On ''The Apprentice,'' while trying to create an office organizer, lawyers Bren and Alex focus on their male bond, but in the boardroom, one good attorney deserts another

By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated April 22, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Apprentice (Season 3)
Credit: Bren: Craig Blankenhorn/ NBC
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”The Apprentice”: The law partners split up

Dear Reality TV Fans: Do not fear. Regular Apprentice Watcher Whitney Pastorek has not been fired — she is simply on a mandatory rest period, and I am stepping in for her.

And while she is safely thousands of miles away from me, tucked away on a campsite with no television or Internet access, I will take this opportunity to say that her darling Kendra, so reverently praised in this space last week, did not look like a clear winner this round. But before I ruin a beautiful office friendship over a woman who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with horizontal file folders (more on that later), I’ll also say she didn’t look like a clear loser, either. I’m just worried she’ll let her little, um, interpersonal communication problems with Craig ruin an otherwise good record — and I’m not ready to count out Tana, who gives great presentation and has no interpersonal communication problems. In fact, I’d love to see two women — Kendra and everyone’s favorite Apprentice mom, Tana — in the top two. I mean, are we gonna have Alex, the guy who designed tonight’s ridiculous preserve-your-in-and-out-boxes-under-glass desk in the top two? Or Craig, the dude who (vertical-horizontal confusion or no) had no business condescending to Kendra by calling her ”young lady”? Let’s hope not.

Plus, Alex is totally going down now that his Wonder Twin Power Bren deactivated. The Apprentice‘s greatest — but least-recognized — contribution to culture is the way it has uncovered the sensitive side of male friendships. In this episode, Alex and Bren got all Bill-and-Kwame as they faced the week’s task. ”I never thought I’d make a best friend,” Bren mused as they shared cigars. ”Bren is like my oasis,” Alex voice-overed back.

As the teams met in Trump’s office to get down to business, we learned through stilted dialogue between the Donald and some Staples suits that the office-supply chain is, in fact, doing ”great.” So why not mess a little with that success by letting our lovable lackeys design a product for them? (Is it me, or should this season be called The Apprentice: Design Stuff We Have No Expertise In Edition, as opposed to last season, The Apprentice: Sell Crap to People on the Street Edition?) After we learned that they’d be making some kind of organizing device, we were also reminded that Kendra was exempt as last week’s winning project manager and will automatically be in the final four (thus allowing Whitney to go on vacation in peace).

It’s funny to see how exemptions affect people. Some (like Tana last week) catch up on their sleep. Others (like Kendra this week) let loose on their archenemy, who happens to be the project manager (like Craig this week). Kendra explained to the camera that ”Craig and I have really dysfunctional and poor communication.” And those words would prove prescient, as so many spoken in confessionals do.

Meanwhile, opposing PM Alex made one of those unthinkably stupid decisions that you, as a totally unqualified, neither street-smart nor book-smart TV viewer, know are going to lead to a loss. You know this when he decides to just try to hook up real quick with the Staples execs by cell phone to ask them what they want, then loses the connection and fails to get them back on the horn, then . . . then says the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard: ”They’re not a client; they’re just judges.” I don’t even know what that means. On The Apprentice, where every task is basically a pretend business venture, aren’t clients and judges one and the same? Did he think this was American Idol, where the ”judges” just spout off silly crap about feeling like they’re in, say, an appalling disco in Zimbabwe but have no real authority? Did he not see that the Donald’s lesson for this week is ”Take Control”? Well, no, I guess he didn’t see that. But still.

Of course, Magna Corp. (let’s just call them the Winners from now on, shall we?) saw the importance of the execs’ opinions and got it in person. Then Kendra and Tana did ”focus groups” by accosting shoppers in the store while Craig wandered off to browse for desks and bottled water . . . and poof! They had their brilliant idea: a lazy-Susan-type deal with slots that hold stuff — pens, markers, folders (but only vertical ones, for the love of God!), staplers, small animals, what have you.

Bren, on the other hand, was calling, like, insurance companies in the Yellow Pages asking to talk to office managers for an ”informal survey.” And for some reason, none of these people wanted to talk to him. So no poof! No brilliant idea. Instead, there was Alex drawing some squiggly lines on paper that turned out to be a desk sort of thing. It had this glass top, see, and it lifted up, and your in box and your out box went underneath there, which is great because then you could just stare right down at your in box and out box for hours, plus I guess you could put some folders down below in some slots. As one of the poor guys who had to build this thing put it: ”So this is a desk that you put next to your other desk.” And then he and his cohorts laughed and laughed. Alex and Bren, I suppose, thought they were laughing with them. But they were not.

Still, not all was well back with the Winners, either. Dear Kendra was obsessing over putting horizontal file folders into the lazy-Susan thing, which was built to fit only vertical folders. ”They’ll ask me, ‘Why do you have horizontal folders in your vertical product?’ ” Craig snapped, but this was just a hint of things to come, as so many edited snippets of conversation are.

Alex’s silly, pointless desk was finished, and it did look cool. At least he thought so: ”I would love to have the rights to that design,” he said. ”I could make a million dollars. I fear the lashing Magna Corp. [the ones we call the Winners] is going to get.” If this were the Trump Memorial Overconfident Statement Contest, these boys would win every week. (See last week’s laughing and shoulder slapping over how on earth the other team, with two girls, was going to beat them, the all-guy squad, at making a car brochure, before the team with the two girls beat them at making a car brochure.)

Then, finally, the Winners gave us the blow-up the producers had been prepping us for, as Craig told Kendra, ”I’ve given you respect you don’t even deserve, young lady,” after she explained that she really really wanted those damn horizontal folders because ”what you find in offices are folders.” She didn’t like him calling her ”young lady”; he said he had to talk to her like a child because she was one, et cetera. But they managed to pull it together — sans horizontal folders — for the presentation. ”It’s kind of like faking a marriage that went bad years ago,” Kendra said. And indeed, the Staples crowd seemed to buy it.

The Losers’ Pack Rat — that’s what the pointless desk thing was cleverly called — didn’t go over quite so well. Mostly, there were a lot of questions about what the hell it was for and why anyone would want it, accompanied by a lot of blank stares.

You wouldn’t think those were good signs, but Bren, bless his heart, bragged straight to the Donald that he thought it was ”spectacular!” That was just before Staples declared the Winners the winners, sending them off to the best reward yet — breakfast with Carolyn and George! Yay! There, we learned that Carolyn has two children and — ha-ha — a husband named George. Oh, the coincidence of it all. We also learned that — really? — George thought ”what you came up with yesterday was just brilliant.” Lots of sucking-up fake laughing ensued. A good time was had by all.

Alex and Bren were having a good time, too; they were not about to let their impending boardroom ruin their beautiful friendship. As they sipped coffee one last time together, Alex said, ”The thing I’m concerned about is not seeing you for so long.” Then he went into the boardroom and said, ”I put Bren in charge of marketing. Bren dropped the ball.” Dude, you gave him the Yellow Pages. And then you gave up on the idea of focus groups and drew a very dumb desk that requires the user to lift up the top to get to the in and out baskets, which means said user cannot put anything on top of the desk. Who wants a desk you can’t put anything on? This is what I would have said if I were Bren, who claims to be a lawyer. Instead he starts blathering about how he’s not big on risks, which I guess was supposed to be an explanation for why Alex was responsible for this ”risky” (idiotic) desk but seems like the exact opposite of what you’d want to say in an interview with Donald Trump.

And so it was that Alex was soon hugging Bren goodbye — with the requisite ”I love you, bro” — and sending him down the elevator to his taxi-riding fate. If we do not end up with an all-girl final two, there is something wrong with this system.

What do you think? Who deserves the blame for the Kendra-Craig breakdown? Was Alex faking his friendship with Bren? And can a woman win The Apprentice?

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