap.

With the presentations wrapped up, we go back to Trump Towers. The Donald talks to the 7-Up execs, who tell him they liked both presentations overall. They were impressed with how Matlin met with them but were underwhelmed by the relative lack of signage throughout the venue.

The suits were not pleased with how John Rich didn’t meet up with them until afterwards and how the presentation was mistimed. Which I blame on a general lack of blood flow to Rich’s head because of that cowboy hat. But I am not trained in the arts of hat science, so what do I know?

As we return to the live show, the two 7-Up executives toast teach other with the two 7-Up Retro cans just in case anybody wasn’t yet feeling like they had been dipped in a vat filled with advertising. Trump squints to read off the cue cards to tell us that we can get those cans in stores now! So go buy them — you were ordered by The Donald!

We then check in on the NeNe Leakes Show with a package documenting her flipping out at everybody in her general vicinity. Trump asks her why she quit the show so abruptly, and she tells him that she needed to do what was best for her at the time. Which makes sense? He then wants to know whether Star and NeNe have come to grips with their feud, and Leakes says she’s ultimately cool with Jones.

But Star says something that I’m not exactly sure about because the camera seems to be going directly down Lisa Rinna’s shirt like this is some sort of bra commercial. Or lack of a bra commercial. I’m not sure. But Star says that she’s not happy that NeNe used the noble platform of the fake contest hosted by the guy who pretended to be running for president to “attack every black woman on the show.” Star and NeNe bicker back and forth and it’s a whole lot of not fun.

Trump consults La Toya Jackson on the matter, who says that she has forgiven NeNe for calling her “Casper,” because after she got to know Leakes she realizes she’s a good person. Which doesn’t exactly make sense, but this is La Toya Jackson we’re talking about here. Trump predicts that NeNe and Star will be friends someday — why is this guy so concerned with making sure everybody gets along?! — and they both disagree, with Star tacking on a “when pigs fly,” which only makes me want the two of them to see the Pink Floyd Experience when they rock the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California on July 17 because this tribute band actually has a flying pig!

As we come back from another commercial break — and God have mercy on the person who is scheduled to recap Love in the Wild — we are "treated" to a skit featuring the Donald and Marlee Matlin’s infamous interpreter Jack Jason. Trump tells Jack that he’s going to be famous and that he wants 25 percent. Which is a line he has used at this point slightly more than Red Buttons complained about never having had a dinner. Jack pats his pockets looking for money like a trouper and I say to you now Jack that you are a star to me and you always will be.

And now it’s time for the final boardroom of the season! Except nobody’s gonna get fired in it because it’s on tape because Richard Hatch is there and not on a cold slab! Matlin and Rich both talk about how their respective teams did a great job. And to be fair, they both did a good job. The only thing separating them is the Def Leppard timing issue, so I give them both a world of credit for navigating through this nightmare of a show to reach the finish line without dropping the ball.

John Rich starts blathering on about how his soda can looks better than Marlee’s, bragging that "their can does not explode like our can does." Attention: Avoid the exploding 7-Up Retro cans at all costs! Do you want your face taken off by a powerful blast of carbonation and sugar? You do? I guess I don’t know you like I thought I did, Recap Nation.

Marlee says that her presentation could not have gone better, prompting Trump to declare that the Harlem Globetrotters have "a certain warmth." (See? He likes the blacks!) Ivanka adds that their event was seamless, and that Meat Loaf greeting everybody and Marlee’s attention to the executives was most definitely noticed.

John Rich says he was happy with his presentation and claims he mistimed the presentation because he got so rattled by all that money he got handed at the last minute. Which causes Marlee to call foul, because this wasn’t a fund-raising challenge. And she’s right! This country ape has a lot of nerve bringing up the money as a way to deflect attention from the plain fact that he didn’t pace out his presentation efficiently.

And now we return to the live show for the final square-off between Matlin and Rich. John Rich comes out and gives the Donald a black cowboy hat, which he actually puts on his head for a second, although I’m not sure how it fit over that weird reddish coonskin cap he was already wearing. And that was the last Trump hair joke of the recaps!

Trump solicits the panel of losers over who should win. And most of them say they love them both but with certain people leaning toward John Rich and others leaning toward Matlin. It kinda irks me to see more people siding with John Rich than Marlee Matlin, but at this point I feel like it’s okay if either of them win because there’s not a true "villain" in the finale. And that’s another thing that happened this year — there was never any real vitriol between the non-crazy players. Sure, things were running hot when Dionne Warwick was calling Niki Taylor a hussy, but they were never true contenders.

We then see a produced piece for each of the finalists showcasing their charity. Marlee goes to Kenya to bring hearing aids to children who are deaf and hard of hearing on behalf of her charity, the Starkey Hearing Foundation. And it is insanely touching to see children actually hear for the first time. Within a few seconds I am crying my eyes out watching this. Seriously, when you see the faces of these kids light up as they register sound, it is truly humbling.

Then we see John Rich go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital to visit sick kids and their families. And it’s equally touching seeing these poor children getting some help. And again I am crying.

And it’s at this point that the show is doing something undeniably good. They’re getting some real money to some seriously deserving charities. At this point in the season, we’re talking about some real money — both Matlin and Rich have raised over a million dollars for their respective causes and I give them all the credit in the world.

John Rich and Marlee Matlin then do a song called “For the Kids” together, with Rich singing and Matlin — along with the New York School for the Deaf — signing along. My friend Phil e-mailed to claim that the violin part in the song was lifted from the Go Betweens, but I am too tired to verify this. I certainly hope he is not planning some sort of class action lawsuit against the composition, and I hope even more that I am not called upon to testify in the case of The People of Australia v. The Kids, because I will most definitely skew my testimony toward The Kids. And, in all seriousness, I get choked up during this part of the song and finally I know what it is like to be Meat Loaf.

After the song they each make their case to Trump. Marlee says that she should be the Celebrity Apprentice because she is a living embodiment of the fight that deaf people have to overcome and that people have always counted her out. John Rich says that he should be the Celebrity Apprentice because he performed well over the course of the season and because his charity helps children who are dying. Which is true, I guess. But the contest isn’t about whose charity is better. It’s about who won the final competition, right?

And then Trump says he’s going to do something different here, then pauses for a second and declares John Rich the winner. Which is ultimately a load of shit because I guess it boiled down to the competition being about whose charity helped kids in more immediate danger of surviving. Which is a very noble thing, yes. I’m not minimizing the righteousness of John Rich’s cause by any stretch.

But Trump never offered any judgement on who did a better job with their final presentation! Basically the whole thing came down to John Rich pulling a bait and switch because he clearly lost the final challenge and getting Trump to go against everything that this windbag has always said he stood for, i.e., everything being "business."

Kids on the playground have more inherent logic in the games they just made up than Trump does in the eleventh season of his show. But what is to be expected from a show that is decided by a grown-up version of a child emperor?

I’m glad that St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital got an extra pile of cash. It’ll go to a good cause. But insofar as the Actual Competition goes, Marlee Matlin got jobbed big time. I’m with you, Marlee! You were my choice all along and that is why I will now donate the money I got paid for this recap to the Starkey Hearing Foundation! Who says that recappers are stingy?

COMMENTERS CORNER

To MEGAN202 in the Vulture Comments section:

You say you want “the guy who does the Jersey Shore recaps to do the next Apprentice recaps”. First of all, those very funny recaps were done by Melissa Starke and Paul Starke. So nice job being a misogynist — I guess in your world a woman should be chained to the stove and it’s a man’s place to do the recapping. That’s not how it is in my house.

And I assure you that I don’t own an Obama "nodding head doll" because nobody outside of you and your weird household — which I’m sure consists of a Michelle Malkin standee and jars of your own bodily fluids — calls them "nodding head dolls." Join us here on Earth where they are known as "bobble heads."

And I want you to never forget this: I hate you. I really do. It’s people like you who make this planet an infinitely worse place. Enjoy the next four years under Obama, unless a miracle takes place and the White House becomes the Wuensche House! As in Republican presidential candidate Vern Wuensche!

Oh, and I don’t think I told you about the New Pornographers video I directed! Check it out!

To BUDDSPAL in the Vulture Comments section:

I truly and sincerely do not apologize for making you look up Dogme 95. I guess I “could’ve just mentioned keywords like Danish and manifesto” so you could be assured that you wouldn’t be interested at all. But I’m not gonna dumb down my thing for you, mainly because my thing is already pretty dumb.

Did Greg Ginn dumb down Black Flag for the kids who just wanted to hear “Gimme Gimme Gimme” for the three hundredth time? No! He made some really crummy Sabbath-inspired albums! So consider this section of the recap to be side two of My War, okay? But thanks for liking the recaps overall!

To @sideshowMel, @snakefarts, and @dropframe on Twitter:

Thank you for all the nice things you said. Especially you, SnakeFarts. But please consider changing your handle. Seriously.

And to everybody who read this recap, I want to say thank you. It was a lot of fun to do and I hope you had a good time indulging me as I tried to do as many dopey things to amuse myself along the way.

Will I ever return? Who knows. Maybe I’ll take my recap cap — yes, I wore a cap the entire time I wrote these pieces — to a different show. Or perhaps you’ll see me writing ‘caps for someone new, like The Atlantic or Hustler. Or maybe I’ll hang up the cap for good. But know this: If you see my name associated with The Celebrity Apprentice ever again, something went very wrong in my career. I mean SERIOUSLY wrong.

Thanks and good-bye!

Your friend,

Tom

Photo: Heidi Gutmam/NBC