The Apprentice 2, MVPs and LVPs – The Corner Office or the Mailroom for the First Ten Episodesby Mel Ellis -- 11/18/2004
I'm spreading through RNO like a fungus, it seems. First I was isolated with Dog, the Bounty Hunter, then I spread to Surreal Life 3, and now I have my claws on The Apprentice. I was asked to take on a column looking at the most and least valuable players (or workers) of the Apprentice candidates, as Betsy Wasser does so wonderfully for Survivor and The Amazing Race. I can only hope to fill Betsy's shoes (not that they are large or anything), so you gets what you get.
Since I only just got the gig, I'll give you a brief encapsulation of my thoughts from the start and we'll start fresh next week. I will place the least valuable players in the mail room for the week and the most valuable players in the corner office. Each team gets one promotion and one demotion, or none, if the circumstances so warrant. Our esteemed editor-in-chief warned me to be prepared for emails disagreeing with me and I say, “Bring it on!” Without further ado (as I've already given you enough ado for the time being), here are my short short takes on the first weeks:
Week 1: Does it Need Batteries?
As far as I am concerned, whoever thought of "Mosaic" as a team name should have been sent straight to the boardroom, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. However, memory fails me on who that was. The teams, as you may remember, were split up yet again along gender lines. Pamela and Bradford volunteered as team leaders and switched sides, Pam to the men and Brad to the women. After the naming ceremony, the teams headed to Mattel to develop a new and innovative toy. The one with the best idea would win. My memory gets worse as I get older, but I distinctly remember Ivana coming up with a "junior drag queen" kit for little boys. Bradford's remote control football player idea was actually kind of neat, in my humble opinion. And I appear to be in a growing minority who doesn't think Stacey's 8-ball antics were that psychotic. As no one else springs to mind, of those three, Ivana definitely sorts mail for a week. Best player is harder, though, as only Bradford said anything of substance. Actually, he stifled any other suggestions and opinions, so I refuse to award him a corner office for worries that he'd stage a coup and overthrow the president.
With regards to "Mosaic" (how do I hate that name – let me count the ways), Pamela's unpleasant and unapologized-for remark about the chubby kid with the Dumb and Dumber haircut doesn't warrant a trip to the mailroom, although I would make her sit through sensitivity training. I remember no one coming up with an idea except Andy, who asked the classic question, "Is anyone else obsessed with crustaceans?" I often use that as an ice-breaker at parties. Andy's weird fascination turned into the poorly executed "Crustacean Nation," which in my mind forces Andy to haul packages for a week. (I know Rob got fired, but The Donald is applying different and far less snarky criteria than I.) As with the other team, there is no winner of a corner office. I was tempted to award it to Raj to see how he'd decorate it after looking at his clothing, but his attitude got to me first.
Week 2: Are you lactose intolerant?
Kelly, the ex-GI, led team Mosaic (oy, do I hate that name!) and Ivana was named project manager of the Apex team. The task was to create an ice cream flavor and sell it. Sounds simple, no? What's the old joke about how many MBAs it takes to sell a bowl of ice cream? Kelly and his team split into marketing and production divisions, with Kelly, Pam, Chris, and Andy heading to the ice cream factory while Wes, Kevin, Raj, and John (who I barely remember) worked on trying to arrange distribution. The team settled on donut-flavored ice cream and spilled out like the A-Team to hit every donut shop within a mile's radius. How was the distribution side? Well, as I remember it, everyone sat on their Brooks Brothers and watched Wes cold-call a number of restaurants. I was torn between making Pamela work the mail room as punishment for her excruciating 20-questions session with the ice cream maker, but she hauled donut when there was a time crunch. Granted, she can't sell ice cream on the street, but I still couldn't make her lick stamps. Easier to place in the mail room slot (get it? I crack myself up) was Wes. Wes has a hang-dog expression that accompanies his energy-less approach to things. How on earth could he expect to sell ice cream to people he doesn't know, who don't know him or any company he might claim to represent, over the telephone? Wes, be careful of paper cuts. On the other hand, Kevin had the brilliant idea of making the sales all about charity. I believe that, more than anything, attributed to the team's win and I liked that they asked for all their winnings to be donated. Kevin, be sure to water the ficus near the corner window.
Apex presented a harder choice. How can so many women, even as skinny as they are, fit into the mailroom? I had to make some tough choices. I was tempted to demote whoever had thought of "butter" as a good ice cream flavor, but I couldn't remember who suggested it. Stacie J. was also an easy target, a New Yorker who doesn't know where she is or how to give directions. However, looking at the team's efforts in toto, Ivana got the stool in the mailroom for the second straight week. Ivana, Ivana – you had 4,569,999 suggestions for ice cream. PICK ONE! When your team got separated, how could you not find a group of improperly dressed (for ice cream vending), ultra skinny women hauling around a huge cart and red and white striped umbrella? For TWO HOURS? Words fail me (and that takes a lot). I'm tempted to order you a nameplate for the mailroom door. I know Bradford was Bonehead when he gave up his exemption, but anyone in business will tell you, an overactive ego doesn't normally earmark you for mailroom duty. The mailroom's all yours, Ivana. As for the corner office, it was a clear choice. Jennifer C. arranged for restaurants to come by and sample the ice cream, which was a smart move (take a clue, Wes) and resulted in the team's biggest sales. Jennifer C. claimed the corner office for Apex for Week 2.
Week 3: Did you remember to floss?
I actually saw my first tube of Vanilla Mint Crest this week. I had to take a moment in the toothpaste aisle to reminisce. And to think about how much I detest the thought of vanilla and mint mixed together. In week 3, the teams were given a budget and told to develop a "buzz" to introduce Vanilla Mint Crest; the best buzz would win. The men ran with Andy's idea of offering a million dollars through an insurance company or some such thing (I can't balance my checkbook; I had no idea what he was talking about). I guess it would have been an idea, had Crest legal counsel agreed. Problem was, they had no backup plan. What they came up with last minute ran like a nightmare I've recurrently had – clowns and vanilla mint everywhere. They had circus performers and the promise of three, $5,000 wins, which drew a good crowd. The team pulled out a win from a potential disaster, and created a good buzz. They never identified who pulled the circus idea from his hip pocket, which is a shame, because s/he might have liked the corner office. I didn't give it to anyone at Mosaic this week, not because they didn't put forth a solid effort, but because I really hate clowns and vanilla mint. The mail clerk for this week would have to be Kevin, the project manager, which kills me because he's my favorite. Kev, you always have to have a backup plan! You're just lucky someone in your group sent in the clowns.
Apex – you girls keep losing people and you might all fit in the mailroom. However, I will try and parse out the worst of the worst. The group decided to have a big name present the brand to the public. They got Mike Piazza, which was a wonderful choice for New Yorkers (although I am a Mets fam m'self). The group also devised colorful fliers to be distributed at the Piazza event. Here's the sticking point – Maria never got a written agreement about the price for the flyers. Result? The group, even though they had the better buzz, went over by $5,000. So, should Maria automatically helm the package scale for the week? Well, I was sure until Ivana shrieked to the printer that he was "raping" her. As someone who prosecutes rapists and batterers for a living, I took particular offense to that remark. And then there's Elizabeth, who, despite working for the client (Proctor & Gamble) in the past, couldn't seem to tie her shoes during the task without assistance. And let's not forget Stacie J., who thought she and Jennifer C. could pick up 20,000 tubes of toothpaste with no help and no truck. However, offensiveness is usually rewarded in big business, and the ineptness of Elizabeth and Stacie J. was outshadowed by the bonehead move of not getting a printer agreement in writing. Maria, the mailroom stool is all yours. Who gets the corner office? Decorate it tastefully, Sandy, 'cause it's all yours. Suggesting Mike Piazza was brilliant.
Week 4: Soup or Salad?
The restaurant episode. The "munchkin" versus the "anti-semite." Homophobia exploited for fun and profit. It doesn't get more delicious than that. The teams had to decorate and run a restaurant, down to determining its menu. The men took my mother's way out, which meant thinking simple for the menu and hiring a cleaning crew to fix the place up. The women, on the other hand, argued over the cuisine, with Project Manager Jennifer C. settling on "Asian fusion," which I have never heard offered in Des Moines. Sandy decorated the place, which was nice, if a little cold. The service was provided by the team members themselves. The men acted like gregarious and earnest college students and their mistakes were more cause for affection than disgruntlement. The women, on the other hand, looked like Stepford Wives from Hell. They stood around in sleek black outfits and stared at the diners or at their nails. Interestingly enough, lame duck Ivana was the hardest worker of the bunch this week, hustling and busing and telling the women to stop sitting and standing around. Ivana, enjoy the cushy leather chair in your corner office. You earned it this week. As for the mail clerk, there's no contest. As annoying at Stacy R. is, and as deer-in-headlights as Elizabeth is, of Jennifer C., Sinead O'Connor said it best: No one compares to U. Mail needs to be delivered by 11.
The men had an easier time of it, although they did come across some tough "gay guys" that needed handling. Resident Archie Bunker wannabe Chris suggested that John give them b---wjobs (his mother must be so proud), and John did flaunt his looks to turn the surly patrons in to smiling customers. That was the only hiccup I could see in what was essentially a solid effort by everyone. Not sure I like John's paintings (they look like something I ran over with my car), but that doesn't warrant mailroom duty. That honor goes to Chris. I hear the other mail clerk is a lesbian C, so you should be okay. Jeesh! As for the corner office, I was torn. I can't stand Raj, but the team as a whole was a credit to his leadership (Chris notwithstanding). Raj, there's an umbrella stand for your cane in the corner office.
Week 5: Can I get it by Christmas?
QVC. Home of decorated dolls and holiday sweaters. Not exactly the place I'd have pictured The Donald to hold a challenge, but there the teams were on week 5, shilling like pros. The task was to pick an item from the QVC warehouse, price it, and pitch it. The team with the most profit would win. Pamela was returned to the women's team, much to their mutual chagrin. She was also appointed team leader and proceeded to bark orders at the women like she was auditioning for the road show of An Officer and a Gentleman. The women chose a cleaning sponge, which I thought was a great idea. Small, cheap, something everyone will need. Maria asked to pitch it, claiming she was the best at sales. I dunno about that, M. Your frantic blinking gave me the willies. Pamela smartly switched Maria for Jennifer for the actual sales pitch. Stacy R. was supposed to handle legal, but she seemed all worked up about the bottles. Let's cover the labels and move on, people. It's not rocket science. I disagree with Pamela that it wasn't a big deal, as companies get in a twist about product placement and permissions and such, but Stacy took way too much time on it and took it way too seriously. Still, that doesn't warrant mailroom duty. Nor does Maria's facial ticks, although I would have that looked at, if I were you. It's disturbing. Ivana and Elizabeth were there, too, but ran safely in the middle of the pack, neither the best nor the worst of the team. So who does mailroom duty? Miss Pamela. The sponges were priced way too high, as seen by the sell-out that QVC accomplished when it lowered the price by ten dollars on Apprentice night on QVC. Also, even though little Stacy is wound too tight, you can't blow off things like trademarks and permissions and the like. Pam, you can lower the mailroom stool if you need to. As for corner office, I was tempted not to award it to anyone, but Jennifer pitched with the best of them. She came in at the last minute and did splendidly. Jennifer, enjoy the view.
As for the men, I was worried when I saw that they chose an Italian sandwich maker. How many people in the QVC audience, awaiting Marie Osmond's doll display, hit themselves in the head and say, "if I only had a panini?" And at almost $80, I figured it was a tough sell. Still, they did better (if only slightly) than the women, and they were off by only $4 when the grills were sold on Apprentice night on QVC, so they had good pricing instincts. My choice for corner office this week goes to John, who weathered the heat of the lights and the steam from the grill and pitched his little heart out. If you hit 330 on the corner office phone, you can have lunch sent up. Enjoy. The mailroom will be helmed by Andy, not just for wearing that ridiculous hardhat, but because I couldn't see how his watching the bouncing-ball-selling point graph on the computer helped anyone. I bet he's not the first Harvardian to work the mailroom, and I'm pretty sure he won't be the last. He'll get to work with another one this week, actually (Pamela was a Harvard undergrad).
Week 6: Does It Come in My Size?
Forgive my alluding to a stereotype, but The Donald must have chosen the dress-making challenge to throw a bone to the boneheaded women's team. Except for Raj, none of the men, although they dress very well, seem like clotheshorses. The women, on the other hand, seem to change outfits every few hours. The challenge: create five outfits and use Trump models to show them at Fashion Week. The team who sold the most of its line won. The teams were given models and could choose designers. To me, the designer choice was crucial. The men chose an eclectic designer, not one who seemed prepared to start a line right away. The women, with Maria at the helm ('cause her mother was a Home Ec teacher) chose Darren, who presented his style as "low end at the high-end stores." That shouts high sales to me. The men ogled the women and Raj went so overboard that he angered the designer and interfered with her process. Raj, there's no debating this week. Take it to the mailroom. Your colleague this week will be an old, old man. You need a time out. As for the corner office, I want to give an honorary promotion to Ilsa, for having to put up with all that crap.
The women fared better, although they squabbled a little about the designs. Maria acted like her genesis from a Home Economics goddess was grounds for worship, but my mother was head of the math department and I couldn't do long division if you paid me. Get over yourself. She does get the corner office, but more for her brilliant idea of pairing Jennifer (level-headed) with Elizabeth (flustered) to see the buyers and see what they were looking for. It got Elizabeth out of everyone's hair and got the team some valuable information on what the buyers wanted. Yes, Maria has a huge ego, but as I've said before, overarching ego doesn't get you sent to the mailroom. That dishonor goes to Elizabeth. I worry about her. Did her parents rush her potty training? Why is she always so anxious and flustered? Maybe a stint in the quiet of the mailroom will relax you a bit.
Week 7: How Much is That Doggy in the Window?
The Donald is testing my patience with this next challenge. We are seven weeks into the 15-week "job interview," and his bright idea is to have the groups wash dogs. How does that equate with running a multi-million dollar company? It makes as much sense as Mark Cuban deciding who gets his million by having them play a rousing game of Jenga. Those wacky billionaires! At least he did the smart thing and mixed the teams up, giving each team a little of the headache that was the women's team. Each team had to spend a day servicing dogs (and not in that way; you people are sick). The team with the most money would win.
Jennifer, the project manager for the newly-reformed Apex, decided that the team will wash dogs. They eventually expanded services to include doggy massage (I don't even want to know) and toenail clipping. The other team, Mosaic as led by Wes, seemed infected by his low energy. Maybe he needs some B12. In any event, two of the group (Sandy and Kelly) worked their hands raw washing dogs. Even if they didn't go fast enough for Carolyn's taste, at least they worked. I caught Maria flirting, Stacy R. moping, and Wes... what did Wes do? Anyone? Anyone? Even Andy was chasing people through the park, trying to drum up business. Wes, your team not only lost, but you contributed next to nothing, if that. Even Stacy contributed, even if it was only bad vibes. The mailroom's all yours. As for the corner office, Sandy and Kelly will share the massive oak desk this week. Good work, guys, no matter what Carolyn says. The team would have had no sales at all without you.
Team Mosaic seemed all over the place, but they all hustled to get business. All but Raj and Elizabeth. At least Raj had the idea of expanding to a new location, but other than that, I could find no evidence of his washing, or clipping – maybe he didn't want to dirty his Chinos. Raj, you might want to bring a change of clothes, as the mailroom gets musty and dusty. And Elizabeth, you will be helping Raj sort mail this week. You didn't even come up with a suggestion. Nothing. Nada. Bupkis. The star of the Mosaic team was harder to come by this week, as everyone else seemed to be hustling. I think the corner office is large enough to accommodate the rest, but without a clear winner or two, I am loathe to award the corner office to anyone this week. Good efforts by all, though.
Week 8: We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself? Are you Sure?
This episode was hard for me to watch, coming so close to the election. Each team had to devise a recruiting commercial for the NYPD, and I worried that the approach would be to scare people instead of inspire them. That's the tack that Apex took, and Trump and Co. reacted to it as I did. Trump wanted to forget about the show and go and lock his front door. That's not what the NYPD ought to be about, and Mosaic showed the Department as brave, strong, and proud. Theirs was the rightful win, and Andy deserved the corner office for his leadership and for his idea of "When was the last time...?" It was his vision from top to bottom, and I thought it was brilliant. Enjoy the chair massage on Wednesday. Maria will be delivering your mail this week, if only for her insipid insistence that a recruiting commercial for the police have "sex appeal."
Apex didn't fare so well. Elizabeth was their project manager, which is really all I should have to say. Everyone suggested ideas, including Raj, who steamrolled over everyone with his insistence on creating a paramilitary look for the ad. Elizabeth had misgivings along with everyone else and Kevin offered to work late into the night on another pitch. Then, after all that, Elizabeth waffled again and adopted Raj's fear-inspiring vision. Both Raj and Elizabeth work the mailroom this week, Raj for his scary, militaristic vision which was a total disaster and for his heavy-handed dealings with colleagues; and Elizabeth, for her utter... Elizabethness. The corner office belongs to my steady favorite, Kevin. Kevin, you were team player extraordinaire this week. You didn't agree with Raj, but were working hard on that approach when the team adopted it, then threw yourself into helping Elizabeth realize a different vision only to see her reward your hard work by throwing it out for Raj's original idea. Kev, make sure you have Elizabeth bring you extra stamps and envelopes and stuff – make her sweat this week.
Week 9: Are the Washer and Dryer Included?
Finally, a real estate task. Glad you paced yourself, Donald. You almost got through two thirds of the show without an actual real estate task. This week the teams each had to renovate a house. The team who added the most value to their house wins. Extra workers came in the form of all the previously-fired contestants, divided evenly between the teams. Raj and Sandy were the respective leaders, and I wondered about the match-up. I thought little Sandy would be seriously outmatched by Raj. How wrong I was.
Raj proved that a pair of red pants and a horndog personality don't mean squat in the remodeling field, and he proves utterly incapable of realizing two main points in real estate: first, control your contractor (Trumpism of the week) and second, don't make a house smaller than it already was. What Raj was thinking by knocking down a wall and making a four-room house into a three-room house only Raj knows, but the mimeograph machine is in the mailroom and perhaps he can provide a written explanation to the rest of us. As if that wasn't bad enough, he also hired the worst contractor on the planet and then failed to supervise him properly. The minute I saw him not working, he' d have been outta there! Instead, Raj insisted on meekly asking (repeatedly, which was annoying) if he understood what they needed done in the upstairs bathroom. Then, when the contractor left, Raj never even checked his work! My four-year-old nephew could have done better. Enjoy the mailroom, Raj. No one from Mosaic sits in the corner office this week. Even my fav, Kevin, bungled the job when he got a recommendation for the contractor. It's okay, though, Raj's mistakes were much worse.
Apex actually did very well, though I suspect a set-up. The team needed a contractor and awaited a contractor when, lo and behold, along came a contractor who was (a) not busy and (b) within their budget? What are the odds? Smells of the same suspicious coincidence that provided Amy and Nick with a buyer for their apartment five minutes before time was up. Is The Donald the wizard behind the curtains of it all? In any event, the team had a good, simple plan, and executed it well, with the help of the contractor and his Soprano-like family. The whole contractor family should camp out in the corner office this week, but I'll give the honor to Andy, who flagged them down in the first place. Sandy, you werethisclose. As for the mailroom, I don't think anyone deserved to be there. You all worked hard. Raj can carry the mail for you, too.
Week 10: Should you really be wearing white?
At last! We are finally caught up! For those who are still reading, I doff my chapeau to y'all and thank you. Next week's analysis and the weeks' to follow will not be nearly as long. This last week, the teams were handed another task that seemed to play to one team's strengths. Is anyone but me suspecting the fix is in? The Donald decided, of all the businesses in the world and all the goods that could be sold, the teams should try the niche market of bridal gowns. You read that right: bridal gowns. To me, it would be akin to having copier sales be the task when Nick was around last season. Sandy, of course, owns a bridal salon, so her team would have to go out of its way to lose. The other team knew they were up against it and should therefore have redoubled their efforts, no?
NO! Chris, the project manager, slinked into a black hole and gave up. At one point, the group just sat around reading magazines. Eventually, Ivana got the bright idea to actually leave the empty space they had to fill and go meet some vendors. For that idea alone, which seemed to prod her cohorts into action, Ivana can relax on the leather couch in the corner office this week. As for the mailroom, it isn't even close. Chris, I would warn you not to get a paper cut, but to be honest, it might not be the worst thing.
As I said before, all Sandy's team had to do was not screw up, but they almost did that. Well, okay, Maria almost did that. Why is anyone letting her handle anything with details involved? As with the printer snafu of the Crest challenge, Maria seems unable or unwilling to focus on details. Because of this, she okayed an email sent to the 25,000 brides-to-be on TheKnot.com, Sandy's great suggestion for advertising, without even reading the freakin' email. Had she done so (or had Wes, who was with her), she might have noticed that the phone number wasn't on the email. Still, that snafu did not derail Mosaic, although it got Maria a pretty little spot in the mailroom this week. Maria, make sure you read the address labels more carefully than you did the emails. As for the corner office, I refuse to give it to Sandy for being competent at the job she had before she got here. I smell a fix, as I said, and for that reason as well, Sandy is to be commended but not rewarded. Kelly and Wes certainly don't get it for crashing the van into parked cars, but Andy seemed positively giddy selling bridal gowns. It was both disturbing and inspiring at the same time. Andy, enjoy the fresh roast coffee served in the anteroom to the corner office.
That brings us up to this week. Who will be express-mailed to mailroom hell and who will be "top of the world, ma!" in the corner office? We'll just have to wait and see.
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Mel Ellis is a prosecutor and loves a good debate. Feel free to email her with your thoughts on who should be or should have been mail clerks or apprentice CEO's. You can reach Mel at email@example.com.
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