#6444 Mar 11, 2005
Lifting the `Apprentice' curse
Taking charge doesn't always get losing
By Sarah D. Bunting
Updated: 12:08 p.m. ET March 11, 2005
Until the most recent episode,
the Boardrooms in "The Apprentice"'s
third season followed a predictable
pattern. Trump, George, and Carolyn
pointed to a lack of leadership, or poor
decision-making at the top, as the cause
of the team's loss; then Trump fired the
project manager .. almost without exception.
The firing of John broke the streak;
PM Chris made a few tactical errors and
came in for some harsh criticism, but
he survived. Should he have? Should Trump
have spared John instead? And should Trump
have spared any of the PMs he's fired so far this season?
Although viewers might have wondered if Trump had gone on autopilot,
firing each week's team leader more or less by rote, most of the
previous firings did make sense. The show isn't a popularity
contest; its ostensible point is to select an executive, a person who
can come up with creative ideas and execute them efficiently, a
person who gets along with others and can manage them effectively.
None of the Apprenti is going to do all of these things flawlessly
all the time, but a demonstrable inability to lead a team is an
excellent reason to punt a candidate.
Chris held his own as a team leader. In a task that required the
teams to negotiate prizes with music talent for a charity auction, as
well as to coordinate the TV spot that would promote the auction,
Chris delegated the negotiation to John. George took issue with that
decision, at some length, but it made sense, given the time
constraints Chris had to work under and the fact that Chris is
perhaps not the strongest on the team in terms of interpersonal
skills. He claimed that he's a strong negotiator, but he probably
prevails in negotiations because he's so scarily intense; sending
John made more sense, in theory.
But in practice, John's ego is out of hand; he's a schmoozer, but
he's not as good at it as he thinks, and his tendency to condescend
to, pimp out, interrupt, and outright dismiss the women on his team
isn't just irritating .. it's foolhardy and bad for business. And
on this particular task, he lowballed the talent. His mistake; his
Should Chris have started shouting (and, it's worth noting, sweating
profusely) in the Boardroom? No. Will he get much farther in this
game if he can't modulate his emotions better than he has? No.
Should Trump have fired John anyway? Yes. Most of the fault lies
with John, and compared with some of the Custer-esque failures we've
seen in leadership so far this season, Chris did just fine.
Most PMs deserved firing
But most of the fault lay with prior firees, too. Todd got fired for
absenting himself from the task entirely; he left the team
shorthanded, they lost as a result, and he got fired. Brian made bad
decisions, refused any input from his teammates, and went from zero
to abrasive in about ten seconds; unworkable ideas and an unwork-with-
able personality got him fired. Kristen and Tara both misunderstood
the task, didn't deliver what their clients wanted, and got fired as
a result. Audrey over-delegated, whined, didn't put her foot down
with John, and got fired.
The only PM who probably should have escaped, but didn't: Danny, who
couldn't control the obnoxious, lazy Michael. Michael, universally
loathed in the suite and by the audience, should have taken a firing
for backstroking through the task on his exemption. The rules don't
permit a firing in that case, however, and because he couldn't axe
Michael, Trump had to fire Danny.
But Trump and his Viceroys frequently point out to PMs that it's part
of the job to manage "difficult" members of the team .. and that's
absolutely right. Executives have to get results from the Michaels
and Omarosas of the world when they won't focus or follow
instructions; in the real world, stockholders don't want to hear you
pointing fingers at underlings. Trump knows that, and has started
firing those who don't get it.
Last week, Audrey offered a perfect example of the issue facing Trump
each week: should he fire John for not pulling his weight and
antagonizing the PM, or fire the PM herself for not cuffing John into
line? Firing Audrey was the correct choice.
John is not an anomaly; female executives have to deal with guys like
him every day, guys who appoint themselves "PM of the office"
regardless of who's actually in charge, and expect to get away with
it. Audrey let John push every single one of her buttons, and as
annoying as he was, she should have put a stop to it .. but
didn't, or couldn't. And if that's the case, she's not executive
The repeated firing of the project manager isn't a knee-jerk reaction
on Trump's part, although it might have seemed like one. On the
contrary, it's probably a considered decision to put the focus of the
show back on executive qualifications, instead of personality
disorders and gimmicks.
By making the PMs take more responsibility for leadership .. a key
part of the job description .. Trump is letting the show take more
responsibility for itself as a job interview. He still wants to
make "yooge" TV, but after the second season was roundly criticized
for taking its eye off the ball, Trump might also want to make the
show respectable .. about merits, not stunts. It isn't about
whether Trump always fires the PM; it's about whether he always fires
the most deserving Apprentice.
And if he's taking that job seriously, PM Trump isn't fired either.
Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of
Television Without Pity.com. She lives in Brooklyn.
.. 2005 MSNBC Interactive