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'The Celebrity Apprentice' recap: Hotdog vending with the 'stars'

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Ca_lOh boy. He just couldn’t help himself. After a lackluster sixth season of The Apprentice, Donald Trump decided to pulverize the proverbial dead horse by launching yet a “star”-studded edition of television’s most tired reality show. And though last night’s premiere of The Celebrity Apprentice wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d anticipated, how did a show best known for its hilariously combative nature manage to utilize its cast of supersized personalities to such milquetoast effect?

On a more positive note, though, The Apprentice—and let’s face it, the entire Trump empire—is famous for its classlessness, and the premiere sure did manage to deliver on that front. Between Trump’s opening salvo denying our celebrities human qualities (they’re simply commodities now), to his inquiries into Tito Ortiz’s personal life, the trashiness quotient was high. And considering the show’s primary competition in this strike-addled world is VH1’s Top Model marathon, I fear I might already be just a little hooked.

Of course, the casting of these so-called “successful” celebrities (uh—Stephen Baldwin?) is not the only change on this season of The Apprentice. This year, contestants are not vying for a job, but are rather playing for their respective charities. And in a world where one of the most popular television prizes continues to be a giant disco-ball trophy, it’s refreshing to see celebrities compete not just for career revival (hey, this is reality TV, after all), but also a good cause.

So who do we have here? Who was desperate brave enough to court verbal mockery and humiliation by one of the most undignified creatures television has ever seen?

There are two “celebrities” I had never heard of until this episode:buxom Playboy Playmate Tiffany Fallon and expressionless producer Nely Galán; four that I had to Google before rememberingexactly what they did for a living: softball Olympian Jennie Finch,supermodel Carol Alt, and fighters Lennox Lewis and Tito Ortiz; tworeality show alums: The Apprentice Season 1’s Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth and America’s Got Talent’s Piers Morgan; and six bonafide celebrities: Taxi actress Marilu Henner, country singer Trace Adkins, rocker Gene Simmons, The Sopranos star Vincent Pastore, gymnast Nadia Comaneci and Stephen “Hey, atleast I’m doing better than Daniel” Baldwin. Can’t say I was too overwhelmed with the fluid definition of “celebrity,” but it beats a weekly dose of Flava Flav or Johnny Fairplay. And it isdefinitely worth pointing out that over the course of the hour, all thecelebrities surprisingly came off as mildly to moderately intelligent.

Moving on, let’s start with the challenge, shall we?  After dividingthe cast into two teams—men vs. women—and instructing each group tocome up with a name (the girls chose Empresario, the boys opted forHydra), Trump told his celebrities that their first task would entailselling hot dogs on the streets of New York. Though Nely proved herspirit by offering her teammates a bizarre version of a pirate hat,Empresario decided to anoint the overly enthusiastic Omarosa as theirproject manager. Of course, Omarosa wouldn’t be Omarosa without thatcondescending attitude that Tiffany would later reference inthe boardroom, and the two sparred on whether to use a sales tacticpromoting their business skills or their celebrity (Tiffany, smartly,favored the latter). The Apprentice alum, however, was unwilling to back down, and Empresario developed a plan that relied mainly on cute shirts and hats. And when it came toexecution, only the shrewd Marilu managed to understand that the key to victory was bringing in the high rollers through her celebritystatus; her flurry of phone calls earned the team$10,000, and herself the position of early front runner in the competition.

On the boys’ end, Hydra named Stephen their team leader, and darnedif the guy has a bit of Jack Donaghy in him, because he managed to heada team that came up with one heck of a sales plan. Within the first fewminutes of brainstorming, Hydra tried to parlay their fame into money. And thank god the men had their Blackberrys, because Tito’ssad, junior-high posterboard certainly didn’t do Hydra any favors. Good thing his trusty girlfriendJenna Jameson showed up to audition for the next season of Rock of Love help him out with the publicity (but couldn’t she spare just a little more that $200 for a charity hot dog?).

In the boardroom, we learned the men easily trumped the women’s$17,038 with a whopping $52,286, and the total amount was awarded toStephen’s breast cancer charity. As for the end result, somehow Omarosamanaged to get off the hook for not only her poor leadership decisions,but also for managing to debase Tiffany by basically claiming she onlyhad two things to offer in the competition (I’ll let you figure out exactly what those two things are). And though some may feel that Tiffanywould’ve stayed longer had she argued her point just a bit better, Ichoose to think that Trump was too hypnotized by Omarosa’s Jetsons-inspired, Mother Ginger dress to let her go.

What do you think? Will The Celebrity Apprenticemake it onto your TiVo? Do you hope that future episodes focus more onthe cast’s business skills, and less on their celebrity status? Will Piers andOmarosa be the only ones who keep the show entertaining? And are you as excitedas I am about the future appearances of Bob Saget and Alec Baldwin, asteased in the opening minutes of the premiere?