PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The Apprentice

Justin Ravitz

The Apprentice and America's Next Top Model Season 2 mark the maturation of reality TV's subjects.


America's Next Top Model

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Display Artist: Ken Mok and Tyra Banks
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: UPN
Creator: Tyra Banks
Amazon

THE APPRENTICE
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET (NBC)
Executive Producers: Mark Burnett and Donald Trump

by Justin Ravitz
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

Hostile

The Apprentice and America's Next Top Model Season 2 mark the maturation of reality TV's subjects. The shows' celebrity masterminds, Tyra Banks and Donald Trump, have shifted the terms of a genre that for too long has encouraged gnawing at animal parts, mate-seeking, and endless displays of stupidity, selfishness, and dysfunction. Contestants are not just looking for prize money or fleeting fame: they're looking for work.

True, the participators on The Apprentice and America's Next Top Model are as desperate and ridiculous as any castaway, housemate, or bachelor/ette. The Apprentice's recently dismissed Sam was reviled as a pubescent-voiced schemer, an irritating Gollum in a three-piece suit; on Model, Shandi, the gawky Kansas City schoolmarm, apparently aches to doff her glasses and reveal the glam swan beneath. Yet, the rewards -- a job with Trump, a modeling contract -- give the competitions a refreshing pragmatism that befits the hostile job market of 2004.

This approach also serves the interests of Banks and Trump, re-actualizing their own celebrity in ways quite different from Jessica Simpson or Richard Hatch. Rather than exposing the icky details of their domestic lives or submitting to humiliating contests, these "hosts" get to strut within their professional milieus. Like Botticelli's Venus, Banks first appears out of nowhere on the windswept U.S.S. Intrepid; this supermodel-turned-mogul watches over her charges like a sassy sister-friend with words of encouragement ("Y'all fly!") and wisdom ("You have to live, breathe, and eat this.").

The Donald, by contrast, makes frequent check-in calls from his cross-town helicopter, calling himself "the world's worst boss," a somewhat lovable patriarch lurking in dark-mahogany boardrooms and his Babylonian penthouse. "You have to want the Trump lifestyle," wannabe apprentice Kristi remarks, eyeing the 24-karat toilet flushers in his Trump Tower palace. Unlike, say, Simon Cowell, Banks and Trump present themselves as sympathetic, inspiring mentors, having worked their way up sky-high ladders.

Both set in New York's mythologized urban jungle, the shows recycle clichés of competitive reality TV, requiring contestants to perform inane tasks that take on a feverish intensity (a citywide lemonade sale, an impromptu fashion show aboard an aircraft carrier); talk dirt in "confessionals"; be judged each week by a tribunal; and endure cruel exit processionals when they lose. On Apprentice, Trump barks, "You're fired," and the pink-slipped party must grab his or her wheelie-suitcase, take the down elevator, and catch a cab (no more limos). On Model, Banks hands out headshots to weekly survivors, while the empty-handed poser quietly slips away to pack up her knockoffs and go home. Both programs quickly exploit the gender stereotypes also synonymous with the genre: the men of Apprentice are inept, non-communicative frat brothers in need of discipline, while the women of both Apprentice and Model are catty, emotional, and sometimes strategically '"sexy."

Model begins with 12 would-be catwalkers who prove their mettle each week in simulated photo shoots, fashion shows, and other tests of talent, "potential," and "versatility." They live and spar together at a posh downtown loft, with designated "bling-bling," "punk-funk," and "mod" areas. Striking, uptight African American Camille chides her new roomies for stealing toilet paper during a Tyra-sponsored dinner at Tavern on the Green, surmising, "Maybe I'm just more educated." When Jenascia sleeps late the morning of their first photo shoot, April half-heartedly entreats the others to wait for her. They don't, so Jenascia arrives hours late and narrowly avoids elimination. Lucky for her, plus-size Anna won't go along with the Adam and Eve-themed shoot, which involves body jewelry and paint, a nude male model, and little else. "I'm just trying to be Christ-like," she says, by way of explanation. The four judges, including gleefully tactless '70s supermodel Janice Dickinson, have choice words for tardy, too-short Jenascia, but Anna's pious refusal to sex it up means she's the one sent home.

Sex and ambition also make bedfellows on The Apprentice, where eight-member teams are assembled along gender lines (this like the most recent Survivor, also produced by Mark Burnett). Challenges pit the female Protégé Corporation against the male Versacorp. Their varied pedigrees imbue this Machievellian struggle with a layer of class tensions: David holds both an MD and an MBA, while Jessie is a home-schooled orphan; projects-born Omarosa is a former Clinton White House staffer finishing her Ph.D., while cowboy Troy is a self-made businessman with only a high school diploma. Each week, the losing team elects three members for possible banishment, complete with scathing commentary. After the elected parties beg for clemency POW-style, Trump, flanked by a white-haired henchman and blonde henchwoman, renders the final verdict.

Despite skirmishes caused by control-freak Omarosa, who battles with hot-tempered Ereka and idealist Katrina, the women trounce the men in three consecutive rounds, employing their "feminine wiles" and not a little strategic thinking. In the first, they quadruple their profits by giving out kisses and phone numbers to the midtown men who buy their $5 lemonade. In the second, they construct a brilliantly unsubtle ad campaign for a private jet company, stressing the similarities between male genitalia and airplane parts, and wearing fetching stewardess' outfits at the presentation. Lesson learned: it takes balls to win the rat race.

The uninspired men, meanwhile, suffered near-comic meltdown. When they couldn't find any customers at the deserted South Street Seaport, Sam attempted to sell one cup of lemonade for $1000. In the second challenge, as the men's team scrambled to throw together a shoddy ad campaign, Sam napped on the office floor, his manic bursts of energy apparently catching up with him.

After he failed the "put up or shut up" test as Project Manager in Round Three, Sam finally went home. In his post-Apprentice life, however, this pitiable villain has worked some surprising savvy, redeeming his dignity by proposing, successfully, to his girlfriend of five years in front of Katie Couric on the Today Show. His 15 minutes may be quickly expiring, but Sam is going out with a happily-ever-after bang, perhaps the best success test of any reality star.

As cringe-worthy as Sam remains, it might behoove the remaining junior tycoons and mini-models to consider his example. For all their calculated cunning and preening, all but one Apprentice and Model contestant will eventually have to formulate the most humbling strategy of all: a Plan B, one that will work in the real world.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.