Trace Adkins battles a devil named Penn Jillette; America wins
Celebrity Apprentice RECAP
Credit: NBC

It all comes down to this: In the season finale of All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, two men enter, flanked by teams of other, lesser wo/men and a lot of cardboard, but only one man leaves. That man’s name is Donald Trump. The other two men are less important. What are their names? One of them is an atheist; the other thinks Jesus can beat up magicians. I kid! Welcome to the beginning of the end of the beginning of this finale (aka, the middle). Recapper extraordinaire Dalton Ross is off on assignment and has entrusted me to help guide us through a two-hour debate about who is the better businessman, really: a Las Vegas magician or a Nashville country singer? Vegas? Nashville? Pick a side. We’re at war.

The funny thing is that tonight’s finale was bizarro, as we all prayed, while reconfirming our darkest suspicions: Both Trace Adkins and Penn Jillette are, like, good at business — insofar as they are always able to make money at challenges that require a lot of detail-oriented planning in very little time with a lot of cameras around. But Trace and Penn have held up under the pressure. Tonight, a continuation of last week’s Final Challenge (design an ice cream flavor; shoot an ad for it; organize and host a social to launch it), they remained both deeply, deeply ridiculous figures without losing an ounce of integrity. Miracles, indeed. (Hey, Jesus!)

Were you surprised at how many friends Penn and Trace have? I was. I guess I should call them “friends” — in order to top the other/raise the most money during their socials/launch events, both men rolled through their Rolodexes. Wayne Newton, after some faffing about last week, turned up in full glow; as did Gilbert Gottfried, Taylor Hicks, and Dee Snyder. Meanwhile, Trace called in the Oakridge Boys (by-proxy), Tony Stewart, country duo Thompson Square, and Tim Tebow. Those italics probably aren’t getting the point across: TIM TEBOW showed up after Trace really thought that he was going to and then really thought that he wasn’t, leading Marilu to do everything by doing nothing. She kept whining at Trace! Traaaaace.

Who else? Big Pussy from The Sopranos and also Joan Rivers, Penn’s Teller, and a lot of camera crews…or maybe just one camera crew shot from a bunch of different angles. How many anchorwo/men had to interview Trace and Penn on the “carpet” before the event? “Hi, hello, what charity are you supporting? What does the Donald smell like? Misery? Is that the name of your ice cream flavor?”

That and still six other magical moments from the finale.

NEXT: Show us the money

1. How much money are we talking about when we’re talking about “money”?

No, really: Both socials were ostensibly about raising money for charity and whoever raised the most wouldn’t necessarily be the season’s winner. Still, didn’t you get the feeling that the show was going to awfully great lengths to mask how much money was actually being raised? After all the celebrities and all their friends showed up with checks in hand and after all those times that ML kept freaking out when she was handed a new check like it was made of diamonds or fire or both (new ice cream flavor: Fire Diamonds) and then after that moment where Penn conferred with his team and we heard that they were “north of 5…” in terms of dollars raised, I was pretty sure both teams cracked at least $1 million. Right? Tebow brought $300,000? Cut to the boardroom, halfway through the episode: Penn raised $503,655; Trace raised $564,000.


Now, neither amount is negligible. It’s all for charity, anyhow. But we were supposed to think it was more. It felt like more. Maybe I wasn’t accounting for the cardboard budget. Signs are expensive. Cardboard used to be trees!

2. Trace Adkins, “country singer”

Seeing Penn do magic in his video was pleasant and unexpected. He’s a famous magician. (More pleasant and unexpected was his successful gambit to cut the extra footage from his 60-second and then play it as an “outtake” for the audience, which found it hilarious.) Seeing Gary Busey dance in Trace’s video and then take the stage for Trace’s event in a re-preezal of his turn as Buddy Holly was expectedly unpleasant: Despite being able to move his face in any normal way except scary, Busey’s still got rhythm. He can’t sing (like really at all), but he can try.

Trace taking the stage, though, was unexpectedly unpleasant: The man sells(/sold) records and concert tickets based on his ability to entertain audiences with a combination of songs and showmanship. So where was any of that? Singing “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” (keep up with me) was painful in more ways than I thought I could feel pain. That voice! Those lyrics! It was like Trace was a construction worker (cement in his joints) who’d been handed a lyric sheet and a cowboy hat and a slap to the face. Was this his nightmare? Dude was scared and lost — he didn’t know where he was going or where he was coming from.

Then again, the audience loved it. Penn’s face danced along! Maybe it’s me who is broken.

NEXT: Fashion emergency(s)

3. Teller encased in cement!

Maybe this says more about me than it does about Penn & Teller, but watching them perform a magic trick with an audience member during the live portion was more mystifying than mystical. Penn did some handwork with a billiard ball, then a wand. Teller didn’t seem to be suffocating (that isn’t the trick). His assistant was a tall blonde woman from the audience. What’s her story? Did she know she would be helping to perform magic for multiple millions on live television? I don’t remember her wearing glasses at the start of the trick (that isn’t the trick, either). The good news is that Penn saved Teller. I’m not sure how. Magic was probably involved. I don’t think the billiard ball was that important.

4. TIE: Brande’s shoulder pads/Brande’s hair

There were a lot of questionable styling decisions made during the night’s live portion, when each of the eliminated contestants was brought back for a double-shot of punishment and nostalgia. But the clear winner was Brande Roderick, not because she was the craziest but because she rocked her crazy. What was going on with those shoulder pads? I wanted that haircut! Did it hypnotize me? It was so platinum. Also: Brande’s shoulders were basically right angles — spangly, blue, and perpendicular.

Honorable mention: Dennis’ mohawk. Blah blah Dennis Rodman dresses crazy blah. “I want his barber,” Trump says. Does he know what the word “barber” means? Separately: Does Dennis know what “North Korea” means? I’m sure Kim Jong-un was delightful at dinner; I’m less sure that he is a “good guy.”

Dishonorable mention: Lisa Rinna’s beige, skin-like outfit. The seams were in all the wrong places and it had the unfortunate side effect of making Lisa look like she hadn’t been watered by her owners in several days. I used to have your hair cut, Lisa. It gets better.

NEXT: “I don’t believe anything is distorted”

5. “I didn’t win any money.”

The night’s pre-taped boardroom was especially low on drama. Everyone had done so well! Both Joan and Ivanka ran through the teams’ small missteps (blah branding; too-specific flavor) while Donald generally congratulated everyone, including himself. He deserves an Emmy! Oh totally: Everyone always thinks the show is scripted, but Trace sticks up for it. Says Penn: “I don’t believe anything is distorted and everything is straightforward and I love that.”

Everyone starts sucking up like a firing line that’s firing compliments. And then the equation flips: Donald wants to know who hasn’t won any money in the competition for their charities. Lil Jon hasn’t and La Toya hasn’t and Gary hasn’t. You get $20,000 and you get $20,000 and you get $20,000. The Donald is firing money! It’s simultaneously surreal and humane. Can humanity be pre-processed? There’s no way Donald decided to start donating money to charity without a nudge in the script. Sorry! Not-script.

6. Lil Jon’s standing ovation

Everyone loves Lil Jon: you, me, the live audience, and most of America. Right before Donald fired one finalist and anointed another, he spun the spotlight to the eliminated all-star. “We’ve never done this before,” he said. “Ever.” Lil Jon came up from the peanut gallery to the boardroom table. Lil Jon climbed up on the arm of Joan’s chair. Lil Jon was awarded money for his charity. Lil Jon started crying. Lil Jon got a standing ovation that went on for more than a minute. Everyone was clapping. I was clapping. Also: Trace won.

Extra magic: The two hours were really, really good for charities, separate from the rest of the pomp and lunacy. The Red Cross helped Trace in a time of need; Penn spent some sweet, pre-packaged time with Opportunity Village. Dennis Rodman (gasp) put it best: “Everybody here has a great charity.” Gary Busey turned the mechanical dog into a lawn mower. And Omarosa has never been friends with La Toya.

Enjoy the congratulatory confetti shower for the rest of the night, y’all. It’s back to CSI guest spots in the morning.

Episode Recaps

The Celebrity Apprentice
Donald Trump, “you’re fired” — you know the drill.
  • TV Show
  • 14