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'Celebrity Apprentice' Recap: Nice Guys Finish Second

Arsenio Hall steals this season's crown

Arsenio Hall and Clay Aiken during the live finale of 'The Celebrity Apprentice.'
Douglas Gorenstein/NBC
May 21, 2012 9:55 AM ET

For the past three months, viewers have borne witness to what has become a winning formula in reality TV: loudmouthed, oftentimes obnoxious people bickering with one another. That it happens to be celebrities – and b-list ones, at that – in the case of The Celebrity Apprentice might just explain why Donald Trump's long-running show has been so damn popular. This season, which wrapped on Sunday, was no different; a cast of 18 celebrities (more than ever!) were assigned entry-level tasks, project managers raised money for their charities and, of course, feelings were hurt and egos stomped upon. Basically, it had all the trappings of a great show. 

Now we stand at the end. And two contestants remain: late-night "legend" Arsenio Hall and American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken. The final episode was billed as a "live finale." All this meant is that Donald Trump would gather a bunch of snooty people at the American Museum of Natural History, bring out the fired contestants for tell-all deliciousness and, after a few hours of delay, crown the winner.

After Trump arrives at the live finale by way of a cheesy intro that sees him in the backseat of an Indy car with Mario Andretti, we pick up from last week. In the previous episode, both finalists were given their final task. First, however, they had to divvy up a crop of their previously-fired peers and make teams. After doing so, it was time to plan a charity event, work on a PSA and begin putting together a variety show. Ultimately, the host of the best charity event would take the Celebrity Apprentice crown and $250,000 for his charity.

On Team Arsenio, Adam Carolla hired an L.A. video team to put together the team's PSA. Hall's charity was the Magic Johnson Foundation, so he thought it essential that Johnson himself appear in the ad. Carolla's video team shot the footage of Johnson out in California, but when it arrived in New York, they discovered it had been shot at the wrong angle. Of course, only a few minutes into the show, Hall and Carolla discover there's a better take of Johnson, and all is well.

On Team Clay, there was tension between Debbie Gibson and Aiken; the disagreement hinged on Gibson getting her cousin, a painter, to come draw a mural for the team’s event. But Aiken wanted to first see the cousin's work before agreeing to let her paint. Again, all is quickly resolved when Gibson shows Aiken some of her cousin’s previous work. OK, so now what? We've got nearly two hours to kill.

Both teams put the finishing touches on their parties – Aiken’s has a carnival theme and Hall's is, well, just a party. The teams also have 75 tickets to sell for charity. Big donors shell out cash to both squads. Aiken gets $10K from fellow Idol alum Kelly Clarkson; Hall snags $15K from Jay Leno and $5K from Chris Rock and George Lopez, respectively. Both parties, separated by only a curtain, are quite successful. Midway through the shindigs, the curtain falls and all congregate to watch both teams’ variety shows. Hall, having the likes of Carolla and Lisa Lampanelli on his team, opts for a comedy routine that, albeit a bit raunchy, goes over well. Aiken, meanwhile, has Gibson, Aubrey O'Day and Dee Snider on his squad, so naturally his is a musical performance. Aiken has a slight edge here; his team’s performance is surprisingly sharp, with Snider and Gibson duetting on "We're Not Gonna Take It" before Aiken croons to "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life."

Cut back to the live finale. Trump brings out the fired contestants and wants their take on the season. Here's a brief rundown of what they think: People think it’s funny that Lou Ferrigno says "110 percent" a lot; Dayana Mendoza still hates Lampanelli; Victoria Gotti also hates Lisa; Patricia Velasquez is still sad she didn't win money for her charity; Tia Carrere hates – you guessed it – Lisa.

It's time for our final boardroom. First, who raised more money? It’s Aiken by a long shot ($301,500 to Hall's $167,100, to be exact). Before Trump grills the finalists and announces his decision, it’s time for an extremely odd "Lean on Me" duet by Aiken and Hall.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, it's game time! Aiken tells Trump he's exceeded his own expectations. Hall wants a late-night show and says he’s been playing in honor of his late cousin. "I've never been so torn," Trump says of his tough decision. But he has to choose, right? OK. So who’s it gonna be? Trump beings, "The winner of The Celebrity Apprentice is . . . ARSENIO HALL!"

Oh, snap! Hall takes it! That’s two runner-up finishes for Aiken. Ouch!

So there you have it, people. If this doesn't revive Hall's career, we’re thinking nothing will. Ah, the beauty of The Celebrity Apprentice: giving has-beens one more shot at a career that never was since 2008.

Last episode: Transparency

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