Celebrity Apprentice has a winner, raised $3.1 million for charity, but falls flat in its final hours

It was the most dramatic The Celebrity Apprentice season ever and the least dramatic finale, which ended with Donald Trump giving John Rich the win for no clear reason. Marlee Matlin was not fired, nor did Trump “hire” John Rich, perhaps an acknowledgement of their status as virtual equals, or perhaps just discarding terminology that makes no sense with the celebrity edition of the show.

Despite the confetti, it was an oddly flat and abrupt ending to what has been the franchise’s craziest season ever, producing crazy moment after crazy moment, all of which gave us new understanding of the celebrities involved.

John Rich’s charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, receives $250,000, which brings the season total for fundraising to a TV series record, NBC says, of $3,120,852. Both John Rich and Marlee Matlin visited their charities (she was playing for The Starkey Hearing Foundation) to see their work in action, and also performed a song together, “For the Kids,” which ended with the audience silently applauding in ASL–a powerful moment.

After Ivanka said “I don’t think we’ve ever had a closer Celebrity Apprentice finale,” Trump said “I’m gonna do something a little different tonight.” It seemed like he was going to take Meat Loaf’s advice–“You broke the rules [bringing La Toya back, etc.], they both win”–and give them both the prize, but that would have cost NBC another $250,000. So instead he just said, “The winner of Celebrity Apprentice 2011 is John Rich.” There was a confetti ejaculation and the show ended. Compared to the live Survivor finales, it’s quite a letdown of an ending, perhaps because, as NPR’s Linda Holmes suggested, there are no real stakes for the winner and loser.

For the final task, which was basically marketing for 7-Up and kind of lame compared to the massive events previous finales have involved, Marlee ran a better event while John produced a better commercial. The most intriguing part was that John Rich earned another $275,000 for his charity with two donations that came in during his event, which was not set up as a fundraising task. Marlee Matlin seemed pissed, asking, “Is this a fundraising task?” and saying “I can get that any time.” Trump insisted he wouldn’t count that.

Delusional twit Donald Trump spent much of the finale giving himself credit for turning the cast members, including “Little Jon,” into stars. “You won the Academy Award, and you’re an even bigger star now,” Trump said to Marlee. While the show certainly raises the profile of its cast members and introduces us to new sides of their personalities, it does not take an unknown and make them into somebody. Perhaps the only exception is Marlee’s translator, Jack Jason, who Trump told, “you were truly a breakout star … you’re going to be a very famous guy, and I want 25 percent.” I’ll give Trump that one.

The finale had montages of the craziest moments but little drama, though Gary Busey tried to defend his Omaha Steaks kite campaign and NeNe Leakes and Star Jones got into a fight when Star said she was “I was a little disheartened” that NeNe “used this amazing platform to attack every single black woman on the show.” NeNe shouted her down, and Donald Trump is no Jeff Probst when it comes to moderating discussions about race–or hosting live finales.

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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.