"The Apprentice," the year's most watched new reality series, drew to a close on Thursday night when Donald Trump awarded front-runner Bill Rancic a $250,000 salaried position and a brand new car. So where did fellow finalist Kwame Jackson, a 29-year-old Harvard MBA, go wrong?
His crucial slip appears to have been choosing Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the show's controversial former contestant, to serve on his team in the final challenge, and when she started messing up, he neglected to fire her.
It's fitting that Omarosa would play such a pivotal role in the show's final moments, since her controversial behavior has added a jolt of drama and backbiting to almost every episode of the show throughout the season. Even after her departure, Omarosa has remained in the headlines.
But Kwame's entire team appeared to be out to lunch during the final competition. Charged with handling a Jessica Simpson concert (in a bit of reality show crossbreeding) at Trump's Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., the team let a bunch of details slip through the cracks. Troy screwed up in planning a breakfast meeting, Heidi complained and pointed fingers instead of doing her job, and really, where do you start with Omarosa? Whiny, overdramatic, self-aggrandizing, attacking, lazy, melodramatic and socially inept, just when you couldn't imagine a contestant on a reality show offering a worse impression of herself to the public, Omarosa always seemed to outdo her latest blunder with something even worse. Since she left the show, she's made the rounds promoting an upcoming book aptly titled "The Pink Slip," and trying to generate sympathy by claiming that fellow contestant Ereka called her the N-word. Ereka adamantly denies the charge (and so does NBC, whose cameras tracked the contestants mercilessly), and given the instances on the show of Omarosa playing the victim, behaving deceitfully, and assuming that "the pot calling the kettle black" is a racist slur, it's difficult to believe her.
But even with Omarosa nearby to mess things up at every turn, Kwame did seem a little bit lackluster and passive while competing in his final challenge. He's one of the most likable contestants on the show, but he hasn't really shown proof of any amazing business acumen. He wins points for being the most sane and the best dressed of the group, but he never seems to stick his neck out. He claims that it's not necessary to micromanage, but when you take a closer look at the team, it quickly becomes clear that they need micromanaging. Still, Kwame insists that his ability to stay cool is an asset. He says that any good leader knows that nothing will go well if "you're running around like Chicken Little with your head cut off." In other words, if you have no head and you're sure the sky is falling, you're not likely to instill confidence in those around you.
Meanwhile, back at the golf course, Bill is running around like Chicken Little with his head cut off. "I thrive under pressure," he claims, and the tournament does seem to go off without a hitch.
Not everyone loves Bill, though. Lesley Rey, the director of sales and events at Briarcliff Manor, Trump's golf course, appears to hate him, in fact. She insists that he stop storing boxes in her office, and later criticizes his management style. "I see him running around a lot," she says. "He shouldn't be running around. It doesn't look that great."
Later, Trump spots Bill at the tournament and asks some bystanders, "Is he doing a good job? He better be doing a good job. He'll get fired so fast! He'll be fired like a dog."
Despite the fact that he won the final contest, though, in the boardroom, both The Donald and his right-hand man George seem more than a little bearish on Bill. Did they check out his business Web site, Cigars Around the World, which is plastered with Bill's grinning mug and a wide assortment of cheesy sales pitches ("So get the cigar lover exactly what he wants ... more and more cigars!")? Or are they just irrationally anxious to see someone get fired like a dog?
Trump asks Kwame if he made a mistake in hiring Omarosa. His response? "In some ways, yes. In some ways, no." Too wishy-washy. Kwame, you're fired!
Bill answers all of Trump's questions well, but he looks a little smug for a second there. Too smug, in fact. Bill, you're fired!
Next, the finalists leave and Trump is left to discuss his decision with his two trusted advisors, George and Carolyn. George feels strongly that Kwame is a far stronger choice. Carolyn is certain that Bill is the best hire. The two seem ready to wrestle over it, but Trump tells them both to shut up and then invites the boys back in for his final decision.
First, he thanks them both and remarks, "You both gave up a hell of a lot to be working for The Donald." The Donald just referred to himself as The Donald. Isn't that the seventh sign of the apocalypse?
No matter. As anyone could've predicted, Trump tells Bill, "You're hired!", and the walls of the boardroom fall away to reveal -- a live studio audience!
The rest of the show is a "Survivor"-style pep rally, except that stiff Trump, his eyes glued to the teleprompter, is a pretty sorry substitute for Jeff Probst. Aside from Sam, who offers Trump $250,000 just to hire him, too, and Ereka, who -- egged on by Trump -- calls a visibly shaken Omarosa a liar on live television, the final few moments of "The Apprentice" are oddly anticlimactic. No real surprises here -- Nick and Amy are no longer dating, Bill chooses a job in his hometown of Chicago supervising a colossal new downtown development over what looks like a cushier position in Los Angeles, and, like a true businessman, The Donald takes Sam's money but never agrees to give him a job.
Predictable finale aside, though, you really have to hand it to Trump. Not only is "The Apprentice" a dramatic and well-edited addition to the reality lineup, but The Donald has somehow managed to expand his fame, fortune and influence in a few short months. Now if he'll just promise not to bring back Omarosa and to condense the standard two-hour reality finale into a far more appropriate one-hour slot, I'll be the first to proclaim The Donald a true innovator.