“You’re hired to be fired.”
That mantra certainly applied to Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Ten years ago, the tacky show replaced Friends as the staple of NBC’s Thursday night lineup. If you were a business student, The Apprentice was truly must-see TV!
You remember the premise. Each season, the producers would pick 18 often extroverted contestants from a mountain of applications. They included everyone from big bankers, lawyers, and venture capitalists to wedding planners, restaurateurs, and Xerox salespeople. And – shocker – there were always plenty of real estate pros cast as well.
The contestants would divide into two teams, replete with company names like Apex, Mosaic, Magna, Excel, Octane, and Kinetic (You’d think they were pitching energy drinks). Young and hungry, these twentysomethings were caricatured as greedy social climbers, all vying for Donald Trump’s affection (and their own 15 minutes of fame).
Each episode was like a case study come to life. Contestants would complete tasks, ranging from holding events to launching new products. And each task would test their sales, negotiation, project management, and leadership mettle. The teams would race around Manhattan (in pricey suits and heels, no less), as the clock ticked and complications arose. Sometimes, the best-and-brightest pointed fingers and melted under pressure. More often, they’d rally, roll up their sleeves, and rack up revenue, all to a Jaws-inspired score that ratcheted up the tension.
Before each task, the Donald would share a nugget of business wisdom to the audience. Without fail, it would foreshadow an issue that’d plague one team.
Alas, the skirts and tempers shortened as the stakes grew bigger. And the contestants quickly learned the biggest lesson in business: You don’t want to be on the losing side of anything. Each week, the losing team packed their bags and hiked down to “the board room,” for an uncomfortable meeting with Mr. Trump (and sidekicks Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross). And if you thought money and power revealed character, just wait until you saw how people reacted to criticism!
Yes, the claws would come out in the board room. Project managers would slam their reports for failing to listen, manage their time, or pull their weight. And their reports would counter with examples of how their leader was indecisive, domineering, impulsive, or simply lacked good judgment. No one flew under the radar here, as every team member practiced the oldest business skill: CYA.
In the end, Mr. Trump would ask the losing project manager to bring two employees back for final judgment. After further probing and deliberating, Trump would summarize why the team lost before issuing his “You’re fired” line (often axing project managers who couldn’t control their team or brought the wrong people back to the boardroom).
Yes, the winning teams would reap the good life: helicopter rides over Manhattan or dining at the ritziest restaurants. Ultimately, the final winner would manage the construction of some high end Trump property (yeah, The Apprentice was so pre-economic meltdown). And the losers would take a taxi cab back home, vowing to 20 million viewers that you hadn’t seen the last of them! And you didn’t, as they went on to write books, hit the lecture circuit, launch consulting firms, or headline lingerie shoots.
Looking back, The Apprentice was a high end version of MTV’s The Real World, with all the same preening, backbiting, and faux drama. Like any show, it battled to stay fresh and relevant. To grab viewers, it relied on clever gimmicks like male vs. female or high school vs. college graduates (“Street hustle vs. intellectual muscle”). It foolishly re-located from New York City for a time. Ultimately, it was hijacked by D-list celebrities like Gary Busey and Stephen Baldwin.
Despite being touted as the show to watch for MBAs, there were relatively few MBAs on The Apprentice. While two MBAs won their season, they were usually killed off faster than a jock in a slasher flick. So which contestants held MBAs – and what are they doing now? Check out our list from the first six seasons.