Appearing on The Apprentice with Donald Trump required agreeing to a series of odd and invasive demands regarding sex, nudity, and food consumption. According to a copy of an NBC contract reviewed by The Daily Beast, contestants had to agree to be filmed, “whether I am clothed, partially clothed or naked, whether I am aware or unaware of such videotaping, filming or recording.”
2016 is the first election in American history in which lowbrow entertainment and politics have merged to such a degree that they are nearly indistinguishable. The requirements for The Apprentice contestants, while almost certainly not mandated by Trump himself, underscore just how strange this brave new world is.
The Apprentice premiered on NBC in January 2004, when Trump was known primarily as a mouthy real-estate tycoon and New York tabloid fixture with an affinity for gold finishes and shiny new wives. He had already monetized his personal brand—with a bestselling book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, products like Trump: The Game, and bit parts in movies like Home Alone 2—but he was not yet a mainstream superstar. That kind of fame could only come through television.
The premise of the show was uncomplicated: The most fabulously wealthy real-estate developer in New York would search for a young pupil to whom he could impart his boundless wisdom. He would go about this search by sending contestants on a series of goose chases, referred to in the contract as “tasks,” and pitting them against each other. One by one, he would “fire” those who didn’t live up to his standards, until only one remained. The chosen Apprentice would receive a prize of $125,000 and a one-year contract at a Trump company with an additional salary of $125,000.
But ambition and shamelessness were not the only boxes participants needed to check.
The men and women who wanted a shot at proximity to Trump and the grand prize were first asked some mundane questions, such as “What is your favorite movie?” and “If you could hold any political office, what would it be and why?” according a candidate application reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Then they were made to undergo sexually transmitted disease screenings, which tested for “HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HPV, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes,” according to the contract.
Along with such testing, contestants had to accept “that Producer may impose one or more Series Rules regarding the type of sexual activity, if any, that participants will be permitted to engage in.”
And, the contract states, “I further acknowledge and understand that the film, tape, audio and other recordings that will be made of me in connection with the Series might in other circumstances be considered a serious invasion of my privacy.”
Once those hurdles were crossed, the “players,” as they’re referred to in the contract, were taken to New York, where the contract stipulates they could have “a maximum of two pieces of luggage” containing only “personal belongings… restricted to personal clothing and personal hygiene products.”
And that personal clothing could only be the kind that was “pre-approved” by the show’s producer.
Items players were explicitly not allowed to have included: cellphones; computers; pagers; calculators; other electronics; and personal cash, credit cards, debit cards, or other forms of currency. If any of those items were brought along for the show, players were told they would be confiscated until the show was over.
They were also not permitted to bring or get their own food. “Players will be provided food, food money and/or catering by the Producer,” the agreement says. “In some circumstances, such food, food money and/or catering must be earned by the players, at the Producer’s discretion.”
In the end, the corporate hunger games killed in the ratings and succeeded in inflating Trump’s celebrity to Macy’s Thanksgiving float proportions, paving the way for his eventual presidential campaign–and then the presidential campaign killed The Apprentice, at least for The Donald.
Many insiders believed that Trump’s plan, before winning the Republican primary seemed possible, was to run long enough to poll respectably and promote his brand name and then go back to his show, which mostly satisfied his ego and promised him a considerable income (though maybe not quite as considerable as he’s let on).
But just a few days after he announced his candidacy in June 2015, NBC severed its ties with him, citing his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants. Trump was, in a sense, fired—though he was by then auditioning for a much bigger job.
One producer who’s worked in reality TV laughed when asked if The Apprentice’s contestant requirements were typical of such projects.
“Nothing that I’ve ever worked on,” the producer said. “People can put in contracts whatever they want. What you put in a contract is whatever they contemplate in the production.” Still, the producer added, “it does seem a little on the extreme.”
A spokesperson for NBC did not respond to a request for comment, but Trump is not unfamiliar with outlandish demands of this nature.
His presidential campaign staff members and even volunteers sign wide-ranging non-disclosure agreements that limit their freedom of speech and, in some cases, the freedom of speech of their employees who have not themselves entered into contracts with Trump.
Trump also told the AP in the early 1990s that he required his dates to be tested for AIDS by his personal doctor. “It’s one of the worst times in the history of the world to be dating,” he said then.
Andy Dehnart, a reality television critic and the publisher of Reality Blurred, told The Daily Beast that reality contracts tend “to be the kinds of legal documents that cover the broadest range of possible outcomes—from fictionalization in editing to horrifying death… They’re kind of a security blanket for those paying for a show involving real people and their real lives.”
However NBC’s demands of Trump’s potential apprentices stack up by reality TV standards, it’s surely the first time a potential president of the United States has ever required such things of his professional underlings.
Trump’s ubiquity can have the effect of making even his highly unusual qualities seem normal. But there simply has never been a nominee for one of America’s two major political parties whose previous job included or was the equivalent of “firing” attention-starved game show contestants.
Funny enough, The Apprentice contract had a requirement that would eliminate Trump from participating for at least a little while: “You must not now be a candidate for public office and must agree not to become one until six months after initial broadcast of all programs in which you appear.”