The reality TV competition The Apprentice began as an urban Survivor, with contestants actually applying for a job with Donald Trump by competing in businesslike tasks under tough conditions. But it was rebooted in its seventh season to feature celebrity contestants competing to raise money for charity. While the title no longer makes any sense, the series has been a revelation, exposing more about its celebrity contestants than any tabloid ever could.
Under the pressure of deadlines with tasks that challenge them in many different ways, the façade slips away. Who knew Lou Ferrigno was such a baby, or that Teresa Giudice could be so calm, or that Joan Rivers was so disturbingly protective of Melissa? The show has also revealed a lot about Donald Trump as a judge, jury, and executioner, but in his case, it’s thanks to the presence of his daughter.
Ivanka Trump is the show’s most underrated cast member. She first appeared during the fifth season of The Apprentice, back when George Ross and Carolyn Kepcher sat to the right and left of Donald Trump, observing the candidates during their tasks. Smartly, the show added her as a full-time judge the next season, after Carolyn was fired by Trump.
Ivanka quickly proved herself to be a better judge and critic than her father, and when she’s seated by his side, she makes the long boardroom segments, when contestants justify their work and behavior, far more interesting. If her father ever decided to break from the show—unlikely!—she’d be an excellent replacement. Perhaps she should get her own version, like The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.
She’s not afraid to call people on their bullshit, but her approach is remarkable: It’s neither confrontational nor passive, just direct. But it’s a different kind of directness than her father demonstrates. Where Donald Trump Sr. seems to want to shout down the possibility of gray areas and oversimplify everything, Ivanka sifts through complexities and finds what matters. He strips out all the context and goes for simplicity; she hones in on the problem with a focus that is never myopic.
On last week’s episode, as one team targeted their weakest link, Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, Ivanka had a different thought about what was actually happening on the team. “Is that a failure of leadership, though?” she asked project manager Aubrey O’Day, a reality star/singer who thinks of herself as the only worthwhile contributor to any task, and who then stumbled trying to defend herself against Ivanka’s revelatory question. Aubrey’s failure to lead was highlighted in that moment, and it’s unlikely Trump would have ever noticed.
As she asks questions and challenges the contestants, Ivanka is frequently entertaining and funny. When checking in on the men’s team earlier this season, which was planning a party for a sponsor, both Clay Aiken and Dee Snider said they weren’t confident because they don’t attend parties. After challenging the Twisted Sister lead singer about his lack of partying, she said, wryly, “I would have never looked at the men’s team and said you were a bunch of stiffs. What’s going on? I’m totally shocked.”
During the first celebrity season, when the men’s team attempted to sabotage the women’s team, Stephen Baldwin asked Ivanka what she thought about sabotage in business, expecting her to condemn it. Instead, she said, “I’m sort of into sabotage,” though she qualified it by adding, “sometimes it can hurt you.” She seems honest and never afraid to say what she’s actually thinking, which makes for a fantastic reality television character, at the very least.
Her privilege and status in life hasn’t yielded someone who’s out of control with arrogance, nor with someone who seems to wither in the spotlight (hello, Don Jr.—although in fairness, multiple seasons on The Apprentice have made him a lot more affable). While her brothers seem to be more in their father’s shadow, both physically and otherwise, Ivanka avoids that, on the show and in real life, and does her own thing without needing to call attention to it. Donald Trump loudly campaigns against same-sex marriage and/or for attention; Ivanka Trump serves as a host for a marriage-equality fundraiser.
For the daughter of such a sexist ass, she’s a remarkable person. Trump will highlight a woman’s appearance before anything else, if he even sees anything of value beyond the woman’s appearance, which is rare. Ideally, Ivanka would challenge him more on things like this and on his ideas, both during The Apprentice and publicly when he says and does stupid things. But that’s not easy for any child, never mind for someone whose father jokes on television that he’d date his daughter.
Considering all that, it’s most incredible, perhaps, how deftly she handles Donald Trump. Ivanka is reduced—by the editing, by the conceit of the show, or her familial ties to the show’s host—to agreeing with whatever frequently ridiculous rationale Donald Trump comes up with when he fires someone. He nearly always tells himself he had “no choice,” and those at his side agree.
But beyond that, she doesn’t blindly follow his opinions or logic. Ivanka will take something he’s said and turn it around without actively disagreeing, often including the phrase “my father” in a way that’s neither condescending nor respectful; her brothers seem automatically deferential.
That’s why she would be so interesting in the big chair. Ivanka should get the chance to make decisions in this proven format, whether she’s filling in for her father on an episode, or taking control of her own series. Why not The Apprentice: College Edition, with business school students competing to apprentice with Ivanka, and drawing a younger audience with a more relevant judge?
The contrast would be striking, like the difference between the judges on The Voice (current, relevant artists who offer constructive criticism) and the judges on The X Factor (irrelevant artists and has-been TV stars offering bland, repetitive comments). That might not be good for Donald Trump’s own job security, so maybe keeping her at his side—adding value but not taking over—is the best way for him to keep from hearing “you’re fired.”