2005-04-15

Apprentice Update: Chris Falls with Grace


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At long last Chris, who appeared to have more lives than a cat, has fallen.

Last night's episode opened with the four members of team Magna surprised to see the young Net Worth firebrand return from the board room once again. And once again we see he and Alex recounting tales of how Donald Trump told them he was disappointed, that their effort was terrible, etc. Same song, different week.

Prior to the game starting back up we see Chris and Kendra, at different moments, deciding that this is the week they will step up and show team Trump what they can do.

With the head count at 4 for Magna and 2 for Net Worth, it was time for another shuffle. The Donald let Alex and Chris pick who they wanted from Magna, and surprisingly they chose Bren. Not that Bren doesn't seem like a decent player. It's just that over the past few weeks Kendra and Tana seem to have emerged as the real talent on Magna.

This week's challenge was sweet: Design a brochure for the new Pontiac Solstice. The winner will be the team that comes up with the most compelling offering, as judged by executives from Pontiac.

This task was clearly designed to see which players had the dogged determination to fight on and perform for long, long hours, and both teams, or at least parts of both teams wound up pulling all-nighters to get their piece finished.

Step one involved photographing the Solstice in studio and in a variety of outdoor settings. Problems immediately emerged on both sides.

For Magna, the ongoing conflict between Kendra and Craig was evident as Kendra tasked Craig with overseeing the studio shoot, and then proceeded to give some specific guidance regarding some shots she wanted.

I go with Kendra on this one, and I'm always amused when I see the "If he/she put me in charge, why are they telling me what to do," attitude. The PM or supervisor is well within their rights to provide guidance. It's not like when you're in charge of something you're free to do whatever you please and you don't have to answer to those above you who in turn have to answer for the project's overall success.

Over at Net Worth, Alex was put in charge of the studio shoot. There too, however, the team went over the car and Bren pointed out some key details that should definitely be included in the shoot - the keyest of them all being the Solstice logo on the dash, which Bren planned to make the centerpiece of their brochure's cover.

Bren and Chris returned from the outdoor shoots to find Alex getting lots of pictures with car and hot model, but soon discover that he didn't get any of the interior shots that the team had discussed because "there just wasn't time." As far as we could tell, none of the shots with hot model made it into the final product.

One thing Magna did well was a little bit of market research, and Kendra and Tana appear to have really mastered this idea. They asked a random sampling of people about the car and the emotions it triggered. This input would utimately become the foundation of the team's piece.

At this point the task turned to selecting photos, adding verbage and laying out the brochure. It was all-nighter time, but not everyone was ready to answer the bell. At Magna, Tana and Craig flat out told Kendra that they weren't night people and then compounded things by questioning whether Kendra had the magazine marketing "juice" that she claimed to have. Tana and Craig turned in and by the time they regained consciousness, Kendra had produced a masterpiece.

For Net Worth, Alex crashed leaving Bren and Chris at the controls which was disastrous. I don't know if Alex could have done better or if he could have improved his team's effort, but he sure couldn't have made it any worse.

Where Kendra seized on the passion of the car to develop an abstract but very attractive brochure, Bren produced a dry, flat documentary on the Solstice's features. Being a car-oriented task, the testosterous (I don't care if it's not a word) Net Worth team seemed to have an advantage. I think that in the end this turned into a disadvantage as they treated the Solstice like a guy would treat any cool car, immediately going to the nuts and bolts of the thing.

Net Worth was further hampered by not having a good variety of photographs to choose from.

It was a solid victory for Kendra. Not for Magna, for Kendra. Tana and Craig helped with the parts of the task that any retard, apparently with the exception of Alex, could have done and then packed it in and later tried to claim partial credit for the victory. Everything that turned this task for Magna was Kendra's doing.

For their reward Magna got to hang out and play basketball at Madison Square Garden with Isaiah Thomas and some of the NY Knicks. Even there, Kendra show exponentially more drive than her teammates.

Net Worth entered the board room weary and lacking fight. Early on, team Trump seemed to be trying to goad Chris and Bren into attacking Alex for his failure in the photo shoot. They didn't pick up on that until much later. Bren was taken to task for his uninspiring verbage in the brochure. Alex was attacked for seeing that their piece was uninspiring and not doing anything about it. But, Chris was the PM and he was fired.

In this case there was really a lot more ammo against either Bren or Alex, but I think Trump saw Chris as being at the core of what has been wrong with Net Worth all along. He seemed to feel that Bren and Alex were innocent victims of being on a poor team.

But, Trump also took the unusual step of calling Chris back after the others had left. He told him to watch his temper, stay away from the tobacco and that he was sure Chris would be a big success some day. Chris wept, but shook the Donald's hand, and said a heart-felt goodbye to his teammates. Ironically, Chris, who was arguably the most immature and volatile candidate this season, was by far the most mature and magnanimous of all in how he handled losing.

So, now Net Worth is Bren and Alex. The team really showed a creativity deficit this week. Part of the problem was the general malaise that has existed on Net Worth since the teams were first re-organized. One week will tell whether that was all of it, or if Bren and Alex aren't the stars they've appeared to be in the past.

Prospects:

Craig will not win. Of the five left, he's the only one I'm certain of. Though he doesn't belong there, he's one Net Worth win away from the final four. If he does make it that far he'll be decimated in the interviews. Nothing against him, it's just that communication is his key weakness. But, for all of his leadership and business potential, he's not good at being lead and that's a fatal flaw.

I'm downgrading Alex. He's been my pick all along and has shown some definite brilliance and leadership. But, he's also had some serious letdowns. In the very first mission he was in charge of running the Burger King and directed an under-staffing. In the Domino's task, he pre-sold pizzas a one-hour subway ride away from where the team would actually be preparing the pizzas. This week he hurt his team by not properly managing the studio shoot. Net Worth's dismal run continued unabated, even after he was added. Fortunately for him, the game is coming to the point where leadership and personal strength are key, and Alex excels in those areas.

Bren was actually much improved this week, but he also has a longer way to climb compared to some of the other players. Early on he had a good sense for how to attack this task. Unfortunately Chris was in charge and Alex didn't give him a lot to work with in the line of photos. Bren's weakness is creativity, and after next week that will be off the table as a major factor in the game. I can't see Bren beating Alex, Tana or Kendra head to head. But, all of the players have had letdowns, so if Bren can continue to be in the right place at the right time, who knows?

This was Kendra's week to shine. She showed unparalleled drive, creativity and business sense in this task. The wild card with Kendra is leadership. Though she was PM, and though it wasn't her choice, she wound up doing the lion's share of this task all by herself. Thus, her leadership has still not been tested. For all of her talent, I'm not sure if she has the strength to lead in this game.

Tana's outlook remains bright. Her strong victory as PM last week was a testimony to her leadership ability. I'm curious to see how she'll do in the interviews, and I wasn't pleased with her "I've got immunity so I'm not staying up all night," atttitude this week. Barring some massive blunder, I think she's almost certain to make the final four.

This all sets up an interesting scenario. Craig will likely be the PM for Magna, since Tana and Kendra have led the last two weeks and both did well enough that there would be no advantage to putting themselves in the hot seat one more time. Kendra has immunity and doesn't like Craig. On the other hand, she has shown, in the past, a bond with Alex and Bren. Does she set Craig up for a fall? or at least not try her hardest? We'll see.

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