For once on ''The Apprentice,'' the competition involves something that might reflect the candidates' actual qualifications for the job, and they mostly stink at it

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated April 09, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Heidi A.: Mitchell Haaseth
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”The Apprentice”: A shocking task

Somebody pinch me, ducklings, ’cause I gotta be dreaming: For the first time in The Apprentice‘s long and storied history, tonight’s episode featured a task that was actually relevant to the job these candidates are interviewing for.

You have no idea how rattled I am by this course of events. I mean, you think you know a show. You think you’ve got an understanding, a pecking order: The Apprentice airs, and then I make fun of it for being dumb. But now everything’s changed. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Tonight we began in the aftermath of Tim’s tragic firing, as Heidi returned from her snotty seat in the boardroom and informed Nicole that Frankie was the one leading the charge against her boyfriend. This betrayal of trust was so upsetting to Nicole that she had to stop reading Tim’s love letter and goodbye note out loud to a trapped-looking Kristine. Suddenly, the phone rang, and the increasingly unconvincing Andie delivered the news that the merge was upon them. Abandon camp! Arrow moved into the mansion — Frankie tearfully bidding the site of his proudest drunken moments farewell — and everyone set about splitting into teams of two.

It should be noted that something about Tim’s departure has flipped a switch in James. I don’t know whether it’s some cocky belief that he’s got this one in the bag now or what, but where the kid spent the last several weeks being manic and yippy, tonight he was downright reasonable in almost every situation. His first spot of genius was suggesting that everyone just say who they wanted to pair up with and, in pretty much the same breath, picking Stefani. Frankie waggled his eyebrows at Nicole, who made it clear she wasn’t thrilled about the idea of pairing up with him after his boardroom behavior. So, continuing as the smug little twerp he’s turned into lately, Frankie seized this as an opportunity to pull a Judd Nelson on Nicole and pester her about her feelings now that Tim’s gone. That’s a Breakfast Club reference, BTW. There was something about the way Frankie just kept going after her, staring out from under his heavy brow, his mouth slightly open, drooling — I half expected him to yell, ”Answer the question, Claire!” Thankfully, Nicole managed to shut Undershirt’s yap — ”Do I feel like I’ve lost a part of me? No. Are you retarded?” — and score Kristine as a partner, because Kristine was determined to sabotage Heidi, who wound up with Frank.

And this was where my mind got blown. Tonight’s task was to design a marketing strategy for the second tower of Trump International Vegas Strip Eyesore That Makes Steve Wynn’s Work Seem Understated, a massive, literally gold-plated hotel and condo the Donald is building, probably not coincidentally, just across the street from Wynn. This is a task that — unlike dog grooming, lemonade stands, ice cream trucks, parade floats, sandwich promotions, bikini contests, car washing, party planning, or any one of the other sorority-esque activities the Apprentici have completed in the past — I could see someone who worked for Trump needing to execute in real life. The candidates boarded Trump’s private jet and flew to Vegas, where they raced off to see the construction, shoot some video of the sample apartments, and set about creating their presentations.

Here’s all you need to know about that process: While Frankie and Heidi fought, and Kristine and Nicole fought until Nicole went to sleep on the couch, you saw almost no footage of James and Stefani’s process. This is because it was screamingly competent and professional, which = boring. Meanwhile, Frankie made a video that consisted of loving close-ups of drawer pulls and shower grout while Heidi struggled to create an effective brochure, and Kristine did all the work on everything while Nicole, as previously mentioned, slept. The results, therefore, were not surprising.

James and Stefani delivered a polished presentation.

Nicole could not get the PowerPoint on her computer to work and needed James’s help. The eventual presentation was horrible and choppy, and the girls wore unforgivable matching outfits. Also, while in the midst of doing all the work, Kristine put the wrong phone number on the brochure.

Frankie and the HeidiBot did not have a presentation to speak of. They both appeared to lose command of the English language, and their video could euthanize retirees. Their brochure was a wordy disaster. ”It sells itself!” chirped a desperate Heidi. ”Nothing sells itself,” replied a dour Trump.

James declared that the rest of the teams were in ”big, big doo-doo.”

I wish I could say that tonight’s firing was as well-handled as tonight’s task, but hey, at least they got it half right. After declaring K&N’s video and brochure to be ”100 percent better” than F&H’s, Trump still felt he needed to fire one person from each team instead of just kick the Bot and Undershirts to the curb. This resulted in some truly spectacular squabbling between Frankie and Heidi, as Heidi tried to cover her own ass on the brochure by lying through her teeth/being pretty, and Frankie called her on every last ounce of her crap. ”He’s distracting!” chirped a desperate Heidi. ”What was I doing, cartwheels?” replied an annoying-but-in-this-situation-correct Frank. Watching Trump watch this discussion, I kept getting the sense that kicking the pretty former Playboy-video star off his reality show would be the hardest thing he’d ever have to do, but she gave him the opening — ”If you wanted to fire me, I would 100 percent agree” — and he took it.

And then he whirled right around and fired Kristine. ”I didn’t get a chance to defend myself!” she gasped, but to no avail. Putting the wrong phone number on a fake brochure is tantamount to death in Trump’s world. Which sucks, because — as Kristine pointed out in her chummy car ride home with a very contrite Heidi — otherwise she totally would have pulled off her sabotage, mwah ha ha.

Instead, we are left with a final four made up of one incompetent girl with an annoying voice, one guy whose annoying voice will only work in the context of a construction site, one girl who rarely says anything at all, and James, who I am now a little worried may have been masterminding this whole thing from the beginning, like a skinnier, geekier, more annoying, less shirtless Yul from Survivor. I used to give odds at this point in the competition, but I can’t say I’m really all that jazzed about any of these folks getting the gig. Are you? And was anyone else confused by the scenes from next week, which made it seem like there’s just one task left? And am I the only one getting really excited about Hell’s Kitchen? And how come the Astros can’t ever score any damn runs? And why are wall mirrors so expensive? And what causes wind?

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