I can now admit it. I was hooked on The Apprentice since the first time I watched, which was on the 5th week of the show (the episode concerning the flea market).
I think everyone knows the show’s premise: Donald Trump holds a competition at business tasks among 16 young men and women, the final winner to be hired as his “apprentice” at a $250,000 annual salary. Each week, one person is fired.
I can now admit being a fan of the show because, in the end, the right man won: Bill Ramcic. In fact, with one exception, each time someone was fired, justice was done. The exception was Kwame Jackson who, in my judgment, should have been fired considerably earlier (perhaps after Heidi); aside from a smooth manner and a Harvard Business School degree, he had little to offer.
The Apprentice is a “reality show” that actually dealt with reality– at least by the time I started watching. Each week a business task was assigned to the participants, who were divided into two teams. The tasks got progressively harder–from selling lemonade on the streets of Manhattan, to renting out an apartment, to, last night, managing two Trump events: a golf tournament and a benefit concert featuring rock-star Jessica Simpson. In each case, the standard of team-victory was: which earned more money.
Within the losing team, the standard by which the person to be fired was selected was Trump’s judgment of whose performance showed he was least capable of managing of his, Trump’s, businesses operations.
Trump made his decisions quite rationally, in the open, after getting the advice of two of his business associates who followed the teams around in their endeavors. In the board room, Trump grilled the members of the losing team as to what went wrong and who was responsible. He judged them not only on the basis of what they did but also how they explained or attempted to justify their performance to him.
Despite Trump’s embarrassingly obvious self-promotion (he has to tell you that everything he owns is the best there is), despite his general lack of dignity, and despite his past sins regarding using eminent domain, what came through loud and clear was his no- nonsense, realistic attitude toward business.
Trump always stated the major reason for each firing decision. E.g., “Troy, you are a loose cannon; I can’t have you managing one of my multi-billion dollar corporations; you’re fired.” Even when the judgments were a little subjective, they made sense–e.g., “I don’t like excuses–you’re fired.”
Originally, I was suspicious that the Trump was going to do the winnowing on some phony basis–e.g., by what would boost ratings or what would make him look good to the public. Although political correctness may have played some role (the two black contestants were kept on longer than they should have been), there was no doubt as the weeks went by that the best performers were rising to the top. And the final winner, Bill, had demonstrated in action that he was the best candidate in every respect.
None of the 16 appeared to me to be unusually intelligent or outstandingly creative–and too little innovative thinking was in evidence–but Bill gradually emerged as the one with superior judgment, planning ability, and professionalism.
Not only did the best man win, but, in its essential thrust, the show was a practical demonstration–unintended I’m sure–of the need for the Objectivist virtues–particularly honesty. Through all the episodes, we watched some candidates accept the responsibility of facing facts while others evaded them, went to pieces emotionally, or just “hoped everything would work out somehow.” And in the climactic episode last night, what sunk the second-place contender, Kwame, was his unwillingness to face and deal with the outright lie of one of his subordinates.
(For the record, there were a couple of cases of questionable honesty, such as Kwame pretending to be a celebrity basketball star and signing autographs, and Troy perhaps deceiving Katrina to get her to reveal valuable information, though this latter isn’t fully clear.)
In addition to the entertainment value of the show–the fun of making your own judgment about the relative value of the contestants and cheering on your favorite–the show has a “social value,” which is philosophical: it presents business in … I was going to say, “a favorable light,” but in fact it presents business as it actually is: as an activity that is exciting and challenging, that requires planning and persistence, an passionate pursuit in which value-creation, not failure and need, entitles one to rewards, and to move on to a wider sphere of action with a greater challenge.
Yes, there were flaws in the series. This is, after all, a TV show, and one made in today’s uncultured culture. What matters is the ways in which this show offers something different from and superior to the rest. It was a weekly demonstration that success is not a matter of “the old-boy network” or “exploitation” or any of the vicious leftist caricatures, but of hard work, planning, courage, and practical wisdom.
But deeper than that is the show’s sense of life. Wordlessly, it conveys the sense that wealth is good, achievement is good, ambition matters, success is attainable–that enjoying life on this earth is good. It is a concretization of “The American Dream.”
The Apprentice should be beamed to the Middle East.