The New Celebrity Apprentice is, as its title says, “new.” It is, more than the version hosted by the current president-elect, a product of our current times.
It obsesses over personal branding and the value of self. It celebrates our enthusiasm for simultaneously resuscitating and belittling the careers of has-been stars and D-list celebrities.
And, more than all of that, it promotes the idea that women are dispensable, that they exist to be ridiculed, that misogyny rules, and that male hubris trumps—heh—any superior, intellectual quality from a female counterpart.
Oh, and of course, that qualifications and charisma are hardly necessary to become the most powerful person in the room.
NBC cut ties with Trump as some noble gesture last summer after Trump delivered a speech trashing Mexican immigrants.
Now, he retains an executive-producer credit on the series and stands to make a per-episode salary “in the low five-figures,” according to Variety—an unprecedented conflict of interest and conflict of priority for an incoming president.
It makes watching the series a political act. And it makes the show a reflection, ostensibly, not only of what our president stands for, but our country as well.
It is as ludicrous and as embarrassing as if, say, Bill Clinton had produced The Bachelor, attaching his name to a reality-TV parade of women throwing themselves to their knees at the feet at a two-timing charmer. Here, our president is branding himself to a show marked by the squelching of the intelligence and advanced accomplishments of women by a misogynistic blowhard with a short temper and no tact.
The “new” Celebrity Apprentice for the “new” America.
In the months since NBC fired Trump from Celebrity Apprentice, his “locker room” rhetoric became a lightning rod for national discourse. As his presidential campaign marched toward victory, woman after woman came forward accusing him of sexual abuse and numerous staffers from previous seasons of The Apprentice spoke to The Daily Beast about his sexist, bigoted, and otherwise piggish behavior on set.
The hiring of Schwarzenegger was theoretically to inject the show with buzz while escaping the bad PR of another Trump season. Yet, as The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman reported, Schwarzenegger himself has his own Trump-like history of sexual misconduct.
Which brings us to the new season of Celebrity Apprentice, the premiere of which pitted—in yet another head-slap—Team Men vs. Team Women. You can’t make this up.
On Team Men we have former Queer Eye host Carson Kressley, comedian Jon Lovitz, singer Boy George, NFL star Ricky Williams, American Ninja Warrior host Matt Iseman, rocker Vince Neil, and a few other guys who I didn’t recognize and couldn’t be bothered to rewind to catch their names.
Two Real Housewives, Kyle Richards and Porsha Williams, lead Team Women, along with host Brooke Burke-Charvet, WNBA great Lisa Leslie, Olympian Laila Ali, singer Carnie Wilson, reality-TV star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, and someone else I’ve never seen before in my life.
As always, there are two lackeys to stand by the Big Man’s side and do his bidding in between his doling out catchphrases. As always, one is a younger, blonder, more dignified and applicably talented relative to said Big Man: in this case, Schwarzenegger’s nephew Patrick Knapp Schwarzenegger, an entertainment lawyer.
And then there’s Tyra Banks.
It’s hard not to smize at the return of the supermodel-turned-mogul to reality TV, as she peddles Tyra Beauty and stands in front of a roomful of celebrities who are arguably more successful than her and force them to clap for her entrepreneurial excellence.
Oversell your own business accomplishments? Sure! Why not. ‘Tis the season, after all.
And you know what? God bless Tyra, with her new makeup line and her challenge to the teams to devise a “beautytainment experience” to promote them. “Beautytainment experience.” No two nonsensical words in succession will be more 2017 than these.
(To give Tyra credit, Boy George raves about the products, which is all the endorsement any of us should need. Tyra is getting her coin with this thankless gig, and running with it all the way to the bank. Rooting for you, girl.)
We keep talking about Tyra because, like in other versions of The Apprentice, the woman in the boardroom is clearly the most accomplished and intelligent—and the person who is silenced so that the two men can pal around, talk shit about the girls, and presumably just bask in the glory of their own hombre pheromones.
Throughout the entirety of the first task, the editing makes the women look like deranged, useless hens clucking over each other to the detriment of progress, while the men’s manliness and how they harness it —“but I’m a manly man…” is a phrase uttered once every 10 minutes—become the episode’s running theme.
The women are portrayed as disorganized, defined by indecision and false confidence—the latter of which is probably the most offensive aspect, insinuating that it was foolish for any of the women to think they’d know how to go about pulling off the showcase. (Meanwhile, each and every female celebrity on the cast is a successful entrepreneur of largely beauty and lifestyle-related businesses.)
The men, by contrast, are given the opportunity to gloat about how much they prepared off-camera for their duties. They are praised for their intuitiveness and instincts. Guess how many of them have their own business experience?
The women’s presentation was full of useful information, passion, and learned experience about what sells a beauty product to the female consumer. The men’s presentation was full of sexual innuendo and belittling of the act of putting on makeup—something every woman does to feel confident and to conform to professional beauty standards, two things that are sometimes mutually exclusive and sometimes aren’t.
When they go to the boardroom, the whole thing is reduced to staid gender stereotypes. The girls put on a vapid show. The guys had a plan. The women, they say, relied too much on girl power. The men, on the other hand, were smart enough to brag about their own individual usefulness.
The women refuse to be ruthless and throw the others under the bus, and it’s painted as a weakness. They all start crying. “You guys are ducking more questions than Congress, that’s all I can tell you,” Schwarzenegger tells them.
At one point when Porsha Williams is answering a question, Schwarzenegger turns to his nephew and starts bitching about how she won’t stop her womanly gabbing—right to her face (!), but in another language so she can’t understand. And because he’s “the Boss” she can’t question him for doing it. It is disgustingly callous, brutish behavior.
He fires the girl who I had never heard of (edit: YouTube personality Carrie Keagan): “You’re terminated! Now get in the chopp-ah.”
Could there be an ickier turn of phrase for a man accused of sexual assault to bark at a woman in 2017, in the age of gender wars and the fight for reproductive rights and a woman’s control of her own body, than “you’re terminated?” Jesus Christ.
Schwarzenegger then lights a cigar, takes a puff, and leans back smugly in his chair. It’s one of the grossest images I’ve seen on TV in a while.
The next day’s second challenge is to create a music video for Trident gum.
The girls produce a video that was far and away better than the boys’ product, but before receiving any praise they are pitted against each other at the behest of Schwarzenegger. He then eyes them to shut up in the way elementary-school teachers threaten their charges with “don’t test me” glares. It was rude. It was demeaning. It was the perfect encapsulation of the character of this show.
Once again, the men win—for doing subpar work, and due to a technicality. Hmm... sound familiar?
The tangerine specter of the president-elect haunts the entire series, which perhaps make the latent sexism seem more acute while viewing.
This is, after all, the latest installment of a franchise that many people believe can be traced back to inseminating the idea of Trump as a public figure powerful enough, and, in the words of former producer Bill Pruitt, “narcissistic” enough to make a run at the presidency.
“It shaped him,” Pruitt said in an interview with Slate. “Those of us involved in the show are proud of our work. But we might have given the guy a platform and created this candidate. It’s guys like him, narcissists with dark Machiavellian traits, who dominate in our culture, on TV, and in the political realm. It can be dangerous when we confuse stories we’re told with reality. We need to wake up—and that’s from someone who helped tell these stories."
We used to see value in these stories. When it launched in 2004, it was a shrewd reality-TV reflection of a national mood. Bucking the trend of the singing sob story, this was a show that embraced craven ambition and the selfish splendor of capitalism. It was cynical in the face of reality TV’s trend toward earnestness and dreams, but still somehow aspirational.
Celebrity Apprentice was fascinating. Some of Joan Rivers’s greatest TV moments in the last decade of her career came from Celebrity Apprentice, which had the power to refocus what you think about a star’s tenacity, wits, and business acumen—and in the case of Rivers, especially, did all of that. It’s already doing that this season with Brooke, Ricky, Carson, and Snooki.
Now, the show is a more somber reflection of the times. It’s either ignorant or defiant against its crystallization of a national climate of the mistreatment, disrespect, and undervaluing of women, all the while embodying the false graces of male entitlement and a lack of consequence.
Or, to give its executive producer the credit to earn his five-figure salary, the summation of the show is much simpler: Sad!