2005-02-16

Apprentice 03.04 - Fire Them All?


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I'm a little behind on Apprentice blogging due to a busy week and my main computer being in the shop right now, so here's last week's episode.

I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Previously:
Net Worth: The Street-Smarts
Magna: The Book-Smarts
Apprentice 03.01 - BK 101: Revenge on the Nerds
Apprentice 03.02 - The Motel from Hell
Apprentice 03.03 - Making a Nescafe Splash or Kerplunk?



Wow! Not much good to say about this week. Both teams were absolutely horrible and, in an Apprentice first, both wound up in the board room. My gut tells me that if Verna had not walked out last week, Trump probably would have fired one person from each team this week. But, every time you lose more than one person, you lose an episode. The Donald is all about the revenue.

Most episodes open with everyone in the suite waiting for the board room to end and trying to guess who will be fired. If you'll recall, last week Danny bucked the rules and brought an exempt Michael back into the board room. So this week we see Erin's certainty that Michael will be fired. Wishful thinking? How does someone so obtuse get through law school?

Michael may have survived last week's board room, but Magna was not about to let him off the hook. Bren had a frank, one-way talk with him about teamwork. This is one of the few things Bren will do right this week.

The Mission:
We're back at Donny Deutsch's again this season. Funny thing ... in season one it was Donny Who? This time the candidates were fired up to be working for DD. The Apprentice has been very good to this guy and vice versa. He's clearly great at what he does. I've got a post on his trainwreck of a talk show in the works.

DD wants each team to put together a 30-second commercial for Dove Body Wash. He urges the teams to view it as a 30-second film, because the typical commercial doesn't cut it anymore. "Blow me away!" The most creative will win.

Summary:
Magna goes with Bren's idea - a tawdry suggestive scene (complete with cucumber) that ends up with the guy leaving the girl, taking the body wash, and going home with his boyfriend! Once again an Apprentice team takes the low road, despite the fact that Trump and his right-hand woman Carolyn can not have made it more clear over the episodes how much they dislike that strategy.

The producers don't even try to leave us in suspense on this one. George, Trump's other helper immediately reacts: "They're going down the wrong track. I don't even think they have a track."

Over at Net Worth, the team embraces John's idea for a humorous commercial - runners running a marathon, periodically splashing water on their face, and one time one of the runners splashes the body wash on instead, then splashes water on and goes on to victory.

Erin takes a turn as PM for Magna. Noting that her boyfriend is a director, Kristen volunteers to be Net Worth's PM.

Magna actually worked pretty well together on this one. One trouble spot - the actors showed up on the set well over an hour before anyone from team Magna. Erin, having all the interpersonal fire of a coffee table, seemed clueless as to how to handle this. Bren's saved the day with strong people skills, and the shoot was on.

To their credit, Magna ditched scenes that were even more pornographic than their final product. They weren't totally oblivious to decorum.

Despite his promise to "re-adjust" at the beginning of the episode, Michael continues his abrasive ways. He is forgiven this time, however. First, he was right with all of his brash observations this week. He identified from the start that his team's idea was poor, and a loser. Second, despite his personal disagreement, he whole-heartedly supported his team's decision.

At Net Worth, Kristen's control-freak tendencies and her poor relationship with some members of her team came home to roost. In one vignette she openly admits that she prefers doing everything herself. Lack of B-School hurt Kristen in this one.

Kristen directs the commercial, relegating John, who had the vision for NW's spot, to working on the music. Again a crucial mistake.

Results:
Magna, dressed up like chefs (after the characters in their commercial) for their presentation. Here again Michael is blunt and correct in his criticism. DD's first comment to the team, "How can I take you seriously in those goofy hats?"

Magna executed well, and their commercial was faithful to Bren's vision. Unfortunately, that vision was horrible. It was humorous to watch Magna's obliviousness on this one. After watching this wretched commercial Erin turns proudly back to face DD & Company. Even if you couldn't figure out on your own how bad the spot was, the lack of a reaction from Donny should have tipped her off. This guy is all energy. When he sees something he likes, you know it.

Net Worth executed horribly on what was probably going to be a mediocre vision anyway. Kristen took John's idea and eliminated what made it not disgusting and way off target - the water! The image that stays with us: a runner with a dumb look on his sticky, body-wash covered face.

Neither spot is of any use to DD. Trump decides that there won't be a winner this week, and that both teams will appear in the board room.

In the board room, both PM's come under fire. When they try the stock, empty "I was a good leader, we all stuck together," crap, Trump reminds them that they did a horrible job. Erin brings Bren and Michael back to the board room. Bren because the obscene commercial was his brainchild, and Michael? Residual hatred from last week is my guess.

Kristen brings Audrey and Tana back to the board room for Net Worth. Kristen and Audrey have been at odds for a while, so there is a personal agenda. Kristen's strategy is to blame not using water with the body wash on the actors being difficult to work with. Audrey and Tana were charged with supervising the actors.

With no performance successes to hang their hat on, Magna wisely falls back on a basic Trump philosophy - they remain united while Net Worth attacks each other. Lest we give them too much credit, they simply picked up on the fact that the Donald was harshly criticizing Net Worth for their lack of unity.

To the very end of her Apprentice life we hear Kristen telling us what a great leader she is. Her actions have said otherwise and she is relegated to taking the elevator "to the street."

Analysis:
This one was a stinker. The viewer is left wondering if anyone is going to survive. In a season of firsts, will we get to the end and have Trump echoing Donny Deutsch's, "They both sucked!" as he finds himself unable to come up with even one positive in trying to pick a winner?

I don't know what got into Michael last week, but he was back on his game this time. He may be abrasive in dealing with his team, but his team is performing horribly. I wouldn't be surprised if Trump sees, "Doesn't play well with the rest of Team Magna" as a positive! I still think he has promise but needs to watch his step because he is obviously going to be a frequent board room target.

Kristen was the right person to fire this week. Rather than lead, she simply tried to take the whole task over and do it on her own. At that point we found that not only does she lack leadership, she also isn't very talented. But at the very end, when she got to share her final thoughts in the taxi cab, I became very thankful that she was heading off to the airport. She wouldn't shut up! Usually the loser will offer a couple quick thoughts. Danny sang a song. Kristen just went on and on about what a great leader she is. Lady! We've just spent an hour finding out that you couldn't be more wrong.

The jury is still out on the book-smarts vs. street-smarts. Magna can't seem to get their act together at all. But, at key moments, their intelligence and the perspective that comes with the educational process kicks in and serves them well. As mentioned their idea was flawed, but their execution was pretty good this week. The only question: how come only one or two of them were able to spot what a bad idea this was? Weed one or two more people out, and Magna could become very strong.

Net Worth is all over the board. When they are on, they're very good. When they are off, they are way off. And, at this point, their wild cards are wilder and more numerous than those on Team Magna. Net Worth should be hoping for a shake-up of the teams very soon.

Outlook:

These are all relative. I doubt that at this point Trump is looking at anyone on either of these teams and thinking, "Man! They are sharp!"

Strong:

John (NW) - Had his team's initial idea, but it doesn't count against him as the final product wasn't really his idea anyway. Continues to be a good team player with sound instincts and skills. Unfortunately it looks as though he doesn't have much of a team to work with. Needs to work on keeping his image in tact during this early craziness.

Alex (M) - We haven't seen a lot of Alex yet, and that becomes more of a winning strategy each week. This game is a minefield right now. Alex is keeping himself out of the spotlight. When you do notice him it is for something positive.

Close Behind:

Michael (M) - He does appear to have learned from last week. At the same time he's not hiding his thoughts and ideas which, it seems, are almost always correct. Give him one or two more weeks to let last week's debacle wear off (and perhaps for Magna to shed his haters) and he'll be back at the front of the pack on Team Magna.

Angie (NW) - She will shine on Net Worth. Last week she was the winning PM, and this week she kept herself out of trouble. The maturity and polish that she and John have is in great demand on Net Worth right now and will help them to continue to be seen in a positive light.

Neutral:

Tana (NW) - Has started to stand out from the pack a bit and shows some intelligence and promise. But, we still haven't seen enough to know if she's strong enough to excel on this problematic team.

Audrey (NW) - Likewise has started to separate from the pack, but in a less positive manner. Kristen's complained that Audrey was "dead weight," and we really haven't seen anything to suggest otherwise.

Tara, Craig (NW) - Still laying low. Once again, that may not be a bad idea.

Bren (M) - I still believe that Bren has some possibilities, but other than Kristen, he was probably hurt the most in this week's disaster. It was an idea that did in Team Magna and Bren was the architect of that idea. To his credit he owned up to it, and has demonstrated good skills and instincts on several other occasions.

Stephanie, Kendra (M) - We've had positive glimpses, but not much to go on yet.

Erin (M) - She got a little board room boost for her display of team unity, but still hasn't shown that she's got a lot to offer in this game. Plus, she's really kind of an airhead!

Board Room Bait:

Chris (NW) - How can you tell if Chris is saying something stupid? A: His lips are moving. For all of the negative attention he brings on himself with his mouth, he doesn't seem to have any positive action to offset it. I think eventually Trump will tell him that he needs to step up and that will be the beginning of the end of Chris.

Stick a Fork in Them:

Well, no one is at this level, or perhaps just about everyone is. Trump is not happy with either team right now. Magna especially. Though they dodged a bullet in the board room, this was the third time in the first four weeks that Magna has performed dismally. No one in the game can afford a big misstep right now.

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