Celebrity Apprentice’s debut is lame, with donations replacing drama

The Apprentice 7 debuted last night, and proved itself to be a weird version of the old series. While many of the same elements remained, its focus has also shifted dramatically along with some aspects of the production, leaving the show to frequently feel like a half-assed knock-off of itself.

NBC promised in advance that the cast would be “using their fame along with their proven business acumen” because “[c]ertain tasks encourage the contestants to reach out to their network of celebrity contacts for assistance or donations,” and that’s exactly what happened with the first task, which involved selling hot dogs. The men won thanks to several large donations that Gene Simmons orchestrated. While that was a smart strategy, it played out weirdly.

Pulling in large donations isn’t cheating, of course, but it cheats us, because it’s not interesting to watch. Gene Simmons trotted out some young guy in a suit who gave $10,000, but we had no idea who he was, nor were we asked to care. One of the women brought New York Mets player David Wright, but the editors didn’t let us see how much he donated in order to create tension. That the celebrities will be encouraged to do this for every money-raising task isn’t encouraging, because it’s already boring. It was especially lame because that’s the justification Donald Trump gave for firing former Playmate Tiffany Fallon. He said she should have called Hugh Hefner to get a donation, and because she didn’t, she was gone. I didn’t expect Trump to have suddenly developed rational, logical reasons for firing people, but to focus on using one’s celebrity isn’t at all compelling.

Neither was the task itself, primarily because there was virtually zero preparation for the task, and none of the old Apprentice drama that comes from trying to plan and later execute a strategy. All they did was pick a location and go stand there and sell hot dogs. So, the women wore costumes and Gene Simmons called nameless friends; who cares? Perhaps that old-school, all-night strategizing will be coming in future episodes, but why start with such a shitty task?

The task itself took less than three hours, and it’s painfully obvious that the cast members aren’t bunking together, nor were they asked to work for more than a few hours. In other words, it’s more like The Apprentice: Lite. Even the music seemed to agree, as it was a bit jauntier and lighter than in past seasons. (And let’s not even discuss the our-audience-is-stupid lets-show-everything-in-advance previews that started the show and came before most commercial breaks. Is someone really so scared we’ll turn the channel that they have to show us what’s “coming up” two minutes before it comes up?)

When the show did heat up, it was thanks to one person: Omarosa. It’s obvious why she was cast, as she knows how to initiate conflict. Whether that’s a carefully planned act or not, it works. Let’s hope that she doesn’t get fired before the show brings back some of the things that made it interesting, or else this season will be over before it gets going.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.