In a move that suggests seeing everyday people compete for a job with Donald Trump is no longer all that entertaining, NBC decided to forego a new installment of The Apprentice and instead has fired up another batch of its celebrity sibling. That means more hemming, hawing and clawing from semi-celebrities in an effort to impress Trump, win money for charity, and, above all else, get another 15 minutes of fame.
The Donald, of thy beautiful pouf and douchebag persona, steps out of a stretch limo in predictably ostentatious fashion to kick off the show’s fifth season. He proclaims it to be "bigger and better." And why is that? More celebrities, naturally. "18 celebrities. 18 egos,” he says.
We love preview montages on reality shows – you know the ones where some juicy goodness of the upcoming season is revealed. So we were quite thrilled when one arrived! From this preview montage we learned that we can look forward to comedian Adam Carolla discussing how he lost his virginity in a Buick Regal; we also see His Hulkness Lou Ferrigno openly weeping. Of course, like all good montages, we also get a peek at upcoming drama. Real Housewives of New Jersey cast member, New York Times best-selling author (shudder) and future mother of a Jersey Shore cast member, Teresa Giudice warns the others, “If you attack me, I'll attack back.” Meanwhile, the mob’s first daughter Victoria Gotti boldly brags that she can make people "disappear." Sounds about right.
The cast assembles for the first time on a stage at NYC’s famed Lincoln Center. (We can also safely say this has to be the lowest collective level of talent ever gathered on that stage.) And in Trumpian fashion, a live orchestra is also on hand to play the show’s overly-dramatic theme music for the contestants. The cast is introduced/grilled by Trump. Giuduice tells Trump she expects to win. To which Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider says that he instead expects her to flip over a table at some point during the show. (It’s a Real Housewives joke; we don’t really get it.) Carolla tells everyone that he's playing for the "White Kids without iPads" charity.
Per usual, the teams are split up by sex; they’re directed by Trump to head back to Trump Tower, decide on a team name and assign a project manager for their first task. This is always one of the best parts of the show. Why? Because both teams try to think of a name that is completely meaningless; the name will never matter to a single viewer. Audiences will always refer to the teams as "the men’s team" and "the women’s team." And like always, both teams have trouble coming up with a name. Carolla tosses around such gems as "Team Back Hair" and "Team Honey Badger." But no one’s buying. Especially not American Idol runner-up and proud ginger Clay Aiken, who is already carving out his place as the Season’s Top Whiner. The females are equally divided: Giudice throws out some Italian name that on one likes – not even Victoria Gotti. Eighties pop princess Debbie Gibson mumbles some idea that everyone thinks is terrible. The men end up going with Team Unanimous – magician/comedian Penn Jillete’s idea – and the women choose the equally uninspiring name Team Forte.
Assigning a project manager is smoother sailing for both squads: Paul Teutul Sr., of Fu-Manchu mustache and American Chopper-fame, steps up and mumbles through his beautifully manicured lip jacket that he'll take on the leadership role; Latin model Patricia Velasquez volunteers to head up the women's squad because she "runs organizations." Both teams reconvene in the board room where Trump and his trusty sidekicks, greasy-haired son Donald Jr. and Queen-of-Cold daughter Ivanka, are waiting. Interestingly enough, our intense focus had prevented us from noticing that previously-announced cast member Michael Andretti was missing. As Trump explains to both teams, the racecar driver’s son, Marco, was originally slated to be a cast member. But when Marco’s fellow driver and close friend, Dan Wheldon, died in a tragic Las Vegas crash, Marco opted out of the show. Michael, who will be arriving shortly, stepped up to fill his son’s spot.
OK, so what's the task already? Trump tells the teams they’re going to be selling sandwiches at NYC's Cafe Metro. And whichever team brings in the most money wins. Simple enough.
However, we must interrupt this recap to point out where we believe Celebrity Apprentice often loses its way: What becomes evident in this first episode, and what always seems to be the show’s downfall, is the fact that any task involving “selling” almost always comes down to which team has a bigger network of obscenely-rich friends willing to donate. Because, while the task may be selling sandwiches, all that really matters is what whales come out to pony up the cash for their friends.
So even though the sandwiches essentially become meaningless, both teams strategize. The men go with a "Chopper" theme for their sandwich shop in honor of their project manager, Teutul Sr. The men also hope that circus-like antics outside their shop – which will include Jillette swallowing fire and some of Teutul Sr.’s motorcycle bros circling around in choppers while looking intimidating – will attract customers. (But again, does this even matter? It’s all about who can get someone to write checks.) Project manager Teutul Sr. also proceeds to shock everyone on his team when he preemptively projects that with his fat-cat contacts he can bring in half a million dollars in sandwich donations.
Meanwhile, the female team decides to go with a "red carpet" theme for their sandwich shop. Former Danity Kane front woman and Diddy nemesis, Aubrey O'Day, takes a moment to tell the camera that she believes she’s the most recognizable face on the women’s team after it was collectively agreed that the honor belongs to Giudice. O’ Day’s justification? "I have the most Twitter followers," says the formerly-blonde singer whose hair color now resembles improperly-mixed magenta paint.
The next morning, both teams head to their respective shops. And this is when our first taste of drama occurs – although for this show, it’s really not all that juicy. Teutul Sr., whose managerial style is reminiscent of a disgruntled sweatshop boss, thinks that Takei is, as he later calls him, too "meek." Takei disagrees. But despite not meshing with Teutul, Takei is in good spirits when Ferrigno takes off his shirt revealing old-man chiseled pecs. The women are meshing quite well. However Victoria Gotti does arrive an hour late and claims a torn cornea – or was it her retina? – is to blame.
Throughout the day, both teams attract large crowds to their respective stores; the sandwiches are flying out the door. Aiken works the register for the men and tries convincing people to pay $100 for a sandwich, to which most reply "No." Jillette stays out front juggling fire while Ferrigno flexes his muscles and holds a sign that reads "Eat Here or I'll Eat You." The women are not as flashy out-front. But they appear to be bringing in the big bucks. Wyclef Jean stops by for a jam session with both Gibson and O’ Day and also buys a $15K "sandwich"; Russell Simmons drops in and spends $10K on a nasty vegan sandwich that Gotti can’t even believe the music mogul’s willing to eat.
Trump then throws both teams a curve ball: He calls up both project managers and instructs them that their team must bring its best sandwich onto the Rachael Ray Show to see whose creation reigns supreme. The winner will receive "big money," Trump says. Raunchy comedian Lisa Lampanelli and Gotti bring the women’s "Celebrity Club Internacional" sandwich. "Woo-Woo-late-night dude" Aresnio Hall and Carolla bring the men’s "Chopper" sandwich. Ray praises both, but doesn’t reveal the winner.
Heading into the board room – which is always the best part of this show – all signs point to the women being crowned the winners. Clay Aiken is nervous that Teutul Sr. may not have delivered on his bold $500K prediction. Without knowing who won, both teams come out with guns blazing. Velasquez says model Cheryl Tiegs and Gotti were the weak links. Teutul Sr. outs Takei and Hall as his team's underachievers. After the usual back-and-forth bickering, Trump reveals that the men not only won the Rachael Ray challenge, for which they’ll get an additional $35K, but they surprisingly also won the overall challenge by finishing with an incredible total of $332K. By comparison, the women raised a still-impressive $125K. It is also revealed, however, that the men’s team essentially won by receiving one $305K donation, which does nothing but support our previous point that actual item being sold was meaningless.
The victorious men are dismissed and the women go to battle. There's a consensus among the female team that project manager Velasquez did an outstanding job, despite the loss. It looks like she’s safe. But it does become evident that most of the team feels Tiegs and Gotti are the weak links. To them, Tiegs is aloof and slow; Gotti is indifferent. So Velasquez chooses these two women to return with her to the boardroom to face Trump.
And then, nearly two hours into the episode, we get our first moment of bliss: Amanda! (For those unaware, Amanda is Trump's perpetually-silent assistant who only mutters the words "Yes, Mr. Trump" while smiling. Trust us, you’ll come to love her as we do.)
Back in the board room, Velasquez, Tiegs and Gotti talk – not yell – it out. It's between Tiegs and Gotti as far as who is getting axed. "I don't know if this is right for me. I'm more of a quiet person," Tiegs admits when Trump suggests that perhaps she's not cut out for this show. With those words, Tiegs writes her own death sentence; Trump has no choice but to fire the former model. And with that, 18 is now 17.
Next Week: We certainly had hoped for more drama and flare-ups in the season opener. But the preview of the next episode indicates that good times are coming soon! Next week the contestants square off at Medieval Times and Dee Snider dresses in drag.