I was never a huge advocate of reality television shows. I was one of those who saw the reality genre as a flash-in-the-pan trend that was robbing writers and actors of opportunities to work. After all the hubbub of “Survivor”, I decided to tune in for its second season, specifically to see how an interesting hour of television was built using nothing but three days of raw footage of people stranded. It wasn’t long before my observing turned into an obsessive need to see who would win each contest and eventually be crowned the Ultimate Survivor. However “Survivor” was where I drew the line. I couldn’t get far enough away from “Temptation Island”, “The Simple Life”, “Big Brother”, or any of the other shows to come out. Even though “The Apprentice” had the same creator as “Survivor” I had no interest in it. What I see now is that I missed out on a lot of Friday morning water-cooler talk.
Mark Burnett is a certifiable genius, and that genius needs to be classified as an addictive drug as dangerous as cocaine. He’s not only managed to set the standard for reality television with “Survivor” and continually raise the bar each season as he changes the show, but with “The Apprentice” he’s managed to completely blow that bar away. Leaving the tropical environment for the streets of New York City, Burnett still isn’t out of his element - conflict between players. Burnett seems to know that’s the key to his reality shows. Put people on screen that people can cheer for or boo at, and let them at each other. It doesn’t matter if it’s the African Jungle or the Corporate Boardroom. People will eat it up.
“The Apprentice” takes sixteen candidates on a thirteen week “job interview”. Divided into two teams, each week the candidates are given a task by Donald Trump himself. The winning team gets to experience some reward that offers a glimpse at the life of luxury. The losing team gets a trip to the boardroom, where someone is fired and eliminated from the game. Along the way to find “The Apprentice”, we see friendships form, conflicts between players, enthusiastic successes, and dismal failures.
As you can see, “The Apprentice” borrows heavily from its older brother “Survivor”, and not just in concept. The look and feel of the show, especially in its earlier episodes, is that of “Survivor” in the concrete jungle. I was amazed at how many camera shots looked identical to shots I’d seen on “Survivor”, only with massive buildings instead of trees.
But, “The Apprentice” is more then a city clone of “Survivor” - it is definitely its own series. While the players are divided into two teams, they share one living space. The players are all “Type-A” personalities with an interest in business, which means they have a lot more in common then any given season of “Survivor”. This creates a stronger bond between the players - whether it’s stronger friendship, or more ruffling of feathers, and since it’s only one person’s vote who counts when elimination time comes, a lot of the wheeling and dealing strategies don’t come into play like “Survivor”. In fact, since Donald Trump is the only person who decides who stays and who goes, elimination time is a lot more emotional for the viewer, watching candidates fight for their chance to stay in the game. You honestly feel bad to see some of these people lose and be forced to leave. The only strategy that will work against “the Donald” is to avoid the boardroom by winning challenges, and that isn’t always easy.
In fact, I’d say that’s the greatest strength of “The Apprentice” - human spirit and emotion. Because a lot of the shenanigans and backstabbing is useless here, the people come across as more like... well, people. They are more genuine and feel like people you might know in life. This makes it harder to watch people go, and easier to dislike people who are incompetent. The camera catches it all, and while we know editing comes into play to influence the viewer’s position, we seem to see a more true side of people here then on other reality shows.
If the humanity is the greatest strength of “The Apprentice” then Donald Trump is probably the show’s greatest weakness. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is great, but he’s a billionaire, not an actor. You can hear the change in tones as his voice over changes from bits that were filmed live to bits that were recorded in a studio. To avoid having to resort to many hours of ADR, Trump is seldom shown on screen, instead resorting to a lot of reaction shots from the candidates and Trump’s assistants, Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross. Donald’s abilities get even worse as he “hosts” the final portion of the series, catching up with the candidates and awarding the final prize. At his board table, badly reading off cue cards, Trump looks like a public access talk show host. He definitely lacks the dynamic that Jeff Probst brings to “Survivor”, and that’s the one spot where the show is at its worst.
The second season of “The Apprentice” is right around the corner and now I have to decide if I’m going to watch it as it airs on television with suspense and anticipation between each week’s episode, or wait for it to come to DVD so I can watch it all at once. What is the best way to remove a Band-Aid? One thing’s for sure - I’m hooked on “The Apprentice”, the best reality series to come along since “Survivor” kicked off the whole reality craze.
Undeniably, the best thing about the first season DVD set of “The Apprentice” is the ability to watch the whole show without interruption. Why wait a week to see how Omarosa will screw up next, or where Troy’s southern charm will get him. You can pound through sixteen hours of Kwame’s relaxed style, Amy’s beauty, and Sam’s... well, just being Sam. It’s a fantastic way to experience the show, especially if you haven’t seen the series before. As I said above, I don’t know if I want to watch the second season the way most people watched the first. Being able to watch it all at my pace was a big plus, and is my favorite thing about the set.
That said, Mark Burnett falls into a trap with “the Apprentice” that I thought he had learned to avoid after six seasons of “Survivor” - a clip show. Typically used to bring people up to speed with a show they may have missed before it became popular, the clip show recaps what’s happened up to that point in the series, sometimes showing footage we didn’t get to see the first time around. Sometimes it’s used to space out the season so pivotal episodes fall into sweeps periods, or sometimes to keep the show going despite competition the network doesn’t stand a chance against. The problem is, as a television show, the clip show is usually where “Survivor” would lose ratings, and on DVD a clip show makes no sense whatsoever, especially if you’re barreling through the season at a fast pace. I averaged four episodes a night, so I didn’t really need the eleventh episode to recap what had happened up to that point. While it may be good for television to recap things for your viewers, it’s not very forward thinking for DVD. I say, let the news shows recap the series and just move forward with it!
The five disc set is full of bonus materials, more then I would have expected. However, they are very inconsistent in quality with some being very good, and others being darn near useless.
Going behind the scenes, there are a couple documentaries that offer various perspectives on the show. Of these, the best is “The Job Description: Creating the Apprentice” which gives both Trump and Burnett’s take on the show, from conception to creation. We see where Burnett got the idea for “The Apprentice”, why Trump agreed to it, and most interestingly, a behind the scenes tour given by Trump himself, as the loft set was being built. Trump seems very relaxed giving this tour, very different from the voiceovers and hosting he does later on in the series. Other featurettes offer Burnett’s and Trump’s individual takes on the show as well as that of candidates, but neither is as interesting as “The Job Description”.
More information is offered on each candidate in three forms: profiles, extended audition tapes, and extended taxicab confessions. The profiles give a peek at each candidate, including footage from the show, their pre-show interview, and their audition tape. If you like that, the extended audition tape shows more of the videos each candidate submitted to get picked for the show. Finally the extended taxicab confessions give longer versions of the candidate’s post-boot cab conversations. Interestingly, none of the cab conversations have any real dirt or back stabbing. Maybe their corporate side understands you don’t burn bridges on national television.
“Career Advice from George and Carolyn” pulls Trump’s associates to the front, giving their opinions on subjects from resumes to interviews. There’s some good advice in there for anybody, not just applicants for “The Apprentice”. “Donald-isms” takes the segment from each show where Donald offers advice, and puts them all together in one place. After watching the entire series, I had just been exposed to Donald’s advice, so putting it all together was a pretty useless extra.
“The Job Offer” reveals new interviews with Bill and Kwame and their take on things through the end of the show, as well as where they go to from here. Also included is a featurette that offers advice to future candidates from winners and losers of the first season. That leads us to “The Future: A Look Ahead” which introduces the candidates of Season Two. Unfortunately that’s all it does - offer opinions on a few subjects from the new candidates. There’s no look at footage, tasks, new sets, or anything other then the faces of new meat for Donald’s boardroom machine.
Finally comes “Natural Selection” which basically just recaps the entire season. It’s probably the biggest waste of the set because, again, after you finish watching all fifteen episodes, you don’t need to see a recap. There’s also a music video for “The Apprentice” theme song “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”.
My biggest complaint about the DVD set is its layout. Four discs hold all the episodes, with a fifth disc containing all the extras. Personally I think some of the extras should have been dispersed among each episode - put the personnel profile and extended taxicab confession for each episode with the appropriate episode, rather then putting them all together at the end. It’s a minor complaint, but one that probably would have improved my enjoyment of those features.
All in all “The Apprentice” is given a pretty good treatment on DVD and I really enjoyed watching the episodes, even if the extras weren’t all that great. The big question now is whether I’ll ever watch the set again though. For all its enjoyment, it is a game, and once the game is over is there really a point to going back and re-watching it? Do I need to see Sam’s obsessive behavior, or Omarosa’s inadequacies again? Probably not, although I have to admit I have gotten hours (and I do mean hours) of entertainment out of the box, which contains a sound chip of "the Donald" saying "You're Fired!" when you open the cover. Despite that, while it’s an enjoyable set, it’s one that probably will now collect dust on the lower shelves of my DVD library.