2005-03-17

Apprentice: A Whole New Ballgame


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So, after 7 episodes, each team was left with five players apiece. Trump took the opportunity to point out that education doesn't matter. Book-smart or street-smart, anyone can win provided they work hard and have business savvy.

I tend to disagree with him, and I think that given one or two more weeks, the show would have not been nearly as balanced. At the beginning Magna was in a shambles. But, Net Worth wasn't significantly better. And, early on this is less about the merits of education vs. street-smarts, and more about how personalities blend or clash when thrown together.

I believe that had the current arrangement been maintained, Magna would have taken the game over. Once the book-smarts shed their problem children they settled down and started using sound business strategy. As a result they posted solid wins in the last two tasks that pitted book-smarts vs. street-smarts.

Of course one could simply point out that the past two Apprentice winners were educated. It stands to reason. The job being applied for here requires more than simple, instinctual business skills. There is a required body of knowledge that is normally attained through schooling.

8. Charity Auction: We've seen the last of book-smart vs. street-smart. Step one this week was to re-shuffle the teams. For Net Worth, Chris chose to jettison Tana and Craig. Meanwhile, Kendra, acting as Magna's PM, sent Erin and Stephanie. If this episode is any indication, Magna got the better end of the deal by far.

John didn't seem too pleased with Chris' selections. Craig didn't surprise me as all we've seen of him so far was his causing trouble with Audrey in the Turismo challenge. Tana was still in my, "don't know enough," category, other than that she's really loud.

For Magna, Stephanie was also an "I don't know," but Erin has clearly been dead weight from the start.

One note: Can we please get someone besides Angie to answer the phone in the morning? No one's at their best first thing in the morning, but she is really a scary site. Perhaps she's always the first one up because it takes her the longest to get her game face on ... I don't know.

Both teams were assigned several stars with whom they had to negotiate for packages that would be auctioned off to raise money for pediatric AIDS. This has become a standard Apprentice task.

Craig and Tana were the negotiating dynamic duo for Magna. Their packages were far more juicy than the Net Worth offerings, where John left something to be desired.

This was another case where someone was tasked based on his self-reported expertise. John has claimed to be the music guy all along, so Chris sent him to do the negotiating with Erin and Stephanie along to be eye candy for the musicians.

Unfortunately, where Craig and Tana weren't afraid to push for more from their artists, John was content to settle for the first idea and not let his team-mates be part of the discussion. On at least two occasions, the artists asked John if the package under discussion was enough ... in other areas this is called a BUYING SIGNAL! "We'll give you more if you ask for it." John did not seize the opportunity.

In the case of Gene Simmons, John's habit of keeping the girls out of the discussion was devastating. Simmons did nothing to hide his weakness for women, or that he wasn't fond of John. Where Erin and Stephanie could have led him into all sorts of concessions, John settled for an average auction package.

One nice thing Net Worth did that Magna didn't think of: They had a couple of their artist stop by the online auction to help pimp their package. I doubt this was a difference-maker money-wise, but it was a nice touch.

New Magna soundly defeated Net Worth on the auction block. In the board room, it came down to Chris vs. John, with Erin bystanding. Chris' decision to let John handle the negotiations, the key part of the task, came under fire by Trump and his team. No one seemed to remember that Kendra did the same and got great results, although she sat in on one negotiation session before heading off to tend to other matters.

This riled Chris who began shouting his defense at the Donald, George and Carolyn, claiming to be a better negotiator than John. I kind of doubt this as Chris seems to have this knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It was finally determined that Chris could not have been involved in the negotiations and managed the other elements as well, which got him off the hook. Once Net Worth's most promising player, John found himself in the elevator to the street at the end of this episode.

One note: John really did show promise at the beginning of Apprentice 3. His downfall was that he failed to learn from Michael's demise. Michael too had a moment in the sun early. Rather than follow up by continuing the things that brought success, he turned arrogant and decided to rest on his laurels ... starting in week 3 of the 16-week job interview! John did the same and was fortunate not to have been lost weeks earlier. The first time a task cropped up where no direct line of responsibility could be drawn from failure to the PM, John got the axe.

Outlook:

Front-Runners: Alex and Kendra (Magna). Both are playing the game very well. When they've been in the spotlight they've done an outstanding job. Further, they've been careful not to be in the spotlight too much with the game still in its wild, weeding-out phase. Right now I give the edge to Kendra just because I think that at this point Trump really wants someone other than a white male to win. Not that he seems excessively PC, but I got the feeling last season that he was pulling for Jen.

On the Rise: Tana (Magna, Formerly NW). Tana and Craig performed well on the last mission, and Tana really doesn't have any negatives yet. Of the high school educated candidates, her stock is the highest right now, and having been moved to Magna will help her avoid being victimized by someone else's failure.

Good, not Great: Craig, Bren (Magna). He and Tana did well, but we've also seen Craig ruffling feathers and distracting his team from the task at hand. I'm just not sure that we've clearly seen who the real Craig is yet.

I remain convinced that Bren has potential. Bren was PM for Magna's failure in the Mobile Service task, which is less a failure and more a case where the other team just did a little bit better. Harder for Bren to live down will be his role as architect of the cucumber debacle. If Bren's really got the goods, he needs to step up and show it soon, to start to build a rep as a serious contender in the eyes of Trump & Co.

Note: Everyone mentioned so far is on the current version of Magna. This team is much more solid and settled than Net Worth and its players will benefit by not being put in the line of fire until the teams are re-shuffled again.

Crunch Time: Chris, Angie, Stephanie (Net Worth). These folks aren't hopeless, but they need to show something, now! Opinions are starting to solidify and players can no longer hide behind each other.

Chris came within a whisker of being fired, and while he hasn't done anything horrible, he never seems to do anything well either. His mouth is a boardroom liability.

Angie was PM for Net Worth's victory in the Nescafe event. That task, however, was not a tremendous leadership proving ground. Though she was not the PM for the mobile service episode, Angie assumed a key role in coming up with the open casting idea but then failed to produce the kind of results she had promised.

Stephanie has had good instincts for identifying what her team (First Magna, now Net Worth) is doing wrong. What remains to be seen is whether she has better ideas. A common Magna complaint is that she is negative, and she was one of two selected by Kendra to be kicked off of Magna at the re-structuring.

Dead Weight: Go ahead, name your price, name your odds, whatever. I'll bet cash money right now that Erin will not be the next Apprentice. We've seen plenty of her, and have yet to see her add any tangible positives to the mix. The one good thing she did was to stand by her team the time that both teams were in the boardroom after the Dove Body Wash fiasco. Even there, Trump telegraphed what he was looking for. It was not so much that Erin was smart, as it was that Kristen was exceedingly dumb?

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