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''The Apprentice'': Third season's a charm

Third season’s a charm on ”The Apprentice”: Two teams, college grads vs. high school grads, work in a burger joint. Guess who wins.

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The Apprentice (Season 3)
The Apprentice: Craig Blankenhorn/NBC

”The Apprentice”: Third season’s a charm

Welcome back, kids.

I was on the phone with Mark Burnett tonight, talking to him about the Apprentice musical (oh, you think I’m kidding), and right before we hung up, I said, ”Hey, good luck with Apprentice tonight!” and I swear to God, he said, ”Oh, is that tonight?” I don’t know if it’s because 2 sucked so badly or what, but all things considered, the run-up to this season has been downright stealth. Which is why it surprised me so much when it was so goddamn good.

We open with Trump in his helicopter, saying, ”You know everything about me.” Um . . . do you like pickles? Is Melania a good kisser? Toilet paper from the top or bottom? What’s your position on social security reform?

We’ve got two new teams, and if you believe the Donald, someone from one of them is the most qualified person in all of the land to run one of his companies. (Pardon my sarcasm. To the best of my knowledge, Kelly’s participation in Trump Plaza has not yet caused it to, like, fall down or anything.) The 18 contestants are divided like this:

1. Magna Corp., a.k.a. ”Stuck-Up College Grad People,” a collection of allegedly intelligent individuals who immediately started saying, ”Un-bee-leeee-vable!” and driving me insane. They also, within moments of meeting each other, gathered on a bed to sing songs with a guitar in a scenario that resembled nothing more than, well, a giant college dorm on the first day of freshman orientation.

2. Net Worth Corp., a.k.a. ”Who Knew High School Grads Made Three Times As Much As College Grads, But Still, Don’t You Think the Burger-Flipping Mission Is Ridiculously Skewed in Their Favor? Ooh, Snap! People” — who taught me the very important lesson that you can say ”shizznit” on TV but you cannot say a certain p word (unless it refers to a cat) and had the presence of mind to point out that while their college-grad counterparts were sitting around singing Indigo Girls songs, they were out working and making three times the money.

I don’t think anyone was surprised to find Net Worth, despite having ”only” high school degrees, to be the more tolerable group of folks.

Here’s a quick rundown on the cast members who made an impression, in the order and style that the impression was made:

Verna Verna!

Bren Bren!

Tana Tana!

Moving on to the people with real names:

Danny, a.k.a. Guitar Guy Okay, Danny is a direct rip-off of Zachariah Selwyn from ESPN’s Dream Job. In fact, were Zachariah not so busy hosting Extreme Dodgeball, I would suggest a hairy-hippie-with-questionable-fashion-sense grudge match. Unbelievable.

Erin Looks like Norelle from America’s Next Top Model. Yes, I am now only able to classify people in terms of previous reality-show characters. Broke down in tears while wearing a cheerleading skirt and Uggs. She’s gonna win.

Todd The only borderline cute person.

Brian I was sold when he was talking about business and said the weaklings were going to be ”cut by the juggler.” This is one of my worst nightmares: I’m minding my own business, walking down the street, and a mime with three rubber chickens comes walking up to me with a box cutter.

Token Black Guy I’m sorry — and I know you readers are going to slay me for this — but he owns a shoeshine business?

Kristin Straight hair. Bitchy. Dislikes Viking hats.

Stephanie Straight hair. Bitchy. Will sell you out for free.

Alex Has glasses. Looks very much like Todd.

Kendra My hero. When she first appeared in the Boardroom, she elicited a chorus of ”Wait, who the hell is that?” from me and my Apprentice-watching buddy Al. When she stuck up for Danny, she suddenly became my best friend.

John Does anyone else think he dyes his hair?

Tonight’s commercial was for Burger King, a restaurant that is basically irrelevant except for the continually outstanding paper crowns it provides to the community. Our fresh new contestants had to market one of six new flavors of burgers. (Al and I tried to come up with six new flavors of burgers on our own; it wasn’t easy.) Magna Corp., led by Marginally Cute Todd, picked the three-cheese burger, and Net Worth, led by Salon Selectives John, picked the Western burger, some sort of monstrosity featuring onion rings on the burger. This is my dream come true, by the way.

There was so much genius stuff here: Tana — her name is Tana — got peed on by a dog. Tonight’s lesson was ”Perseverance,” and at one point Trump told us that the thing about winners is ”They have no quit!” Danny provided us with the brilliant ”A circus in and of itself is rather dull.” Someone, at some point, was ”working like clock.” (No quit!) The 30-year-old woman equivalent of the Total Request Live ”Eeeeeeeeeee!” is, apparently, ”Woo-hooooooo!”

But it was my darling friend Al who came in with the exchange of the night:

Brian, who is scared of jugglers, in the costume shop: ”I used to own a dollar store, so I know what the price of these items is.”

Al: ”Um . . . a dollar?”

We were thrilled to welcome this show back, even when they fired Marginally Cute Todd, and even though Marginally Cute Todd was the Project Manager, and the incessant P.M. firing was a huge pet peeve from last season. He deserved to go — you can’t freakin’ pour soda? — and now I think maybe they just needed to get that sophomore slump out of their system. Hell, maybe the second season was underrated and 10 years from now we’ll look back on it the way we view Weezer’s album Pinkerton.

Well, maybe not.

Cab-number watch

Cab that Todd got into: IM74.

Cab that drove away: CF89?

What do you think? Has the show gone from sophomore slump to junior achievement? Who’s standing out as lovable or loathable? And who’s your early pick to win it all?

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