By Jean Bentley
Updated May 11, 2009 at 06:37 PM EDT

Poor Annie Duke. All season the momentum’s been building to a Joan Rivers victory, and Annie surely saw it coming. Or maybe not: Just take a look at the chart Jim Cramer provided us with last night. Annie had more victories (7 to Joan’s 6), more wins as project manager (2 to Joan’s 1 win/1 loss), and she raised the most money for charity. She’s ”a brilliant strategist” and ”all about business,” but apparently that’s not enough to compete with Joan, who’s ”all heart.” When it comes to numbers and playing the game, Annie won. But she must’ve missed the day when the competition went from ”finding the best businessperson” to ”finding the most loyal friend.”

Last night on Donald Trump’s My New BFF, the final challenge was to throw a silent auction combining the branding power of Kodak’s EasyShare digital picture frame, Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk show, and the contestants’ charities of choice. Annie picked Brande, Dennis, and Tom to be her helpers, and Joan picked Herschel, Clint (really?), and Melissa. The teams were charged with ”doing silent auctions of THINGS. You’re gonna get people to donate THINGS.” No further explanation on what these THINGS were, other than the fact that the Donald’s inflection really emphasized them. (Each team correctly assumed ”THINGS” meant ”fun celebrity-driven packages for people to bid on.”) They’d be graded on five criteria: the amount of money raised, the Kodak product integration, the charity integration, the celebrities in attendance, and the overall guest experience.

On Team Annie, the personalities didn’t seem to mesh well. Brandeand Annie worked well together, as was expected. Dennis seemedreluctant to participate at first (though when does he ever seemcommitted), but soon brought in $20,000 cash courtesy of the DetroitPistons and the L.A. Lakers. Tom had good intentions, but hislaid-back, jokey style served to piss off ”All Work, No Play” Annierather than calm her down. As Tom said, ”I don’t know if that style,being that acerbic with people, would work that well in the real worldnecessarily. I think everyone would quit.”

On Team Joan, on the other hand, Clint seemed to have reverted backto his old ways (read: announcing he had no money to raise, chattingwith his friends, checking e-mail the whole time, and overall beingcompletely useless). Melissa worked well with her mother (obvs), andshe worked hard. Herschel came up with two very savvy businessdecisions that ended up being integral to Joan’s eventual victory.First, he sold all the Cirque du Soleil tickets to a donor so the teamcould give them away instead of selling them on the street, whichallowed them more time to work on the rest of the auction. Second, hesuggested they up their celebrity quotient with ”impersonators” (mostof us call them drag queens), which didn’t do anything to boost theirnumbers in the ”celebrities in attendance” category, but it made fora fun atmosphere.

For the actual auction site, two event planners from the same firmwere hired to design the spaces — one to each team. Annie got alongfine with her planner, Nicole, and devised a pretty-sounding designwith ice sculptures and soothing colors. Joan’s planner, David,however, seemed douchey from the start. Putting aside the fact that heresembled Jason Bateman doing an impression of a designer so I couldn’ttake him seriously, this guy seemed to be a major tool and wascontinually shown spouting buzzwords instead of coming up with anactual plan. When he called Joan later on and all she could say was”blech” and ”eeuugh” instead of being happy with hisboring-sounding idea for the room, maybe he should’ve asked Joan tocome up with specific things she wanted instead of her vague-soundingideas. Eventually, Joan told David she wanted to bring in one of herdesigner friends for him to work with, and he got so offended that hecalled her back and quit. In all fairness, I don’t think Joan treatedhim badly, but she didn’t actually vocalize anything that would’vehelped him understand exactly what she wanted.

As the owner of a design firm, you’d think David had worked with acouple of clients like that before and he’d know how to pull theinformation he needed out of them. Instead, he got huffy and quit, and,as the owner of the firm, made Annie’s planner quit too. Of course, hedid this the really classy way and didn’t have her call Annie toexplain the problem, instead choosing to ignore her calls, have hisassistant push away the cameras when they came to his office to signsome contracts, and only told Annie what was happening in a pow-wow offcamera.

Annie, understandably, was pissed, since she had less than 12 hoursto pull together an auction space from scratch and it was already after5:00 on a Friday night. She frantically called everyone she knew tofind people who could help her put together a room, and eventuallyassembled a team of three people who helped her create the ”classy”space she wanted. Joan decided to call the men of her charity, God’sLove We Deliver (”They’re wonderful, they’re terrific, they’reartistic, and they’re gay.”), who then enlisted their events team tocreate a fun, welcoming space.

Aside from the usual last-minute frantic scramble to finisheverything, the events seemed to go off without any major issues. AJoan Rivers impersonator (Joan’s team) and Dennis Rodman in drag(Annie’s team) greeted guests on the red carpet. While Annie was ableto attract her famous pokah playah friends (they are loyal and they didpull through for her), famous boxers (including Joe Frazier), andfamous (not in the past 15 years, so debatable) ice skater OksanaBaiul, Joan pulled in actual names like Kyle MacLachlan, Kathy Griffin,and various Broadway stars (the cast of Chicago, Tony nominee/American Idol finalistConstantine Maroulis). Joan’s charity was very involved behind thescenes assembling the auction space, but Annie’s charity, RefugeesInternational, was featured prominently throughout the space. Joan wentfor an obvious Kodak branding scheme, having guests walk through agigantic frame to get inside, while Annie went for a more subtleapproach, playing Refugees International videos on the Kodak frames.

In the boardroom, Joan freaked out at Annie when she mentioned theevent planner quitting was Joan’s fault. It might not have been asobvious to Joan, but it was clear from watching the footage that it wasbecause of her, and it was also clear that the design firm blamed theirdeparture from the show on Joan. So when Joan started yelling andattacking Annie for pointing out the truth, I got really mad. It’s oncamera, people! You can’t lie about something that’s clearly alreadycaptured on film. ”This is an out and out lie, and I will not have iton television. I will not be berated by this character here.” WhoaJoan, Annie has actually remained SO CALM this entire time. She’s notberating you. And she’s telling the truth.

Clearly a lot of this show is fixed by the producers (anyone whosays otherwise has obviously not watched it). But the fact that Trumpdidn’t let Annie get a single word in edgewise to defend herself bothin the boardroom after the final challenge and in the live boardroomlast night made it extremely obvious, and it made me really angry.Surely someone told him what happened. Didn’t he have enough respectfor Annie to let her finish a complete thought before letting Joan jumpin? Kudos to Annie for handling it so calmly. I’m not sure if Icould’ve held my tongue when someone was verbally abusing me fortelling the truth, and for jumping on every single thing I said withoutletting me explain myself.

After Joan heaved another insult to Annie’s ”white trash pokahplayah friends” (they’re now all ”mafia people”), we found out howmuch money each woman raised for her charity. Joan pulled in $150,830,but that didn’t even register next to Annie’s $465,725 — just shy ofher half-million dollar goal. Annie also won on the charityintegration, but Joan won on celebrity attendance, Kodak integration,and overall experience (Ivanka said Joan’s auction was better attendedand had a better spirit than Annie’s).

Meanwhile, in the live show, we heard from some of the eliminatedcontestants. Dice bickered playfully with Trump, who was looking aparticularly bright shade of oompa loompa (his skin color waspractically the same as the wood paneling on the wall behind his head),Scott thanked Trump for firing him early so he didn’t have to getinvolved in all the subsequent drama, Jesse was low-key as usual,Claudia talked about how much fun she had, and Brian barely said anything(”I had a good time.”). My favorite part of these exchanges was howTrump cut everyone off when they’d used up their allotted 20 secondresponse time: ”That’s enough.” ”I don’t want to hear it.”

When pressed for their decision on who to hire/fire, Clint said hewouldn’t choose anyone, Jesse’d hire Annie, and Dennis and Scott choseJoan. You couldn’t hear it on TV, but at the live show, when Trumpasked Scott ”Who would you do?” the audience started snickering atthe poor choice in phrasing. That’s why Trump went back andacknowledged his slip. Piers Morgan, last year’s winner, and TraceAdkins, last year’s runner-up, both chose Joan to win; Piers becauseJoan met more criteria, and Trace, as he told me on the red carpetlater last night, because Joan got incredibly emotional when talkingabout her charity (that got me too. I totally cried when they showedJoan volunteering and talking about how she got involved with GLWDafter a friend died of AIDS). Hearing Piers and Trace talk about theways their charities have been helped by the show also made me teary,because it reminded me that the charities really do play a huge part onThe Celebrity Apprentice. A lot of shows donate money tocharity, but the contestants on this one actually seem to be investedin winning for their charity’s sake, not for their own egos.

Trump then asked Joan and Annie why they think they should win. Joangave a really dumb answer about doing business ”in the new way,” withhonor and other good stuff, but Annie gave a smart, well-crafted answerthat outlined all her successes in the competition. And yet again, evenin the minute Annie had to talk about herself (just like Joan did rightbefore her), Joan interrupted — and Trump didn’t stop her. Then shecorrected Annie’s grammar (I did too, in my head, but still — notpolite). Ivanka and Don Jr. gave sound bites to the effect of ”Annieplayed the game better and is smart, but Joan’s tenacious and old.”

In the most soul-crushing reality TV fakeout I’ve ever seen, Donaldtold Annie all the good things she’d accomplished, then told Joan howgreat she was, and asked Annie if she knew what he was going to say.Annie said ”No,” then perked up as he gave the final verdict –”Annie, you’re fired.” She gasped and happily clapped for a secondbefore realizing what he had said, and her entire body deflated. Frommy seat in the balcony, it seemed that Annie remained stoic as Donaldtold her she lost, but watching it back on TV made me cringe. I’dprobably think I had won, too, if I were her — listing heraccomplishments next to Joan’s like that made it seem obvious who thestronger competitor was.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was on Team Joan for much of theseason, but the way things transpired in the finale completely changedmy mind. Annie was consistently respectful, polite, and hard-working.While Joan was charismatic and also worked hard, her determination towin didn’t match Annie’s enthusiasm. Joan skated by week after weekbecause she was buddies with Donald, and that’s what sealed hervictory. Joan did an admirable job, but Annie was definitely robbed.The way Joan interrupted, yelled at, and insulted Annie in the finalewas unwarranted, and the way she denied being the reason the designerquit really changed my mind about her.

Do you think the right woman got the job? Or were you hoping theshark would conquer the dinosaur? Did you lose respect for Joan becauseof the way she treated Annie? Or do you think Annie was equally asconniving? How good of a sport was Joan’s friend who agreed to help herwhile in the middle of his mother’s funeral? Does Annie really knoweveryone on earth? Were you relieved when Joan vetoed the creepy”million talking pictures of Clint Black” idea? And was it funny whenTrump told Joan she was better at being herself than the drag queenimpersonator (duh)? I’m pretty sure some of the extra criteria in thefinale was added in just to make it less obvious it was a setup whenJoan eventually won. Conspiracy theory or truth? Discuss.