2005-04-22

Apprentice Update: Net Worth Exposed. Final Four Set.


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Last night the Donald sent Bren packing leaving just four candidates left.

The teams went to work for Staples this time - to develop a product that will help eliminate office clutter.

Craig took the reins at Magna and Alex at Net Worth, although with the small number left in the game, "PM" is not as critical a distinction as it is earlier in the game.

Magna met with the Staples managers who would be judging the teams and gleaned some valuable input: don't reinvent the wheel ... just make the wheel better. This would ultimately be the key factor in this task.

After the meet, Kendra and Tana decided that the team should head off to a Staples to do some market research - go figure. These two have become the master of this tool, and it has worked well for them. Another key piece of information gained at this point: stack-ables. Office managers, etc., were buying lots of stack-able file pockets, storage bins, and the like.

Over at Net Worth the guys apparently decided to drive this entire task from the suite. Alex attempted to do a tele-conference with the Staples execs, but could never get the communications worked out. Bren attempted to survey office managers by phone, and again, actually getting on the line with someone willing to provide input proved to be impossible.

At the end of the day, Alex and Bren created their idea out of thin air - a small portable table with pockets, drop-ins and other cubbies to store various office supply items. They drew it up and delivered their plans to the fabrication team.

All was not bliss for Magna as the ongoing Craig / Kendra tension once again surfaced. And Craig appeared aloof for much of the information-gathering stage of this task.

Magna decided to develop a cube-like desktop caddy, with each side of the cube being a file pocket, mounted on a lazy-Susan. The team wanted the file pockets to be vertically oriented to keep the size of the caddy down. A dispute arose over whether the pockets would be intended to hold loose papers, or file folders which are horizontally oriented.

Once again, Magna blew Net Worth away. And once again, the editors treated us to Bren and Alex boasting, prior to the final presentations, about how they kicked Magna's butt and how impressed Carolyn and George were with their product. None of these things could have been further from the truth.

Hats off to Craig and Kendra. For all of their differences, the two have never let them affect their team's finished product or presentation. They have wasted a lot of time and energy with bickering, but you can get away with that when you have no competition.

In the end, Net Worth's table had too many practical flaws while Magna's caddy was the perfect combination of simple and catering to the intended user's needs.

As a reward, Magna was treated to breakfast by Carolyn and George.

In the board room, Trump expressed displeasure with both Bren and Craig. Bren failed to execute in conducting a focus group. Alex decided against a face-to-face meeting with the judges - something which any Apprentice viewer by now knows is a cardinal sin.

However, Bren dealt his own fatal blow when he confessed to not being a risk-taker. Trump didn't like this and from that point forward, Alex hammered on this element. In the end, it was apparent that the fight had gone out of Bren and Trump fired him. But Trump also flatly stated that, where Alex had once seemed a star, he was not anymore.

This episode revealed that Chris was not all that ailed Net Worth. From the moment the teams were shuffled out of Book-Smart / Street-Smart mode, Net Worth suffered from a critical lack of creativity and initiative as the game flowed through a long series of tasks which demanded a lot of both.

Outlook: A lot will depend on the format of the game from here on out. The past two seasons, the final four have been whittled to two by a series of interviews with top executives.

Over at the Apprentice website however, NBC is promising that next week the final three will be revealed - so we'll have to wait and see how the end-game has been tweaked.

Kendra is strong heading into the final weeks. She is the one player in the game right now who combines all the tools needed to win this thing. She's creative, intelligent, articulate, forceful when needed but not annoyingly pushy, and educated. If interviews will still be part of the final weeding-out, she'll do well. It also seems like she has found favor with Trump and his team which will count for a lot.

Tana is right behind Kendra in her prospects for success. The one knock on Tana is that she does not have a college education. While she has clearly been the best performing non-college grad of all three Apprentice seasons, I still feel like this will count for something in the end. I'm also less optimistic about how she would perform in a classic interview setting if that will be part of the mix. She lacks the polish that Alex and Kendra have. But, her Apprentice resume is as strong as Kendra's and much stronger than that of Alex or Craig.

Craig I can't figure out. In his two times as PM he has led his team through a juncture where there has been strong disagreement but where the team ultimately came through with a strong victory. It wasn't as big a deal this week, but in the Home Depot task, his leadership made the difference for Magna. He is, however, a terrible communicator, and condescending to women. Should Craig make it to the final mission where strong leadership and communication are critical, I see Craig peforming miserably. And if interviews still await the final candidates, I don't feel Craig would do well there either. Craig's no idiot, but he has yet to be tested in some critical areas.

Alex lacks creativity, and he has lost favor with the Donald. Now, the game is rolling into the time where creativity gets moved to the back burner, so this might not be a grave weakness. And, if the candidates are to be subjected to interviews, Alex is the type of guy who will do very well there. So, while he is down, Alex will still probably have chances to reverse course and pull this thing out. He has no room left for failure, however, and he'll still have a lot to answer for should he find himself in the final boardroom.

My projected final two: Kendra for sure. Alex if interviews will be a major determining factor. Tana if they are not.

My projected winner: Kendra.

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