The Apprentice, Episode 1: When Life Gives You Lemons…by Betsy Wasser -- 01/09/2004
The first episode of The Apprentice starts with some breathtaking shots of New York City. In a voiceover, Donald Trump welcomes us to “my city.” With the amount of real estate the man holds, he’s not kidding. Trump says, “This island is the real jungle,” and that if you’re not careful, it will eat you alive. For anyone who might not know, Trump goes on to say that he is the largest real estate developer in New York City. Thirteen years ago, he was billions of dollars in debt, but he fought back using his “brain and negotiating skills.” In that time, he says that he has built Trump into a brand associated with quality and luxury.
Trump says that he’s looking for an apprentice to pass his business knowledge on to. Sixteen people with the best and brightest business minds in America are on their way to the city to compete for the chance to be that apprentice. The person ultimately chosen will get “a huge salary,” plus the opportunity to learn from Trump himself. For thirteen weeks, they’ll have “a unique job interview.” They’ll live together in a suite in Trump Tower. The aspirants will be divided into two groups to compete for “the suite or the street.”
We meet the candidates one by one as they arrive at Trump Tower. I won’t introduce them now because I already profiled them all in my preview article. Tammy stands out immediately because she says in an interview that she felt no desire to communicate with any of the other aspirants. The only person she’s interested in talking to, she says, is Donald Trump. The candidates stand silently in the lobby, luggage in tow, sizing one another up. I find it really weird that no one is talking to anyone. Sure, they’re not there to make friends, but shouldn’t they consider this a potential networking event? (Unless, of course, they aren’t allowed to talk to one another like on Mark Burnett’s “other” show, Survivor. In that case, never mind.) After standing quietly for a while, the candidates are ushered into Trump’s boardroom.
Donald Trump holds court at the center of the conference table. With him are his two deputies. He calls George his right hand man. Carolyn, he says, is a killer—“There are many men buried in her wake.” That remark struck me as a bit sexist. Would he have said that a man had many men buried in his wake? Or that a man had many women buried in his wake? Is Carolyn’s success only measured by those accomplishments which succeed those of men? Anyway, George and Carolyn will serve as Trump’s eyes and ears and will report back to him on the success or failure of the aspirants.
Trump goes on to explain the rules. This is not a game; it’s a job interview. The candidates will be suffering “thirteen weeks of hell.” I will be too if this show isn’t good, but I have a feeling that’s not going to be a problem. Trump says that all of the aspirants come from different walks of life. What makes a person successful? Is it attending a top business school, or are street smarts more important? Do women have more trouble succeeding in the business world (hmm, my sexist alarm bells are ringing again)? In this case, we’ll find out if women are more successful in the business world, because that’s how the teams will be divided—women vs. men. Every week, the teams will compete against each other in various tasks. They’ll be led by a project manager. That project manager will be responsible, at least in part, for the success or failure of the team in each mission. The losing team will report to the boardroom every week, where they’ll lose a member. The ultimate winner will be president of one of Trump’s companies for one year. With that, they are adjourned.
In an interview, Sam says that sitting across from Donald Trump in a boardroom isn’t enough for him. He wants to gain closer access—to have dinner with him or to go to a bar with him and his girlfriend. Sam seems a little obsessed.
The candidates head for their suite in Trump Tower. The suite is very cool, complete with a gym, meeting rooms, and two tables with champagne and caviar. It is fabulous, better than any Real World house ever. Troy grins and says, “My momma’s going to be proud!” The candidates mill around talking about the division of teams, and everyone is excited that it’s been divided by sexes. Tammy wonders why any of the women are even bothering to talk to the men, the enemy. Bowie says that if any of the women cross him, he’ll take revenge tenfold.
Sam and David talk, and Sam learns that David holds both an MD and an MBA. David explains that after he finished medical school, he wanted to have options other than just to treat patients, so he decided to go to business school as well. As he explains that he now works as a venture capitalist, Sam says that he can’t relate to David at all. How can he stand to spend so much time in the classroom instead of going out and working? Well, Sam, maybe David felt he needed this kind of education to do the kind of job that he does.
Meanwhile, Omarosa has found an envelope of instructions. She quickly herds the women together to review it. In an interview, she says that organizing and motivating people are her best skills. The letter, which the men have also discovered, directs each team to enjoy the champagne and caviar and to come up with a name for their companies.
This part of the show was especially interesting to me, because I work for a marketing company that specializes in brand identity. We name companies all the time, and it can be a very challenging process. I was very intrigued to see how the teams would go about naming their companies. Omarosa says that the women had a three hour ordeal to come up with a name. They agree that they want their name to convey “power, unity, and class.” The men throw out the name BMA, short for Business Men Associated. Wow, that’s a terribly boring name, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the name Omarosa suggests: Donald’s Darlings. How on earth could a group of successful women expect to be taken seriously with name like that? Happily, it is quickly discarded.
The men decide that one of their strengths is their versatility, so they name themselves Versacorp. The more I think about their name, the more it grows on me. It’s a little generic, but then again, they don’t know what kind of business Versacorp will have to be in. If they’re going to be successful, they must rely on their versatility, as they said, so Versacorp works. Ereka has a name for the women’s team: Protégé. I really, really hate that name. A protégé is someone who gets support and protection from an influential person. Should they really be presenting themselves as a group of people whose success depends upon someone else?
The phone rings. It’s Trump’s assistant, and she directs the candidates to be at the New York Stock Exchange the next morning at 5:45. Katrina says that this first task is crucial. The women sit in a circle and meditate, while the men amusingly talk about what they should wear. They agree that ties and jackets are appropriate for a trip to the NYSE.
The next morning, Donald Trump greets the candidates on the floor of the stock exchange. He tells them that their first task will take them back to the basics: they will be selling lemonade. Each team will get $250 seed money, and whichever team makes the most money will win. He notes that the women seem more excited, and then asks who the project managers are. Troy will be leading Versacorp, and Ereka will helm Protégé.
Trump muses that the three most important things in starting a business are location, location, location, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with that. He thinks that a smart person will be more successful in a bad location than a less intelligent person will in a good one. How will the two teams fare?
Well, the men are thinking about location right away. Troy puts Kwame in charge of selecting theirs. Kwame pulls out a map of Manhattan and suggests a nearby seaport. He says that it’s a beautiful day, and it should be busy with tourists. The men quickly agree and set off to get started.
The women are having a much slower start. Ereka doesn’t feel comfortable taking charge, and as a result, there is no leadership. All of the women are talking at once and no one can make a decision. Someone says that the first thing they need to do is get a table. Tammy immediately chimes in that they don’t need a table, that a table is the old way to sell lemonade. Tammy really annoys me. Is there a new way to sell lemonade, or are you just disagreeing so that you’ll seem innovative? Ereka agrees, though, that it would be better to invest in their product rather than in a table. In general, the women’s team is a disorganized mess. Omarosa says in an interview that Ereka is too emotional. She’s teary-eyed already and isn’t behaving rationally.
While the women argue about how to get started, the men have taken action. Kwame finds a spot that he thinks will get lots of tourist traffic. Then he introduces himself to a store owner and convinces him to give them a table, cups, ice and a cart in exchange for their directing people into his store. It is an incredibly impressive bit of negotiation, and I am pleased that I chose Kwame as my favorite in my preview article.
An hour into the project and the women are right where they started. Finally, Amy and Kristi leave to buy the supplies. Ereka is still looking for direction.
Meanwhile, the men have the lemonade mixed and are setting up shop. Troy directs everyone to sell, sell, sell. In an interview, Bowie says that Troy is doing a great job of keeping everyone positive.
The women finally have a plan. They’ve selected a location, and Ereka tries to contact Amy and Kristi on her cell phone to give them the rendezvous point, but they have bad reception and can’t hear each other. Tammy helps by putting on more lipstick. They’ve decided to head to Rockefeller Center, and Ereka asks a stranger on the street for directions. Unfortunately, she’s led in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Amy and Kristi, unable to find the group, decide to mix the drinks and start selling. It’s a good plan. Ereka finally gets them on the phone and asks them to get in a cab so they can get started. Amy and Kristi explain that they have shopping carts full of supplies and can’t really leave, so the others decide to join them. Ereka says that their energy is back, and they start working.
Tammy may be the worst lemonade seller I have ever seen. Her technique is to stand on the street and murmur “lemonade,” softly while holding a cup. She takes a break from this crack selling skill to say that her feet hurt. The camera pulls back to show that she is wearing some killer heels. Take your shoes off and get to work, Tammy!
Unfortunately, Tammy does not hear the advice that I yell to my television and decides instead to take a lunch break by herself. Kristi is pissed off, because no one else has taken a break. Amy says that Tammy is just not a part of the team.
Omarosa is concerned about Tammy’s separation from the group, so she asks her to go to the store with her to buy more supplies. On the way there, Omarosa recommends that she reach out to the others, get to know them better, and strive to be a part of the team. Once they get back, Tammy totally ignores this good advice, opting instead to confront the other women to ask if they have a problem with the fact that she took a break. In an interview, Omarosa says that she is done trying to help Tammy. I don’t blame her, and she’s a better woman than I am, because I wouldn’t have bothered.
Well, I thought that Tammy was the worst lemonade seller I’d ever seen, but that was before I saw what David is up to. He has a poster in his hands touting the lemonade and is chasing after a guy on a bike, taunting him to buy a glass. It’s just awkward and painful. Nick is not impressed with his selling skills, and neither is anyone else.
From the Trump helicopter, Trump himself sees the men trying to sell lemonade by the fish market. Trump says that it’s smelly and a terrible location. Down below, the men agree that the spot isn’t good, so they decide to move. Sam blames Kwame for picking such a bad spot.
Now that the women have gotten started, they’re doing much better. Kristi flirts with male customers and offers one guy the lemonade and her phone number for five dollars. She admits that she is using sex to sell lemonade. Heidi also says that she is using her own natural charm to make sales. She spots a dog walker and starts cooing baby talk to the pooches. One of them barks and snaps at her—I guess he finds baby talk just as irritating as I do.
In their new location, the men aren’t doing much better. Sam says that he believes that “women sell product,” and tries to convince an attractive woman to sell a glass of lemonade to another guy. Both the woman and the guy seem uncomfortable, and I didn’t see Sam selling a ton of lemonade with this plan. Bill tells Sam that he’s spending too much time on individual prospective customers, and he’s right. If the guys only have one day to sell lemonade, which they’ve priced at a buck or two a cup, they need to work a lot faster. Instead, Sam decides to go for a completely different tactic. He ups the price of the lemonade to $1,000 a glass. He finds a potential customer and tries to convince him that it’s worth a thousand dollars to be able to tell people that you spent that much money on lemonade; that it would be a great story to tell. He then completely abandons logic and tells the guy that it is the American dream to buy a thousand dollar glass of lemonade. He comes across as an overly dramatic jackass. And no, the guy does not buy a glass of lemonade.
Freshly rejected, Sam goes to talk to Carolyn and Troy. Carolyn asks him how long he spent trying to get that single sale. Sam admits that it took twenty minutes, but that if it had worked, it would have been great. Carolyn states the obvious: it didn’t.
The next morning at 9:00, both teams gather in the boardroom. Carolyn reports on the men’s attempt. She says that they found a location quickly, used local resources, and doubled their money. George says that the women were slow getting started, but that once they did, they did extremely well—they quadrupled their money. Wow, those women must be incredible sellers—not only did they make a hell of a lot more money than the men did, but they also did it in less time. Trump says that the women won decisively, and that their reward will be a tour of his apartment. The women celebrate their victory and the men look glum. They’ll have to return to the boardroom to explain themselves.
Back at the suite, the men have a post-mortem. Kwame says that they made a solid effort, but that they could have done better. Troy vows to come back stronger in the next challenge.
That afternoon, the women take their tour of Donald Trump’s apartment. If I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “shiny.” Everything is gold or marble. My husband took one look at the place and said, “Apparently, he lives inside a Faberge egg.” The women enter the shiny apartment through the shiny door and meet Melania, Donald Trump’s girlfriend. Tammy asks her how she keeps a house like that clean. Oh, Tammy. You have no social skills at all, do you? Melania politely says that someone else does the cleaning for them.
Trump arrives to give the grand tour. He says that his apartment is a sign of success. He then says, “I show this apartment to very few people. Presidents. Kings.” My husband, on a roll tonight, adds, “NBC viewers. People who were too lazy to change the channel after Friends…” Trump shows off a fountain, then his gigantic marble dining room table. One of the women asks him when the last time was that he actually ate dinner there, and he admits that it’s been a long time. Kristi thinks that Trump is more personable in his home than he is in his office and that they’ve seen a different side of him. Tammy, playing the I Just Fell Off The Turnip Truck card to the hilt, says, “Oh, my God. This is so rich.”
Back in the suite, the men meet to discuss who is responsible for their failure. Troy claims partial responsibility, since as their leader, he didn’t direct them on the right path. Sam suggests that when they go before Trump, they should praise one another before giving criticism. It’s a really nice idea, but he’s such a worm about it that I can’t fully support him. David says that he’s actually looking forward to it and thinks the discussion with Trump will be interesting. He notes that Sam has the most anxiety. Indeed, Sam is nervous as hell. Troy directs him to take a deep breath to calm down. Troy seems like a really good guy.
Deep breaths or not, Sam is not calm yet. He sits down in front of the computer and writes notes about each guy on the team, both positive and negative. He thinks that David should be the one to go. In an interview, he says, “It isn’t just about selling lemonade. That I know.” Therein lies Sam’s fatal flaw. Technically, the exercise is not just about selling lemonade. It showed how well each team worked together, how strong their raw sales skills were, and how they could best use their limited capital in a limited amount of time. But above all, the exercise was about selling lemonade. You either made the sales or you didn’t, period. Sam seemed to think that it was important to do something big and showy to impress Donald Trump, so he tried to sell a glass for a thousand dollars. He got no takers, and if one of the other guys sold just one dollar worth of lemonade in the twenty minutes that Sam unsuccessfully chased after a thousand, the other guy would have done better in the competition. It’s not just about grand gestures; it’s about results.
In the boardroom, the mood is somber. George immediately criticizes Kwame’s choice of location. Kwame defends it, saying that it was a good, high-traffic area where they could expect a lunch rush. Trump disagrees with him, saying that the fish smell was unappetizing. Trump then asks David if he would have been a better leader than Troy. David says no, because sales are not his forte. Bad answer, David. Sam pipes up and says that he would have done better. Trump asks him why. Sam follows his praise before criticism technique and says that Troy is an excellent hustler, but that he has the same problem Sam has—that he lacks listening skills. So, Sam, if you have the same negative, what makes you think you’d have done better?
Trump asks Jason what makes a good leader. Jason starts to answer the question, and then Trump interrupts him to ask a follow-up question. Jason interrupts him to say that he wasn't finished answering the question. Trump, not at all pleased, lectures Jason that he should not interrupt his potential boss and that Jason needs to show more respect. Tail between his legs, Jason says that a good leader listens to his team, takes in their ideas, and then sets a plan in motion. They'll listen to him because he has already listened to them. Trump disagrees, saying that sometimes you have to take action.
I felt sorry for Jason in this situation. We've hardly heard from him at all this episode, and the time he gets the most attention is the time when he gets a humiliating lecture from Trump. While in general it's not good policy to interrupt a man you're trying to impress, Trump did not let Jason finish his answer, but rather interrupted him first with another challenge. I have the distinct impression that Donald Trump is not a man used to being interrupted.
George notes that Troy was not afraid to delegate tasks to others, but that it’s a risky proposition. If the person you delegated to does well, then you’re a hero, but if he doesn’t, you’re a bum. Carolyn thinks that as a leader, Troy was inconsistent. He backed up Kwame’s location decision, but didn’t back up Sam’s sales ideas.
Trump asks each of the men to name the worst leader. Everyone chooses Sam. Troy explains that Sam did not earn the respect of the team. Sam thinks that David was the worst leader, and I’ve noticed that he didn’t bother to praise David before saying so. All of the men agree that Sam went over the edge.
With that, Sam goes on a weird rant about how he’ll stand before Donald Trump some day as president of his company, and how he will follow the rules. As he speaks, he haltingly starts to stand up, to illustrate his point, gets uncomfortable and starts to sit down, then stands up again. By the time he’s worked out that he wants to stand up for this little diatribe, his speech is over, and it’s time for him to sit down. It’s incredibly awkward, and his speech made no sense. The gist of it appears to be that if he’s given the opportunity to work for Trump, he’ll toil day and night to prove his worth. Trump asks if hard work is really enough or if at some point, it comes down to what you got in the gene pool. Sam says that he did very well genetically, just as Trump did. Then he names Trump’s mother and father, which just comes across as creepy.
With that, Trump asks Troy, as project manager, to name the two men who should go to the boardroom with him to face potential elimination. So, it looks like if you are the project manager of a losing team, you are automatically at risk of going home. Interesting. Troy selects Sam and David. The other five men head back to the suite while those three sit outside to await their fate.
Outside the boardroom, Sam is geared up. He tells David that there is no way David will win and that he might as well get used to the idea. He then continues his strange behavior by crawling on the floor, apparently an indication that he is now crawling but soon will be walking. Inside, Trump, George, and Carolyn talk about the three men. Carolyn thinks that Troy was an inconsistent leader. George says that Sam is more of a risk taker than David, but that he’s also a loose cannon. They come to a decision, and Trump sends for the three men.
Trump begins by asking Troy why he chose David and Sam. Troy picked David because although he’s great at logistics and numbers, he’s not a good leader. He says that Sam is a maverick. Would Troy trust Sam with his bank account? Troy says no. Sam takes offense to this, saying shakily that the fact that Troy wouldn’t trust him with all of his money implies that Troy finds him dishonest, which he is not. David quietly says that the concern might not be so much a lack of honesty as a lack of discretion. Well said, David. Trump addresses Troy first. Although his mission failed, Troy has potential. He’s staying. Sam is next. Sam, tool that he is, stands up. Trump tells him to sit down. He says that Sam is a risky person to have around. He’ll either be a great success or a total disaster. David is next. Trump says that David didn’t impress him. He didn’t step up, and he admitted that he would not have done better in Troy’s shoes. David is fired.
As the three men leave, Sam actually bows to Trump, George, and Carolyn. This guy could not be weirder. As David gets in a cab to go home, Trump says in a voiceover that although David is very smart and a good guy, he doesn’t have what it takes.
Well, I loved this show. The concept is brilliant—take sixteen very smart, very ambitious people and give them a huge challenge with a very appealing payoff. Have someone tough and intimidating like Donald Trump hold them responsible for their actions. I found the first episode smart, engaging, and exciting. If you agree, be sure to tune in to next week’s episode of The Apprentice at its regular time on Wednesday at 8:00 Eastern. See you then!
Betsy can be reached with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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