2005-04-29

Apprentice Update: Then there were Three


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It was the worst of all possible worlds for Alex. Donald Trump departed with the first two seasons' tradition of winnowing the final four candidates to two with high-pressure, executive interviews, and instead went with a marketing-driven task. The interviews would have played to Alex's strength. In testing the candidates' marketing and creativity instead, the task hammered one last time on Alex's key weakness.

But then again, Alex demonstrated with great finality that he simply isn't the superstar that he appeared to be when hiding in larger groups.

At the outset, Alex had to pluck one member from Magna to even the teams. It was a classic dilemma. He could choose Kendra, clearly the strongest player, and maximize his own team's strength. Or, he could maximize his opponent's' weakness by selecting Tana and leaving Kendra and Craig, whose mutual animosity has become legendary, together. Showing the creative deficiency that has been the cornerstone of several weeks of Net Worth failure, Alex selected Tana.

This week, the two-person teams were given the services of a professional artist and asked to design and sell shirts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the T-shirt. The team with the highest sales income wins.

Net Worth actually came up with the superior design for their shirts and much more agressive pricing. But then they got lost in the details. Tana suggested that they offer some of their shirts highlighted with small jewel stones - something she'd had success with in the past. Unfortunately, she was unable to track down the "Be-Dazzled" machine that she had used previously. She was able to track down the jewels at a craft store on Staten Island - a mondo cab ride away. While Alex pleaded for marketing planning time, Tana remained focused on the jewels.

That was the primary failure for Net Worth, for marketing turned out to be the key to this task. Both teams were offereing a product that would sell itself to the right audience. The key was marketing effecitvely to get enough of the right audience into their store.

Magna, marketed their t-shirts as art, in an e-mail blast targeted at fans of their artist. Over at Net Worth, Alex stood out on the street with a sign. As a result, Magna sold over one hundred units to Net Worth's thirty. Even Net Worth's agressive pricing couldn't overcome such an overwhelming volume difference - Magna doubled Net Worth's income.

The board room was a roller coaster. During the initial vetting, Tana was quiet and non-combative. Fans of Apprentice will realize right off that this doesn't sit well with the Donald. The main issue at the start: who was responsible for the marketing failure? Obviously both players blamed the other. Beyond that, Alex gained ground simply by fighting hard.

When Trump's team convened with Alex and Tana out of the room, they seemed to unanimously agree that Tana was not showing the fight necessary to be part of the Trump organization.

Things were quite different when the two returned. Suddenly Tana was sticking up for herself and talk turned to the two players' overall records. Obviously, having been on Team Magna since the first re-shuffling, Tana's Apprentice resume is stronger. Then Alex erred when recounting his record as PM, understating his losses by one.

Tana's sudden fight seemed to re-open Trump's mind, and Alex's mis-statement sealed his own fate. If it was a simple mistake, the Donald didn't like that Alex could take losing so lightly. And obviously deliberate dishonesty is a one-way ticket to the street. Either way, Alex was fired, ending a dramatic, several-week long slide.

Outlook:

It appears that there will be no interviews, and next week there will be no teams - Tana, Craig and Kendra will be pitted against each other, mano a mano a mano.

The separation of Tana and Kendra revealed that Kendra has been the creative driving force on Team Magna. This entire season has heavily emphasized marketing, and success has followed Kendra throughout.

This whole thing is Kendra's to lose. Neither of the other two candidates has shown anywhere near her depth or talent. There was one episode where the teams were tested with a trying schedule that Kendra had a little pout and complained of low blood sugar. But then in the Solstace mission, Kendra pulled an all-nighter, single-handedly doing all the work and leading her team to victory.

The one concern with Kendra is her ability to lead a difficult team. She's shown no reluctance to confront Craig, but how will she do if the final mission once again involves managing a team of malcontent ex-candidates. This is the one area of Kendra's game that hasn't been tested.

Managing a difficult team just so happens to be one of Tana's strengths, so if Kendra should falter, Tana may be able to slip in and take advantage. Unfortunately, Tana was identified this week as a poor fit for the Trump organization. Her past successes along with Alex's missteps resulted in Tana getting the benefit of the doubt this week. However, this mission also gave rise to the suspicion that Tana's past success had more to do with being teamed up with Kendra than with her own ability. This week, suddenly, the effective creativity and broad thinking were gone.

Craig has benefited the most from Magna's seven-week run without a visit to the board room. While not devoid of talent, Craig has been riding more than driving his team's success. In his favor, Craig has shown that he will not let an unruly team back him down. Unfortunately, he has also shown a serious deficiency when it comes to the kind of communication that is necessary for effective general leadership.

Honestly, if next week's task calls for any kind of marketing or creativity Craig is as good as gone. He has not shown interest or ability in these areas.

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