On ''The Apprentice,'' the teams vandalize Harlem: Net Worth and Magna are sent uptown to paint a wall, and it's off to the races!

By Whitney Pastorek
February 25, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Tara: Craig Blankenhorn/ NBC

”The Apprentice”: The teams vandalize Harlem

Ladies and gentlemen, I come to you this evening because I think it is time you learn about a new form of urban advertising. It is called ”graffiti,” and it is off the hook.

Yes, my darlings, it is 1987, and Donald Trump is in the hizzouse! I’d like to tell you that this recap will not contain any uncomfortable commentary concerning race, but I’m just not sure I can promise that — after all, tonight’s episode of The Apprentice didn’t pull any punches, did it? I’ve decided that the world of Mark Burnett is basically post-racist, a place where every single person, regardless of creed or nationality, is gonna look like a total boob 95 percent of the time. Where else are you gonna get the team with the only black characters in all of reality television (oh, except for you, Ibrehem from Survivor — my bad!) losing in a friggin’ Harlem-wall-painting contest to a bunch of self-confessed white college kids-slash-Hooters waitresses? Where else will a teeny, angry Caucasian girl with bad streaks in her hair tell us that (1) she’s been alone since she was 13 (huh?) and (2) she’s done graffiti before (come again?) — and where else will that teeny, angry Caucasian girl use the word ”demeaningful” when referring to the way she was addressed by a black ”shoeshine business owner” who, upon venturing north of 125th Street, immediately drops his university dialect and starts saying things like ”I will sit they butt down”? In what other venue could it possibly be possible for a geeky white man to say out loud, ”What the hell do I know about G wheels and ‘come-on-how-you-doin’?’ ” Oh, my little muffins, we are through the looking glass now. I love Entertainment Weekly editor-at-large Mark Harris with all of my heart, but even he — despite being a staunch defender of Stacie J. and all that is ethnically just in the world — could not sift through tonight’s melting pot of diversity and stupidity. There was, quite simply, too much for this white female college graduate ,who, let’s be honest, sucks at video games, to handle.

The advertisement du jour was Sony Playstation and Gran Turismo 4, a driving-game thing with cars and whatever. Let’s paint big walls to advertise it! ‘Cause, you know, the kidz, they’re cray-zee about that there graffiti! Vandalism rulz! Rawk! Our team leaders were Tara, who is a black woman who just last week I felt was relatively undervalued but who within the first five minutes tonight lost me by using the extended remix version of the phrase ”street credibility” (dude, it’s ”cred,” okay? even I know that), and Alex, the aforementioned geeky white man, who had the audacity to march himself up to the neighborhood kids and express fascination about ”bling” and ”mad props.” And while the odds going in would probably have to favor Tara and Net Worth (again, this team was staffed by both of the remaining black contestants, and Craig even brought back his battle dreads), it soon became painfully obvious that overthinking graffiti is like overcooking a soufflé. Okay, that was a crap analogy. Anyway, so Tara is all thinking globally and acting locally, and meanwhile Alex is like, ”Yo, what up my dogz? What should we be puttin’ on this wall, yo?” And aside from a terrifying and shocking moment when Bren was standing on the lift smoking (smoking! Bren! you are a Republican lawyer from Tennessee! with children! hundreds of children! put it out!), I found almost nothing surprising about the fact that Magna’s sloppy, Crayola-lookin’ giant fist wall defeated the understated social commentary (or whatever, Tara, you just keep telling yourself that) of Net Worth. After all, sez the Playstation execs, it’s not an art contest.

Here’s what I didn’t get: the fight between Audrey and Craig. So lemme break it down for ya. Audrey is painting the wall. Craig, in his very best Cosby voice (seriously, I’m sorry, but that’s what it was), tells her to paint in the lines or something, and she gets all cranky about him being ”demeaningful,” and he goes off on how she’s so selfish, and honestly, I’m sitting here on my sofa going, ”Craig can talk?” Whatever. What was the fight about? She was painting in the lines. Everyone was painting in the lines. Everyone was painting in the lines and covering approximately one-third of the big walls with crappy graffiti that the neighborhood board probably had to go out and whitewash the next weekend anyway. What is the big deal?

So Magna wins because they better captured the spirit of the game. (Focus Group Lady: ”It had an e for everyone, so I know it’s safe for my kids!” Yeah, well, Camel Lights has an e in it, too, hon.) They trot off to have their portraits done by ”the greatest photographer in the world,” Patrick DuMarchelier (side note: I had to look up the spelling of that, yet I can spell Orville Redenbacher without blinking an eye — am I a horrible person?), and Net Worth drags their sorry asses back into the boardroom where Wax Museum Jill and Oddly Indignant George (”Where did you come up with the line ‘Tear It Up’? Where?”) basically have it in for Tara from the get-go, and with good reason. As ‘Roid Rage Chris put it, ”I! I! I! I!” The woman took all the credit, so she gets all the blame. And now that she has no credibility, I know she ain’t gonna step to this. She is not ready for my jelly. If you will.

The cab number was 3L09, across the board, and yes, Tara was the project manager and she got fired, but now I have two new structural questions:

1. What is with the women answering the Rhona Phone this season?


2. How come Robin doesn’t say, ”You can go in now, guys,” anymore?

What do you think? Was this episode hilarious or disconcerting? Can America’s race relations survive The Apprentice?

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