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The Apprentice 1 - Episode 1 Summary

'Trumped Up' By AyaK
Original Airdate: January 8, 2004

{NOTE: Sorry about the delay in posting the summary; we just had a deal close today that took up my entire last two weeks.}

Welcome to Reality TV World for the start of our episode-by-episode summaries of NBC’s The Apprentice. In this show, sixteen supposedly-intelligent people have taken time off from their real lives to audition for a job with a “big salary” ($250,000/year – I guess that’s a big salary, but it’s only one-quarter of what a Survivor winner makes, and the Survivor winners also don’t have to put in a year of indentured servitude to a megalomaniac afterward) as the “president” of “one” of Donald Trump’s companies. For those of you fortunate enough to not know the guy, Donald Trump’s day job (when he’s not “acting”) is a real estate developer, and real estate developers own lots of shell companies with no employees and no net income that only serve to protect the developer from personal liability if a project tanks. The constant references to the winner becoming president of “one” of Trump’s companies leads me to believe that a new shell company must be in the works!

Although this is The Donald’s first starring role in a reality TV show, it could be argued that a couple have been based on his life. Let’s see, for starters there’s The Next Joe Millionaire, the show about the supposedly rich American being pursued and maybe caught by a bevy of foreign-born beauties. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, and current girlfriend, Melania, both would fit into the harem – although, to be honest, neither hold a candle to Joe’s Linda except in looks. When Trump’s affair with actress/model (and later, second wife) Marla Maples became fodder for the gossip columns during his marriage to Ivana, Trump must have felt like he was on Big Brother 4, trapped with both his current interest and his soon-to-be ex. Trump’s daughter Ivanka wouldn’t have seemed out of place if she pulled up a cow next to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on The Simple Life. And, of course, Matt Kennedy Gould in The Joe Schmo Show had a lot in common with almost everyone who has ever invested in one of Trump’s ventures – misled and taken for a fool.

The show itself has interesting angles (especially for those of us with advanced business degrees), but it’s really positioned as a “business lesson” from Donald Trump, coupled with a massive amount of ego-boosting self-promotion for The Donald. Whether Trump’s ego, which already threatens to dwarf Manhattan, needs any more inflating is questionable, but that’s where this show – a co-production of Mark Burnett Productions and Trump Productions, by the way – takes us. In fact, even without this show Trump may already be America’s foremost self-promoting egotist, since he always puts his own name on his investments (Trump Tower, Trump Taj Mahal Casino, Trump Air, Trump Ice – a brand of water, nothing more … coming soon, you garbage haulers, look for the Trump Dump – and then there’s the butt-reduction surgery that gives you the “Trump Rump” – the remaining opportunities for brand expansion are still limitless). Not even self-promoting mega-billionaires like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Richard Branson (Virgin), Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar) or Larry Ellison (Oracle) do that – but then again, they can sell their track record of success to potential investors, while all Trump has to sell is the dubious “prestige” of being in a deal with The Donald.

In The Godfather Part II, one of the characters notes that the gangster Hyman Roth (based on real-life hood Meyer Lansky) was still around because he “always makes money for his partners.” Most real-life magnates, ranging from the great John D. Rockefeller (who made Cleveland into one of the wealthiest towns in the world in the 1890s because so many locals were invested in Standard Oil) to Gates (whose “Microsoft millionaires” are also legion), have done the same. By this standard, Trump is little more than a busted Hyman, because he is famous for NOT making money for his partners and investors. Anyone remember the USFL? The big-money contracts to Herschel Walker and Brian Sipe? If Trump ever sold an investment to the Mafia and then took them to the cleaners the way he normally does, he’d end up like Luca Brazzi, sleeping with the fishes in the East River. Indeed, Trump is the P.T. Barnum of American business – living proof that there’s a sucker born every minute. The Donald’s guiding business philosophy can be traced back to Ben Franklin: “A fool and his money are soon parted” ... and the Donald wants to make sure that he's the one who parts them. It’s hard to believe that he studied finance at the Wharton School, and harder to believe that, at his roots, The Donald is just a typical rich playboy who took over his daddy’s very successful business (The Trump Organization).

Trump is also a best-selling author. His The Art of the Deal was the textbook of arrogance and personal egotism for the yuppie-wannabes of the 1980s. Of course, his deals then crashed into flames, since he had decided to buy in at the high end of the real-estate market. But then, through retained rights that gave him the option to squeeze out the investors in his Atlantic City properties for pennies on the dollar (NOT through his negotiating skills, since lots of people in the investment world had recognized how one-sided the rights were in his deals long before the real-estate crash and subsequent events proved it), he avoided collapse and used the bargain properties to secure the loans provided by his new investors. As he is the first to proclaim, he’s the largest real-estate developer in New York City. But his real claim to fame is his ability to schmooze very rich individuals into continuing to indulge his self-aggrandizing projects. Learning about hunting for willing investors from Donald Trump would be like learning about hunting cobras from a mongoose. But hang on tightly to your wallet while you watch, lest you too be tempted to invest. Remember Kaa mesmerizing his prey in The Jungle Book?

Oh, and Trump is also a germophobe. He washes his hands constantly. He avoids physical contact. He carries handi-wipes in his pockets to disinfect himself after he shakes hands. Perhaps, after The Apprentice, he can do a guest appearance on Monk to compare quirks.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the show. It opens with Trump proclaiming New York City as “my city” and “the real jungle.” Hey, Woody Guthrie would have agreed. After all, as he wrote:

As through this world I’ve wandered,
I’ve seen lots of funny men.
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

(copyright 1958, Sanga Music Inc., NYC)

New York City has both kinds. I’ll let you decide which one Trump is.

Throughout the show’s entire intro, Trump reads his lines in such a wooden manner that you begin to wonder if he’s really Pinocchio. Finally, he’s done, the opening credits (set to the O’Jays’ great Gamble-Huff tune “For The Love Of Money”) roll, and we can appreciate how good the septuagenarian Rudy Boesch was in his role of camp commander in Mark Burnett’s Combat Missions reading similarly canned lines.

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