Joan Rivers wins Celebrity Apprentice 2 after being outraised by Annie Duke

At the end of The Celebrity Apprentice 2, an Oompa Loompa–I mean, an oddly bright orange Donald Trump–chose Joan Rivers as this season’s winner, giving her charity, Gods Love We Deliver, an additional $250,000. Trump’s rationale for choosing Joan over Annie Duke was very after-school special, because when he “hired” Joan, emphasis on the scare quotes, he didn’t talk about her performance, but instead told her, “your level of strength, your level of energy … has just been amazing. You really are a role model for so many people.”

In the final task, Joan raised $150,830, while Annie raised $465,725 for her charity Refugees International, but fundraising was just one of five criteria. Annie won in dollars and charity integration, but lost the other three (Kodak product placement, guest experience, and celebrity attendance at the event) to Joan.

It’s probably impossible to analyze this completely objectively, since I’ve been an Annie Duke fan despite her impossibly annoying and constant self-aggrandizement, but I think even Joan Rivers fans would admit that Joan’s win seemed like an obvious, predictable outcome from the very start of the three-hour finale. The episode itself seemed to argue for Joan through the editing and thus, as Trump likes to say, there didn’t seem to be much of a choice.

Just look at the language the show used: In its opening moments, Trump introduced “legendary comedian Joan Rivers” and “vicious professional poker player Annie Duke.” Accurate? Maybe. But Joan’s just as vicious in her comedy as Annie Duke is legendary in poker. Similarly, consider the words Ivanka and Don Jr. used when they revealed that Annie had raised three times as much money as Joan: Ivanka said Joan raised “an impressive” $150,830, while Don Jr. said Annie raised $465,725 “as we expected.” She raised three times as much as Joan and $100,000 more than Piers Morgan did last year and that’s simply “expected”?

And let’s not even start with the New York and thus Joan fan-stacked audience, which was about as annoying as American Idol‘s studio audience except presumably made up of fewer tween girls, although they acted like kids, booing Annie Duke and cheering pretty much any time Joan appeared on screen. They had lots of occasions to boo because the editing emphasized Annie’s weaknesses and Joan’s strengths, as it included several montages of Annie being controlling and also focused a lot on Dennis Rodman and Tom Green’s criticism of her. Of course, that probably just reflected the reality of the final task.

My big gripe with Joan’s win is that up to the finale, Annie was the most consistent competitor, and arguably excelled during the finale’s task; was Joan’s party and product placement three times as great as Annie’s? The Joan love seems to come from the fact that she’s 75, funny, and strong-willed. But in addition to her often hysterical commentary, Joan also said some terrible things, and rarely with genuine humor, and was excused for that. And let’s not forget how she turned on and attacked Clint Black in the exact same way she did with Annie, but then became buddies with him, which suggests some kind of pattern.

Okay, I’ll stop being bitter now. Well, for a paragraph, at least. None of this should detract from the fact that Joan is quite impressive, never mind hysterical (I hate when reality TV contestants used adverbs without the “-ly,” and in the final moments, when Annie said she’d acted “professional,” Joan corrected her “professionalLY!”). Joan is obviously passionately committed to her charity, and it’s fantastic they’ll receive the additional cash. In addition, Joan did throw a better party than Annie; Herschel Walker’s idea (!) to bring in celebrity impersonators instead of celebrities was inspired, as was the walk-through Kodak frame. And it looked like more fun, even though it also looked like it was decorated for a kid’s fifth birthday party.

In the end, the epic showdown wasn’t much of a showdown. The biggest Annie versus Joan conflict involved designing the spaces they had for their charity function, as the party planning company the show hired quit. Joan’s not-at-all-unreasonable demands that her party planner make her space more interesting–he wanted white curtains and lounge furniture–led him to quit. Then, his company backed out of the whole show, which seemed very convenient since it forced both Joan and Annie to scramble at the last minute. Although we didn’t see what the company told Annie, we did see him hang up on Joan, and then watched as she learned that he quit, so Annie’s blaming the whole thing on Joan seemed reasonable–yet it caused Joan to flip out.

“This is an out-and-out lie, and I will not have this on television, and I will not be berated by this character here,” Joan said. Annie countered by saying, “I am telling you what the designer said to me,” and Joan said, “and I’ve been told that your money was all mafia money.” Annie objected to that, and Trump bizarrely said, “In all fairness, Annie, you don’t know if [Annie's donors are] in the mafia or not.” Why don’t you just compare her to Hitler, too?

At the very least, all of this made for a weak final confrontation, since it wasn’t based on actual conflict between Annie and Joan. Basically, the final boardroom sucked compared to those that preceded it this season. Trump even kowtowed to Joan, who told him, “I don’t want to sit here, I don’t want to hear this anymore”–and he agreed. Can you imagine one of the yahoos on the non-celebrity version saying that and not being fired instantaneously? Trump rolled over for Joan, and that’s certainly his prerogative, but he held the two women to different standards when it came to their behavior.

Speaking of behavior, the other celebrities earned some screen time. Clint Black told Donald Trump to fire “your editor” (ha), while earlier, Tom Green’s petulant child routine got old fast as he worked for Annie Duke. He did havae two great moments: First, when he nearly got killed by a traffic light while riding atop a double-decker bus (“That would have been some funny shit, seriously,” he said, and then started dodging other traffic signs) and faking Annie out by pretending that he and Dennis Rodman hadn’t sold all of the Cirque du Soleil tickets they were tasked with selling.

Meanwhile, Dennis returned (“to redeem myself,” he said), but besides giving $20,000, didn’t do much besides admit “of course I have a problem” when, during a live segment, Trump brought up his conflict with Jesse James. NBC’s censors cut something Dennis said as he was talking about Jesse James’ wife making “$20 million a movie,” and then Jesse tried to get himself punched by telling Dennis, “If you weren’t so stupid, you would realize the only reason I said anything to you is because I care about you.”

Trump also asked Melissa Rivers–who I could really do with never ever seeing again on television, because she’s impossibly annoying–if she embarrassed herself. Melissa said, simply, “no,” consistent with her post-meltdown insistence that she kept her “pride.” On a positive note, Melissa did say, “I have total respect for how Annie played the game … I’m just really proud of my mother.” On those points, it seems Donald Trump agrees.

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In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.