On The Celebrity Apprentice, we’re invited to ponder the big questions. How do you lead a team of ego-driven television performers? Who’s more responsible when a project fails: the person who had a bad idea or the person who approved that bad idea? What is Aubrey O’Day’s hair made of? And, on this week’s installment: What does Donald Trump smell like?
My guess is that it’s something richly metallic with undertones of hair tonic and limousine air freshener. Or a scent that’s so exquisitely expensive that the common nose couldn’t detect it, like the olfactory equivalent of a dog whistle. In any case, Mr. Trump has generously bottled it. The task for our misbegotten heroes this week is to create a presentation and display for Trump’s cologne line, Success, to be hocked at Macy’s. The Donald announces this from the living room of his apartment, a place of such overwhelming gilded splendor that Versailles would blush. “It’s like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, except it’s all gold instead of chocolate,” Aubrey wonders.
Let’s talk about Aubrey for a second. She’s been hanging back for the past few episodes after the sound lashing she received in the boardroom. This time, she pipes up immediately as project manager for Unanimous. Now that her group is down to Arsenio and Teresa, Aubrey’s not taking the teamwork route. With fewer people to manage, it’s easier to take a larger role on the project without looking like a diva, even if it means bruising some egos. She’s wagering that she can execute the challenge well by herself, sure. But she’s also betting that Arsenio and Teresa won’t—or can’t—gang up on her effectively.
Arsenio still has some fight in him, even if Teresa seems clueless until directly attacked in the boardroom. As Aubrey drafts her plan for the campaign with very little input from the other players, she and Arsenio get into an argument about the meaning of success. (Arsenio's argument is for cash money, while Aubrey's is for other, less material satisfactions. I'm with Arsenio for which one Trump probably means here.) You can see Arsenio get irritated, push back, and then decide to try to cooperate with Aubrey’s reign. He mostly lets off steam by sharp side comments to the camera, as when Aubrey asks him to hoist her onto his shoulders to take a picture of the skyline. “Aubrey had a great idea,” Arsenio grins, in the same way some people smile compulsively when telling you about their recent car accident. “She said ‘let me put my vagina on the back of your neck.’”
While Unanimous is undoubtedly the Aubrey show, things on Forte are more complicated. Clay is the nominal project manager, but Penn basically steers the ship. Penn pitches his idea for the display so aggressively that Clay just gets worn down into agreement. Though Penn isn't showboating, he’s not particularly modest, either. “I’m smart; I do things right,” he insists. Clay goes with Penn’s vision of a display that features Dayana nestled into the chest of an anonymous tie-wearing businessman, complete with the slogan, “You earned it.” Clay moves forward with the concept, but he’s a bit jittery about the whole thing. Clay’s laissez-faire management style he has risks being steamrolled over by stronger opinions than his.
Part of the problem is Dayana. Though she’s stellar in the photo shoot, her ideas for the project come at the wrong times or just don’t seem to fit the tone of the product at all. Clay does a better job than Lisa about accommodating her suggestions, like the one in which the ad featured naked girls, but you can read his growing irritation. Lisa ducks out of the spotlight for this one, looking grateful not to be in the middle of the creative process. Everyone works together reasonably well, meaning that there are no tantrums, and Clay’s consensus management produces a slick display that seems entirely appropriate to the perfume counter at Macy’s.
That’s more than you can say about Unanimous’ work, which had the aesthetics of a poster from a junior high book fair. Aubrey, as always, has ideas that are interesting but convoluted. Like Unanimous’ arrangement, Forte’s display has perfume bottles scattered around a skyline. Aubrey’s novel addition is a silhouette of Eric Trump, chin tilting towards his father’s empire. Aubrey’s inclusion of Eric as a model is most likely an excuse for her to butter him up while sniping at her teammate, who she had sent out to buy building materials. In any case, her rendition of the younger Trump did nothing to sell the perfume, and mostly came off as creepy.
In the boardroom, Arsenio and Aubrey begin pleasantly enough, but their fragile peace begins to break bit by bit under Trump’s questions. As with the Walgreen’s challenge, the sticking point is over credit for the wording. Unanimous’ slogan, “Always follow your instincts,” is a phrase that Aubrey threw out during her brainstorming, but it was Arsenio who linked it to an actual quote from Trump. Aubrey is ready to throw Arsenio and Teresa under the bus for not contributing creatively, and Arsenio digs in his heels in for another tussle.
Thankfully we’re spared their migraine-inducing brawl when Unanimous wins. Unflattering Eric silhouette aside, Unanimous managed to impress the executives with its branding and the all-important fragrance sample sticks. Neither team got the gold star of Trump’s approval, though. He split up the $80,000 bonus he was going to award amongst everyone’s charities. It’s good for the organizations, but it doesn’t look great for either team.
Turns out that the Macy's representatives detested Penn’s slogan, finding it arrogant and pompous. (It is both those things, but it wasn't a bad card for Penn to play. He just was reaching for a pre-recession Trump, and I suspect that Success is for a less go-go financier audience.) Clay excuses Lisa from the boardroom, which leaves him with Penn and Dayana, there for the sixth time this season. I understand his dilemma. Penn legitimately was responsible for the part of the display that lost them the game, and Lisa didn’t do anything wrong. He brought in Dayana because she's the least productive group member, even though she contributed greatly to this challenge.
Dayana knows how to work the final three to her advantage at this point. She’s not a weak player, but she’s not as strong as either Penn or Clay. Her trick is that she does the things she’s asked to do well, and because no one takes her ideas, she can’t be blamed for the group’s failure. So again, Dayana looks on patiently as Trump takes down one of her colleagues. Penn’s slogan turns out to be more inexcusable than Clay’s wishy-washy management, so Trump fires him. But Penn leaves us with one final pearl of wisdom to contemplate from his town car ride away from Trump Towers. “I can tell you the rules of chess,” he says, somewhat ruefully, “but I can’t tell you the rules of Celebrity Apprentice.”
- Eric clearly didn’t know whether to be flattered about Aubrey’s attention or scared for his life.
- Another Arsenio zinger: “The Latin translation of ‘Aubrey’ is ‘bossy.’”
- How great was that moment when Teresa was sing-songing the word “victory” as the sign for Success fell off the wall?
- Clay was so obviously stumped when the Macy’s executives were waiting for him to continue with his pitch. I was half-hoping he would just start singing.