Every reality series poses, deep in what passes for its heart, a single question, presented to the audience in such a way that they never completely realize it’s being asked – or that they’re preparing an answer. For Survivor, the question is ‘How much can a single person justify?’ With Joe Schmo, it becomes ‘Come now, if we meant you any harm, do you think we’d be lurking behind this tree in the darkest part of the forest?’ And for every single FOX series, it’s ‘Why are you watching this?’
With The Apprentice, the heart question is ‘Would you hire any of these people?’ And that’s a hard one to answer, even when you allow for a line of work a little more standard than mine. Admittedly, I can see some of the contestants in fairly specialized professions. Need someone to keep the crows out of your corn? Maria’s available and in case of emergency, ready to communicate with the farmhouse in blink-Morse. Could it be the local circus needs someone to pass out fliers? Presenting Raj, right there in the center ring. And if you need a reality show discussion board split right down the middle, Stacey’s on twenty-four hour call.
But twelve firings from now, Donald’s going to wind up answering that question for himself – and his opinion is the only one that matters. (That’s not the hidden question of the show: that’s just the very direct central theme.) So:
Previously on The Apprentice: with the minicorps numerically unbalanced by Apex’s losing streak, Donald force-assigned Pamela to the women’s team and stuck her in the Project Manager position, where all of her subordinates would have to look up to her unless they’d gotten ahold of some really impressive heels. Both teams fell victim to the sponsor double-blind and were carted from UPS to QVC PDQ ASAP, where they had to pick one of the shopping channel’s fine, overpriced, shipping-fee-skimming products which are available at much lower prices from any decent flea market or As Seen On TV mall cart near you, hawk their pick on the air, and rack up the most money in total gross sales. After the usual flurry of incompetence, second-guessing, power plays, and Maria’s continued commitment to The Path Of Today Show Denial, Mosaic won by a grand total of $10.47, and that’s not even counting the bulk rate rip-off QVC gets for every cardboard box they charge for. Pamela then proceeded to make this season’s classic Boardroom mistake, which is ‘Take Stacey in with you. She’s short. Short people don’t make it in the business world. Everyone knows that. Donald’s just itching to fire her,’ and got to listen to the same chorus Jennifer C. had enjoyed: ‘Short people got good reason to talk fast.’ Stacey promptly notched another witch’s hat on her farmhouse, and Jennifer C. climbed into the Ruby Cab with a sigh of ‘There’s no place like a filler segment’, clicked her eyelashes three times, and vanished forever, or at least until the following morning.
How many sponsors can get their names into the show within forty-eight broadcast minutes? How many times can the contestants change their outfits during a challenge? Just what is the cubic capacity on one of those travel bags, anyway? And as always, who will be fired this week?
Oh, Donald… Roll opening credits.
We open on a steam-clogged night in Manhattan, where there are no right turns permitted between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m, but second-guessing what’s going on in the Boardroom can be done at nearly any time. It’s a few minutes before the firing, and the momentarily-safe contestants are in the suite’s dining room, listening to John’s dissertation on How To Make Things Really Obvious For Your (Hopeful) Future Boss. ‘If they all gang up on Pamela,’ he decides, ‘Trump’s going to see it as -- they’re all afraid of her, and they’re ganging up on her because she’s an outsider.’ Several of the women give John the stone-faced stare from the nearby couch, unimpressed by his reasoning. They’ve been ganging up on people because it works, and besides, if they didn’t, all the other cliques would make sure they didn’t get the best table in the cafeteria. You can’t show a moment of weakness in junior high, and for his open questioning of the Harpies’ power, John is now due one swirlie.
Raj takes the first confessional-tell of the episode by noting the current Boardroom occupants – Stacey, Pamela, and Maria – along with Donald’s apparent view of Pamela as the strongest female contender. In Raj’s distinguished opinion, this means Pamela should be fired. It’s not because she’s female, strong, didn’t like his haircut, or attempted to string him up by his bowtie two challenges ago, mind you. It’s because she isn’t him. His philosophy is simple: everyone who is not Raj should be fired. Immediately. They can cut the series short and make this episode into the finale. Whatever works. Who knew Raj was this pragmatic?
Stacey walks in and asks about dinner. No one seems very surprised to see her, which may mean the Sub-5’ Sacrifice tactic is finally starting to go out of fashion. Maria comes in a few seconds behind her, and everyone is very surprised to see her, which may mean that, despite what happens over the next few seconds, Pamela was sort of liked after all. Shrieks of surprise, dismay, and hasty crow departures ring through the suite as Maria actually covers her mouth in slightly shy shock – make a note of it, because it’ll never happen again – and everyone rises to greet the resurrectees. Ivana and Maria awkwardly hug, Wes and Andy exchange a middle-ground-all-my-brothers-in-the-suite-respect-me-five, and John tries to get out of his upcoming scalp spa treatment by crying out ‘You’re brilliant! You’re brilliant!’ This gets him a wedgie added to the list. Blatant sucking-up without some degree of style is a high crime in Harpy-Land.
‘You did us yourselves a favor,’ Wes notes, ‘and you did us a favor.’ Raj agrees with a misquote: ding-dong, the Ice Queen is dead, or at least asking her cabbie to turn the heat down in a hurry. There’s a lot of excitement in the suite. Suddenly, there’s a universal feeling of hope that hadn’t been there before. It’s as if someone had banished an evil spell from the realm. In fact, it’s almost exactly like the last three minutes of Shrek 2, except for the complete lack of musical numbers and the fact that the ogre is already on her way out of town. Stacey repeats her Enron line to general acclaim while cementing the ‘Do not let this woman talk’ concept in her fellow contestants’ minds, and the suite parties deep into the night.
‘The women obviously gelled right after Pamela left,’ Kevin c-t observes – apparently this is the one time in history where cold was bad for Jello (Not An Official Trump Sponsor. Do Not Buy). ‘Obviously anything that makes the women’s team stronger is bad for us, but I’m not afraid. I don’t think anyone on the guys’ team is afraid of seeing the A-game from the women.’ Besides, with Pamela gone, they’ve got no one left who can dunk the ball.
Mosaic has a pre-bedtime meeting to draw the next random lot for Project Manager, and Chris gets the short tie. Given the wide range of assignments/Donald promotional opportunities, he’s not sure what they’re going to be facing in the morning, but he’s sure his skills will be up to the task. This is probably foreshadowing.
Raj asks that Chris give him an important task – Chris assures him that nothing else could even be considered – and pledges his allegiance to his captain of the moment. This may also be foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is trying to keep the women awake a while longer to do a post-mortem on the last assignment and get some plans going for the upcoming unknown one. Everyone else just wants to get some sleep. This is no bar for Elizabeth, who assures Apex that she’s capable of talking through the night while they snooze, with both her words and gestures penetrating on a subconscious level. Maria c-t feels that Elizabeth’s need to overanalyze everything is going to get in the way on every single assignment, unless the Project Manager of the moment can find a way to nip her in the bud while still making her feel she’s contributing to the team – satisfied, shunted Elizabeth=happy team=no Boardroom complaints. This isn’t foreshadowing: this is having the script shoved in our faces. (Huh. There’s a note here. ‘Reset core temperature in Pamela’s room from 26 to 68.’ Must be a production thing.)
‘We’ve got to be hardcore,’ Stacey decides. ‘I mean, we’ve been hardcore, but now let’s be harder core.’ The editors go to a transition screen while approximately half the discussion board faints and the other half runs off to throw up.