The celebrity contestants get their first assignment.

By Dalton Ross
January 02, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST
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People said 2016 was like living in the golden age of television. People said we had never seen such a plethora of incredible options at our disposal. People called it “Peak TV” and said the quality of offerings had never been better. And they were all wrong. Dead wrong. 2016 was the worst year in the entire history of television because 2016 was the year when Celebrity Apprentice aired not a single solitary episode.

Sure, some may say 2016 was one long, seemingly never ending Celebrity Apprentice episode, what with the election, ceaseless promotion of Trump Steaks, and random uncomfortable shots of Barron Trump, but those who say that were missing out on the true subtleties of the franchise that make it so great that do not involve the President-elect at all — subtleties like Clint Blank using laundry detergent to masturbate. Nuances like Vincent Pastore concocting a “rat” scheme and then bailing on his own rat scheme and becoming a triple agent halfway through said aborted rat scheme. Flourishes such as Rod Blagojevich attempting to use a laptop. Curiosities including, but not limited to, Gary Busey magically transforming into a mechanical dog. Those are the true hallmarks of Celebrity Apprentice. And they were sorely absent in 2016 (although someone may want to check on Busey just to be sure).

Well, I am happy to report our long national nightmare is finally over. Celebrity Apprentice is back! Now, you may have noticed a few teensy-weensy changes. Although you probably didn’t notice at all because they were so minor. First off, the show has been designated a Trump-free zone. Oh, it also has moved from New York to Los Angeles. And the limo has been replaced by a “choppa.” And tasks are now crammed into one hour instead of drawn out magnificently over two. You know, just tiny stuff like that. Which brings us to the biggest change of all, the one you hopefully did notice: Sadly — so, so sadly — we have had to bid adieu to the best fake receptionist in the history of fake TV receptionists, Amanda Miller.

That’s right, Amanda is long gone and has taken her golden scissors with her to the White House to presumably become the new Mrs. Landingham. In her place is someone named Melissa, and in the biggest injustice of all, this new fake receptionist has been given a computer! Poor Amanda had to sit there scribbling God knows what in her little notebook, but now this Melissa lady can do all the online Buzzfeed quizzes she wants! A travesty of epic proportions.

And let us also shed a tear for the departure of Adrian the Elevator Operator, who knew how to push all the right buttons…if you know what I’m sayin’. (Disclaimer: I have no idea what I am saying.) There appears to be no elevator in the Schwarzenegger Inc. offices, probably because nobody knows what the hell Schwarzenegger Inc. is. (I am guessing Schwarzenegger Inc. was created specifically for the show and the new host seemed to confirm those suspicions when he described his phony-baloney company as a “startup.”)

Don’t think for a second I am taking the show to task for this. Creating a fake company is the most Celebrity Apprentice thing producers could have done and I applaud them for it. Here are the other things that struck me about the first trip down the new Celebrity Apprentice rabbit hole, saving my thoughts about the new host until the end.

Who the hell is Chael Sonnen?

Every Celebrity Apprentice cast has some person you’ve never heard of, and every cast has some person so boring you never even realize they’re on the show. This year that person is one and the same, and that person’s name is Chael Sonnen. I only know this because I just Googled the cast to see what his name was. Then I Googled the dude himself. I guess he was an MMA fighter. Looks like he also got busted for having testosterone levels nearly 17 times that of a normal man and pleaded guilty to money laundering. So, a typical class act for this show.

Then again it’s not like he killed someone while driving drunk. No, that would be Vince Neil, who is also part of the cast. Neil was also arrested two other times after killing someone for suspicion of drunk driving, and in separate instances was reportedly arrested for punching a record producer, assaulting a sex worker at the Moonlight BunnyRanch, assaulting a sound man, and committing battery and disorderly conduct against an ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, he was never charged with any crimes against humanity for the unbearably sappy Motley Crüe power ballad “Without You,” but the wheels of justice often churn slowly.

It remains unclear what — if any — control the Russians had over casting the new season, but I can tell you I had a bit of influence on the appearance of one contestant. Years ago, in Nicaragua on location for the filming of Survivor, I told executive producer Mark Burnett they should cast Boy George on the next season of Celebrity Apprentice, which was about to start filming. He took a note of that and then came back to me the very next day, saying he had already reached out but the singer was touring and unavailable. Not so any longer! So, for better or for worse, that one’s on me.

As for the rest of the group, it’s pretty standard stuff. We have a few athletes (Eric Dickerson, Ricky Williams, Laila Alia, Lisa Leslie), a few reality stars (Snooki, Porsha Williams, Kyle Richards), a few hosts (Carson Kressley, Carrie Keagan, Brooke Burke-Charvet, the hyper-caffeinated Matt Iseman), and other blasts from the past (Carnie Wilson, Jon Lovitz).

What’s in a name?

One of my favorite things of every Celebrity Apprentice season is when the teams (once again separated into men and women) come up with their team names. Because it is literally the dumbest thing to argue about, and yet, grown adults always seem to get into some sort of beef here over how they will be addressed.

Unfortunately, no such fireworks tonight. For the men, Carson nominated Team Flex, but then supported Ricky’s suggestion of Team Pump because “it sounds super gay.” But then Ricky went all highbrow on us by giving us Arete, which apparently is a Greek word meaning striving for excellence. Or striving for boredom. One of the two.

The women threw out a bunch of possibilities, including Renaissance Angels, Mavericks, Vagina (thanks, Snooki!), and Game Changers (wait, isn’t that Survivor?) before finally settling on Lisa’s suggestion of Prima, which sounds pretty Arete to me…assuming Arete does, in fact, mean boring.

NEXT: Carnie Wilson can’t “Hold On”

The fiercest Celebrity Apprentice task yet

It’s nice to see Arnold Schwarzenegger following Trump’s lead in the nepotism department by appointing his nephew, Patrick, as one of his advisors for the first two tasks. The other advisor was Tyra Banks, who was also there to promote her new Tyra Beauty product line that — wouldn’t you know it? — just happened to be the subject of the first challenge as the teams create a Tyra beauty experience with a 10-minute presentation.

So, clearly the guys were working at a major disadvantage here. For them to win this would be akin to when poker player Annie Duke bested professional musician Clint Black at a Chicken of the Sea jingle-writing task. Judge for yourself below.

The men had the somewhat brilliant idea of having them apply the makeup themselves to show how easy it was, but Project Manager Boy George was worried about having people like Vince Neil (who he said had never done makeup before) applying it to faces, proving Boy George is completely unfamiliar with the look of Shout at the Devil era-Crüe, which made Culture Club look positively au natural when it came to face paint.

What George should have been more concerned about were the double entendres his teammates kept dropping during their presentation. “If you use this on your eyes, you will get the stick,” said Jon Lovitz in one of the episode’s creepier moments. “Everyone wants a long, thick…eyelash,” teased Eric Dickerson (who then disappeared for the second task, perhaps out of shame). Granted, none of this talk was too over-the-top when compared to the previous host’s obscene conversations with one Billy Bush, but it was still a bit icky.

They won anyway, which led to Carrie Keagan being fired — her chief crime being she was evidently deemed not as interesting as Porsha.

Carnie’s big mistake

Carnie Wilson played this game like a clueless rookie, making the biggest Celebrity Apprentice mistake possible. No, not hogging the microphone like Patti LaBelle during “We Are the World” at Live Aid to start screaming “FRESH AND FIERCE!” at the top of her lungs, but rather neglecting to bring back someone to the Boardroom that would have been fired instead of her when she lost the second Trident jingle/video challenge.

Look, it has been firmly established that actual proficiency in a task has little to do with who gets the boot. The show wants to keep around the biggest names and the biggest personalities for as long as possible. So, if you are a huge celebrity (huge being a relative term in these parts) or a huge nutjob, then you can coast for a while with no fear of getting the axe. How else to explain seven people — SEVEN! — being cut loose before Gary Busey in season 4? Or eight people — EIGHT! — being fired before Busey when he came back in season 6?

So, when Carnie lost the second task, her move was obvious — bring back low-key and low-wattage Kyle Richards (who came up with the failing video concept). That is all she had to do, and she would have lived to play another day. But she instead brought back Lisa (the only person who was right in voicing concerns about the concept) and Snooki (who did nothing wrong and the show clearly wanted to keep around for comedic value). In essence, she pulled a Gene Simmons.

Back in season 1 — and yes, I hate myself for being able to pull season 1 Celebrity Apprentice facts out of my brain on command — the KISS bassist was the losing Project Manager on a Kodak challenge. Gene was TV gold, even in defeat insisting the Kodak executives were wrong and his “It’s a Kodak world — welcome” slogan was downright genius. No way Trump was going to fire him. But then the self-proclaimed Demon forced Trump’s hand, refusing to bring any sacrificial lambs back to the Boardroom with him and making the host fire him against his will. I honestly don’t think anything in the long, proud history of the show has ever pained Trump more.

That all happened because Gene was being stubborn. Here, Carnie was just being stupid. She had an easy out but didn’t realize the true rules of the game. And the rules are pretty much the same even if the person enforcing them is different. Speaking of which, it’s finally time to weigh in on the new Hostmaster General.

NEXT: How did Arnold Schwarzenegger do?

Arnold 3.0

For over a year, we have been waiting to find out what Arnold’s signature firing line would be. Well, after watching two Boardrooms, I still have no clue what it is! When he first met the contestants, he told them, “My job is to terminate you one by one.” Well, that’s interesting, I thought to myself. (That’s only half true. The first thing I thought to myself was “Do I really want to waste more precious hours of my life watching what amounts to one of the most absurd programs in the history of television?” (The answer was a resounding YES!)

But then I thought to myself: Since Arnold busted out the terminated line here, he must have something different planned for the firing line. (And yes, I realize firing line makes it sound like he is going to have 10 of the thugs from Commando line up with bazookas to obliterate the corpse of the eliminated contestant to kingdom come, and while that may have additional entertainment value, it also might not fly with the FCC.) So, I thought “terminated” was out as his signature line.

But there he was at the end of the first Boardroom, telling Carrie Keagan: “Carrie, you’re terminated. Now, get to da choppa.” And then he lit up a big stogie. Okay, that’s pretty funny. He went next level by combining terminated with da choppa and the cigar. Well played.

However, at the second Boardroom firing of Carnie, he went a different route with “You’re terminated. Hasta la vista, baby!” And no cigar this time! See, now I’m confused. Is he just going to start reciting different lines after the “terminated” bit each week? And while you may get a few good ones — next week’s odds-on favorite: “You’re terminated. And you WON’T be back!” — what happens if the new Schwarzenegger iteration is successful? By season 3, he’s going to be resorting to using nonsensical lines like “You’re terminated. And you should not drink and bake.” Which is, by all means, a genius line from Raw Deal in and of itself, but I’m not sure it particularly makes sense here unless it is some sort of baking challenge and one of the contestants has been hitting the wacky tobacky. (I’m looking at you, Ricky Williams!)

Why didn’t he just stick to da choppa line? After all, they are going to a helicopter, which is a brilliant switch from the waiting limo. (I also love how you never actually see the contestants in da choppa as it is taking off — they’re just using the same generic take for all of them.) And where was the cigar for the second firing? Not like I’m in the business of encouraging people to smoke more, but it fits so perfectly with this show! Light it up, dude!

Anyway, I guess we’re still going to have to wait a few more weeks to get final clarity on the whole exit-line thing. So long as he starts quoting Last Action Hero at some point, I’m good. (By the way, you know Matt Iseman totally has a Last Action Hero poster on his wall.) Also, anything Arnold says is going to be better than Martha Stewart’s super-limp “You just don’t fit in” line when she took over from Trump for a season. So, he’s already in good shape as far as that goes.

How was Schwarzenegger otherwise? A little stiff at first, it seemed. There were a few fantastically absurd moments, however, such as his random order to Jon Lovitz that “In here, you call me Governor” — that I guess was meant to convey the seriousness of the occasion was — as well as his glorious tangent about strutting around a Munich market in a bathing suit when he was 19, which just made me uncomfortable…in a wonderful way.

But what I didn’t like was the way he kept letting people off the hook when he would ask them pointed questions about who messed up or who should be fired. “You guys are ducking more questions than Congress,” he said at one point, and while that’s a funny line, he still didn’t press them enough. He was better in the second hour, however, which finally culminated with him basically doing an impersonation of Hanz and Franz impersonating a girly man impersonating Snooki crumbling about stepping outside of her comfort zone. I rewatched that on a loop about 50 times and I still honestly couldn’t tell you what the hell he was saying or doing here. But I still loved it. More of that, please. Nonsensical rambling is a hallmark of every great Celebrity Apprentice.

So are random stare-downs, like when AH-NOLD shot a death stare at the women for gabbing in the Boardroom as he was trying to address the men. But he needs to go off book a bit more. It was a little painful when he marched into the Boardroom after task no. 2 and announced: “Now remember, the motto in here: Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and make sure that everyone else gets fired first.” That is paraphrasing a line from Conan the Barbarian (“Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.”) but all the contestants just looked extremely confused.

Hey, I love Conan quotes as much as the next guy — my personal favorite being “Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, THEN TO HELL WITH YOU!” — but methinks a little more spontaneity could go a long way here. And perhaps that will come as the Governator gets more comfortable in his new role.

Time will tell. But what did you think about the job Arnold did as the new host? Which contestants are you loving and loathing? And what the hell do you think actually happens at the mysterious Schwarzenegger Inc.? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and theories in the message boards below and hit me up on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Until next week, we end this Celebrity Apprentice recap the same way we end every Celebrity Apprentice recap, with the immortal words of season 2 champion Joan Rivers: Cluck, Cluck … Splash!

Donald Trump, “you’re fired” — you know the drill.
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