Chechnya’s dictator is taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook in his search for a new aide with a new Apprentice-style TV show.
Ramzan Kadyrov, whose fame as the republic’s strongman is only rivaled by his Instagram stardom, is on the prowl for a business-savvy assistant who can help him develop his Islamic fiefdom. (Chechnya, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus, has been under the Kadyrov family’s rule for more than a decade.) The only way to do so, it seems, is to pit contestants against one another on a nationally televised show called Team, which, in true Kadyrov fashion, includes plenty of cameos by his dead dad, cute animals, and a handful of sexist jokes.
Kadyrov has many of the traits Trump seems to admire in Vladimir Putin, like strength, ability to command attention, and a commitment to making his country great again. But his relationship with Russia’s president is also somewhat contentious, and Kadyrov sometimes acts out of his own interests rather than his patron. The TV show on a state-run channel, then, might be a gesture of goodwill.
The season kicks off in Kadyrov’s ancestral village, and, naturally, some of the female contestants miss the ride because they took too long getting dressed. They have to hitch a ride and arrive late, just before the crew releases some deer into the wild. The animals disappear into the woods in slow motion.
“And now you, who were late,” run after the deer, Kadyrov tells three women. They chuckle awkwardly, at a disadvantage before the competition even starts.
“Women, really, they're homemakers,” Kadyrov tells a blonde from St. Petersburg when she asks if a woman could one day lead his republic. She's left wondering why she was invited in the first place.
An male cast member from Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, chimes in in the confessional: “The women, I think, they're unprepared,” he announced. “This is men's work, we need to find something easier for them.”
Another man remarks he's shocked how “not radical” Kadyrov is amid jokes Kadyrov makes about seizing his successful businesses.
Like in Trump’s original, the cast (drawn from across Russia and even from abroad) splits into teams that complete tasks while trying hard to appeal to Kadyrov’s sensibilities. One wisely appoints a Chechen teammate as their leader (an adopted word Kadyrov seems to refuse to say), while the other opts to call themselves the Chechen word for “little stars.”
For their first task, Kadyrov gifted each group 3000 Chechens, who they were to use to spell out their team names in stadium bleachers. The team led by the Chechen succeeded and rode a horse into the stadium to aid their presentation, while the Little Stars only succeeded in getting their unruly crowd to spell out Kadyrov’s initials.
In the elimination chamber, the wannabe aides explained their failure and debated who should be the first to sashay away. Kadyrov just say there, smiling, fingering his beard. He chose to eliminate the team leader, who then says he’s honored to plant the first tree in a gleaming park named after Kadyrov’s dad.
“Chechnya showed an example of the ‘Russian miracle,’” a producer told Sobesednik.ru before the show aired. “It’s a republic that, after decades, rose from the ashes of war and became shining and unrecognizable.”
But online, some websites speculate that—despite the show’s boasting about applicants coming from far and wife—the winner is a somewhat foregone conclusion. Sobesednik.ru reports that a group of bearded men in expensive suits, presumably Chechens, were spotted moving together through casting.
“They stuck together, moved through casting together, and sat together in the first row of the conference room,” one potential contestant told the site. “And when results were announced, they hugged each other happily in a circle.”