One of the things that sets The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice apart from a lot of other major network reality competition series is the fact that Donald Trump does all the firing. America doesn't vote for the winner, which puts the competition a bit more in line with some of the more professional-based series, like Hell's Kitchen or Masterchef. The benefit of that can be the unpredictable nature of the series, and let's face it, sometimes America doesn't get it right, so I'm not opposed to there being one judge or a panel of judges determining the winner. It makes the competition less of a popularity contest and more a competition based on merit, as it should be in a show like this one. And yet, after another season of the series, I find myself dissatisfied with the outcome, not because I didn't like the winner, but because I wasn't sold on him being the deserving victor of the season. Trace Adkins - who was runner up in a previous season - won All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, and looking back, we probably should have seen this coming from the start, which makes me question why I bothered to watch this season at all. And it makes me question whether or not I'll watch next season.
Don't get me wrong. Trace seems like a stand-up guy and a likable dude, but from what we were shown he didn't exactly step up his game in the final weeks of the competition. If anything, he lost a fair amount of steam as things progressed, leading me to believe that the final two should have been any combination of Penn Jillette, Lil Jon and Lisa Rinna. These are three people who have demonstrated creativity and motivation exceptionally well throughout the duration of the competition. And yet, Trace was put through to the Final Two, leaving Lil Jon and Rinna to join the rest of the fired celebrities. Should we be surprised?
During last night's finale, Trump joked about people calling him out for using a script on this show. I've never heard that before, nor have I ever personally suspected that he's acting on behalf of anyone else. With that said, this season did seem to be set up from the beginning. Look back to the first week when Trump put Trace up against Bret Michaels in the first task. It seemed evident from the start that Trump had it in for Michaels. For some reason, he didn't seem to understand why a former winner would want to participate in an "All Stars" season. As though "All Stars" excludes the best, and defending ones title and earning more money for their charity aren't logical reasons for a former winner to want to return. From what we saw, Michaels was a goner from the start, which is unfortunate. It would have been interesting to see him progress in the game.
And then let's look at the way none of the project managers wanted to bring Omarosa into the boardroom earlier in the season, even though she was the obvious candidate to be cut loose, given her unwillingness to be a team player. Comments about people being afraid of her in the boardroom probably aren't entirely off base. She doesn't seem like a pleasant person to argue with, as evidenced last night as she and LaToya Jackson screamed back and forth at one another on live television. Still, it seemed evident that the issue was less about arguing with her as it was knowing that Trump was not going to fire her just yet. Why bring her in there if they know she's safe? Sure, Trump did eventually fire her. That was inevitable. But that felt timed as much as everything else.
What I love about Celebrity Apprentice is seeing people of varying degrees of fame and success attempt to work with one another and use their creativity and celebrity to further themselves in the competition and try to raise some money for a good cause. That's still the case. What doesn't seem to be there is the spirit of competition and any measure of unpredictability. This season seemed set up for Trace to win from the beginning. That's not to diminish his efforts, but looking at his performance by comparison to Penn's and Lil Jon's, I'm as baffled by Trace's win as I was last year when Arsenio Hall won against Clay Aiken. A likable winner won then too, but from a competition standpoint, it just didn't make sense. In the case of Trace, maybe it was because he came so close last time and lost to Piers Morgan. Or maybe because he's a popular country singer and Trump thought that's who viewers wanted to win. Maybe he's right. And maybe there are plenty of viewers who thought he was the more deserving of the two remaining contestants. We can only speculate.
I can handle being disappointed by the outcome of a reality TV series. It happens all the time and not knowing who's going to win is part of the suspense. The issue I have with Celebrity Apprentice is that I knew who was going to win this season, because it happened just like this last season. Only this season, it seemed even more evident from the very beginning, which deflated a lot of the suspense and made All Stars seem more of an exhibition than a competition. As entertaining as it is watching the contestants go from task to task, I do appreciate some measure of suspense and unpredictability and that just wasn't there this season. Trace winning seemed like the final step to a foregone conclusion. Is he a likable winner? Absolutely. Did he work hard? I'm sure he did. But of the Final 2, Jillette seemed like the deserving victor, but I don't think he ever had a chance.
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