The Apprentice: Los Angeles, Episode 8 Performance Reviewsby Brian Towers -- 03/14/2007
We learned one thing on The Apprentice: Los Angeles this week: Surya’s record was 5-2 in the challenges! For him, that seemed to be worth repeating – and he did, many times. To try and make further sense out of the other 58 minutes of the show, let’s turn to our attention to “Performance Reviews” of the remaining applicants!
Crowd reaction was appropriately underwhelming for two such amateurish events. If I had been scoring these events out of ten, neither effort deserved better than a three or a four. I think the smart people went for a beer and a pretzel instead of watching these presentations.
If someone can tell me what “dressing up in a Styrofoam costume and acting like an idiot in front of a crowd of thousands” has to do with the management of a project for Trump International, please tell me at the address at the end of the article.
I wasn’t incredibly impressed with their event, but now we know GNC’s red pills are better than their white ones! (Yes, that was a joke.) Reader Matt wrote to suggest a competition between a GNC pill (or bottle) and one labeled Brand-X might have made better sense.
Angela: I got one thing wrong in last week’s article – it’s obvious Angela has tons of Olympic brownie points left! First, Trump called her “a star” when meeting the sponsor. Then, when results were about to be announced and Trump asks the PM how they thought the task went, he asked Angela instead! The golf compliments seemed over the top too, but since we really couldn’t tell a lot from the camerawork and I’d like to think Trump won’t make any serious decisions based on such a non-business skill, I’m not going to worry about her golf.
As a follower, no one could fault Angela’s effort, but as Surya proved this week, the show is about finding a leader. So after the warning Trump gave her as Kinetic left the Boardroom last episode, I had fully expected Angela to make the effort to step up and insist on becoming the PM. If she made such an offer, we didn’t see it.
My opinion of her public speaking skills hasn’t changed; I found her voice harsh and even after several re-listens, almost completely unintelligible. On a soccer board I read there were several posts that implied it was even more painful to the ears in person. However, the GNC exec seemed to think he heard what he wanted to, and that’s what mattered the most this week.
When advising Surya through the hedge, she suggested he bring up his record. Aha, that’s her fault! Did I mention he was 5-2?
I’m not real comfortable with it, but Angela gets a SATISFACTORY rating. I expect she’ll be with us for a couple of episodes yet.
Heidi: Heidi was also pointed out to the GNC exec with the news that she “was a star,” with the emphasis on the word “was.” One minute, one strike. Angela got the same intro, but Heidi was not to benefit from any future positives from Trump.
We saw Heidi several times but I actually don’t have much specific comment for her this time out, so I’ll just assign her a SATISFACTORY rating and we’ll move on to Kristine.
Kristine: Kristine stepped up to be PM this week, and I applaud both her initiative and her optimism. After all, there are still a goodly number of tasks to go through yet, and winning them all will be hard. However, this task was so right up her alley that it seemed like as good a time as any for her to jump in.
When Kristine spoke of her prior experience in the area of this task, I was reminded of Kelly from Survivor: Borneo, the river rafter who couldn’t paddle a canoe. Or, more on topic, Sandy from season two of this show, the bridal salon owner who failed at a bridal show.
However, Kristine led a clean if unremarkable event. Okay, it was actually kind of lame. It seemed unrehearsed, with characters bumping into each other and Angela clobbering the message. Much of the blame for this has to fall on Kristine, as insufficient rehearsal means time management was lacking. However, they had a simple if unspectacular storyline with plenty of color, movement, and noise. Maybe fireworks could have helped, if they were permitted. Bottom line, as far as the GNC exec was concerned, it hit the main points. I can’t disagree, and it wasn’t offensive… faint praise, that, but it’s the best I can offer.
Kristine came up with an idea that sounded pretty appropriate to me, a GNC-themed soccer game. Although they went in another direction, Kristine gets marks for recognizing that final suggestion as a decent idea.
I was impressed that Kristine recognized that difficulties with Muna will have to be worked out, and that she is willing to put forth an effort to do so. This needs monitoring in future weeks.
In the Boardroom, why did Trump ask Kristine if Surya was a good leader? How could she possibly know? Was that a trick question to see if she had a secret agenda? She took a short step toward that trap but easily evaded it. Actually, I thought her performance as Trump’s aide was good. She offered opinion and made inquiry without exhibiting the shortcomings of predecessors Aaron and Aimee. Putting the idea of firing all three into Trump’s head in a non-aggressive fashion was inspired.
Since Kristine led Kinetic to a win with two less helpers, even if her event stopped short of being spectacular, her rating must be GOOD. Next week she’ll be leading her team on a project where she is probably less comfortable, and we’ll get a true measure of her skills. Based on what we saw this week, I’m a little nervous for her.
Muna: Last week we saw Muna delving very deeply into how to operate the Lexus, and now this week we saw a repeat performance of her tendency to dogmatically focus on items of lesser import. She harped on meaningless details with both Kristine and the design team and wore them down while contributing little. Sometimes the line between double-checking and micromanaging is pretty fine… but not in Muna’s case.
Muna felt she was identifying areas where they could improve, but finally it clicked in that she ought to just “shine within my own realm.” Yes, she should. She needs to dial it back a little.
In the webisode, we saw a little of the planning Kinetic did, flushing out their idea. While the other three were enthusiastic and offering ideas, Muna sat very quietly with a defensive posture, and pouted. She claimed she wanted to hear details; I think you need basic concepts first.
Once again Muna’s Spanish skills came into play for Kinetic. It added a dimension to their presentation that Arrow did not match. Additionally, her presentation was almost as frenetic as Angela’s.
Assuming it was well-intentioned and not an attempt to undermine Team Arrow, I applaud Muna’s encouragement of Surya to fight to the end. Of course, she knew none of the facts and her suggestions (as well as Angela’s) were complete nonsense, but wasn’t that a nice sentiment?
I actually think Muna might have been the one going home if Arrow had done a better job. Her rating is NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. If she were to make it to the final episode where there’s a thousand minor details to consider, her head might explode.
It’s a sad fact that a smooth presentation can sell a lukewarm concept, yet a garbled presentation can kill results for the best of product. Arrow should have stopped rewriting their script at some much sooner point, and concentrated on rehearsing what they had until it was more polished.
A key fact or two have not come out. First, who was responsible for assuring brand integration was sufficient? It became an issue in the Boardroom and no one seemed to be responsible for it. If that fell through the cracks, ultimately Surya must take responsibility. Secondly, a related item… who was responsible for the content of the script? The GNC exec felt key elements were missing, yet no one had to defend themselves over that key point.
Frank: I can tell from my mail that some of you readers disagree with me, but Frank needs to find a way to work with people he doesn’t like and not show his disapproval so readily and so immaturely. Two examples from their time in the van are the over-exaggerated shushing of the others and the deliberate timekeeping of the quiet period.
Yes, Surya was generating an nearly unbearable amount of frustration among his team members by a variety of behaviors (outlined below). Of them all, Frank was the one most overwhelmed by Surya’s dogmatic and over-engineered approach to these projects, and he was the one who responded most childishly.
Of course it was incredibly ridiculous of Surya to stop the brainstorming session just as it was starting to be productive. Almost a “Hall Of Shame Moment,” I think. But, mocking the boss, especially so overtly, is never an acceptable business behavior. Frank’s been doing it for two or three episodes now.
It’s not all bad news for Frank this week. He knew to think big and to try and get the crowd involved and his thoughts in support of the boxing idea seemed solid.
In Frank’s oral presentation of their inferior material, he sounded unprepared and the message got lost. This is no surprise given that he was rewriting it right up to the last second, but the fact remains that the words did not flow smoothly. Although I applaud Frank’s attempts to make their production better, last-minute unrehearsed changes will backfire more often than not.
By comparison to earlier efforts, this was as low an energy level in front of a crowd I’ve ever seen from Frank. Probably that’s due to a lack of rehearsal time, but as the one holding the microphone, Frank had extra incentive to limit the changes so his presentation was smoother and more confident.
Advancing to the Boardroom, there was more good activity from Frank. In the early weeks, he had a lot of trouble giving concise replies to The Donald. He exhibited big progress here, explaining the concept of their event in one sentence. Or maybe that wasn’t the concept, maybe that was the aim, or, the objective or… oh, let’s just ask Surya. But at least he was brief. He did it again (being brief, I mean) explaining where they went wrong. Well done.
Frank still gets a NEEDS IMPROVEMENT rating this week. Next week Surya won’t be around to distract Frank and we’ll see if he can pick up his game.
James: James took part in the initial brainstorming as well, identifying the boxing as something “engaging” for the crowd. His support waned as the task went on. He seemed to feel their presentation was too small for the large venue. I’m not so sure I agree; they had an oversized ring and Tim kept moving around. If the ring had been much larger, then Tim would have looked too small in it and the image would have been farcical.
However, to still be expressing concerns five minutes before the event starts was ludicrous. There’s a time to raise concerns and that had passed. At this point there was only one thing to do – as Tim Gunn of Project Runway would say, “Make it work!”
James’ lack of teamwork may be a big problem in future tasks. In a deleted scene, Tim told us he was not sure if he trusts James, called him “strategic,” and said, “He is killing the spirit of the group.” Tim expounded, “James is the type of person who is always positioning himself. He always has one side of his brain focused on the Boardroom, and one side of his brain focused on the task. That person is useless to a team.”
I think I need to comment on the editing here. I may well be wrong, but I don’t recollect seeing this trait exhibited from James before. But Tim referred to it both inside the Boardroom and earlier, so I feel it must be true.
With the Boardroom looming, Bill Rancic told Trump that James made it difficult for the team to focus. Oops!
However, James’ fear that their message was not getting across was correct. It seemed like he was trying to address those concerns, but way too late. Timing is everything, and complaining after the budget is gone is just whining.
In the Boardroom, both Surya and Trump tossed the word “disloyalty” around regarding James, while Bill Rancic nodded along with them. Again, this bodes poorly for his long-term future.
Also in the Boardroom, James claimed Surya suppressed brainstorming, yet it was confirmed by Tim that Surya called for more ideas and none were forthcoming. That’s a real big “whoops” there! Tim also supported Surya’s assertion that James usually raises his concerns at the eleventh hour. Double whoops!
When Trump asked James how many wins he had a PM, was that a serious question? Thanks to the dopey new rule that winning PMs remain in place, many will NEVER get a chance to lead. James made the right response, that he’s ready to lead and vowed to do so. We’ll see if he follows up on that next week.
So it was a bad week for James. However, he stated he was not responsible for brand integration in the Boardroom, and no one disagreed – so he lived to fight another day. Not a lot of days, I don’t think – but, he’s still in the game. His rating is certainly UNSATISFACTORY. Disloyalty may prove to be a hard label for him to shake before Arrow’s next loss, an event that will surely come with James as the losing PM.
Nicole: Although I’m sure the “Showmance-lite” continued in some form this week, I was pleased that it was less in evidence. So, I decided to rate these two separately like they were actually two different people this week.
Nicole, with a megaphone? REALLY bad idea – that voice should NEVER be amplified! And shouting, “Hi, Joe!” over top of Frank’s narration, what did that accomplish?
In the Boardroom, Nicole took her shots at Surya and defended Tim. In the web clips, we saw Trump question her when she said the group was hard to lead, trying to unearth a weak link. She fell back on naming the now-departed Michelle, which didn’t help Trump.
Her rating is SATISFACTORY – just. I don’t see big ideas coming from Nicole lately, and I don’t see her winning.
Stefani: Like Heidi, Stefani was present and contributing but did not stand out. Her rating will also be SATISFACTORY.
Tim: Tim came up with the boxing idea. His initial presentation (involving fighting Nicole and spinach) was horrible, but it was a reasonable starting point. Too bad it never got firmed up. And too bad it was the only idea anyone came up with.
In a deleted scene that took place before the Boardroom, Tim had a conversation with Surya about James that seemed honest and fair and, I think, without game play overtones.
In the Boardroom Trump related that the GNC exec didn’t understand what he saw. Tim agreed, placing the blame on the script. Tim described his idea as “concept good, execution bad.” Alas, we do not know who was responsible for script content.
In a web clip, Tim defended the concept of a boxing idea as Trump kept repeating, “A lot of people can’t relate to boxing.” Tim handled himself well, responding in an unflustered manner that boxing is an appropriate subject for a male-dominated soccer audience.
Tim also pointed out that although “GNC” and their slogan, “Live well,” was visually prominent, it wasn’t so in the script.
I don’t think Tim deserved to be in the Boardroom and his rating this week is GOOD.
Surya: Did you know Surya’s record is 5-2? If not, you probably appreciate that he mentioned it eight or nine times in the Boardroom. Seriously, does he think the repetition was in any way necessary? That alone might have been reason enough to fire him as it implied he thought Trump has short-term memory loss!
Team Arrow also started the show off with a team meeting. Unfortunately, it came across as somewhat self-serving on Surya’s part. One notes Surya was the only one not in casual clothes. One also notes his gushing over the team turned into a different tone by the end of the show.
It was just a few minutes later when we were reminded us that Surya still got little respect from his teammates, highlighted by Frank walking out of the meeting. These feelings were augmented in the van by words from Frank and faces from Tim and Nicole, plus in later cameos from James.
The wackiest moment of the week (if not the series) had to be Surya stopping the brainstorming session to make them think about ideas. What the heck was going on in his mind? Even the way he did it was wrong, with a tone of voice appropriate for a fourth grade teacher in the detention hall. No wonder the idea well dried up after that. No wonder his team thought he was crazy!
When James announced his doubts in the planning meeting, I liked the way Surya stood up to him. He pointed out that thinking of all the problems beforehand actually has a purpose, and it was too late to change plans now. He expressed full support of the idea they had agreed upon and forced them to go forward. This was the correct response.
Bill Rancic told us that five minutes before showtime, it was “utter chaos” in Arrow’s dressing room. I guess they lost the talking rock that Surya introduced when he first joined Arrow? This breakdown is mostly Surya’s responsibility; he needs to enforce a point after which there will be no further changes so people know what they are doing. Clearly he had lost control of his team and his project by this point.
I thought it funny that he disliked people constantly coming up with ideas because that’s hard to manage. He didn’t like all the changes to their plan because it was leading to something different. Yup, that’s how change works, and managing change is what a PM does!
Calling James “frustrating” in front of the whole group was unprofessional. Since Bill Rancic was also there, it smacked a little of Boardroom preparation itself.
I note that Surya adopted Aaron’s skill of pre-Boardroom manipulation via “hedge-mail.” Chatting with Angela, Muna, and Heidi, he did his best to get favorable seeds planted with Kristine. This was a good move, but he needed so much more.
Even after their event had played out before a crowd so indifferent as to be virtually comatose, Surya still felt they had produced a winner. He said, “It was all about his product and why his product made people's lives better. How can you not love that?” Surya went on to say, “We just went through two days of second-guessing everything. What I feel right now is vindication,” and, “I was right and it feels – great!” Delusional!
In the Boardroom, Surya interrupted The Donald a few times. Not everyone gets away with that. A web scene showed Tim calling Surya “very smart,” and “a good right-hand man” a little later on, but he stopped short of calling him a good leader.
However, even Trump got tired of hearing how Surya stepped up when Trump called for someone to switch teams, and especially that he had a 5-2 record. Those are good arguments, but they lose strength after constant repetition. The kicker for Surya came at the end of the Boardroom, when he found himself admitting he would make a better follower than a leader. He essentially fired himself!
For Surya, the rating must be UNACCEPTABLE. He never turned his book smarts into practical use, rarely generated a usable idea, lost the respect and control of his team, and showed no skills in dealing with living, breathing people.
Most of all, he was unable or unwilling to adapt his management style to suit his team. Arrow is an energetic, innovative, irreverent, and fun-loving team. That’s everything Surya (and Kinetic) is not. Arrow never embraced Surya’s management practices and never would, not even the good ones. Desperate to be accepted, it was never going to happen on his terms yet he could not change.
In Conclusion: Did Trump make the right decision? Yes, it was Surya’s time to go. James simply wasn’t responsible for the loss this week. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew who was responsible for brand integration? For the script? With no obvious scapegoat available, I must agree that the axe had to fall on Surya.
That’s all for this week, so please feel free to let me know what your thoughts are at the eAddress below.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out these other recent Apprentice articles:
Brian lives in Toronto. He spent a couple of decades working in middle management at The Prudential, primarily hiding behind the coffee machines in generally unsuccessful attempts to avoid his pointy-haired bosses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and would be willing to correspond regarding your opinions of all things Apprentice-oriented.
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