‘Welcome to Chicago,’ intones a voice that wants to be dramatic, but doesn’t quite make it – and suddenly, we’re taking a tour through the Second City, courtesy of the Fourth Network. It’s a stronghold of American business. It’s a place of perilous risks and staggering payoffs. It’s a city with a lot of wind blowing through it, and the arrival of FOX just tripled the hot air quotient.
Right: it’s a FOX series. I can feel the viewership declining from here. Y’see, FOX hates reality contestants. Always has. Always will. Every reality show they’ve ever put on has been about the complete humiliation and total destruction of the people they brought into it – regardless of what they originally intended at the time. Think about the shows they’ve aired to date. Look at the pattern. We dislike most DAWs and occasionally loathe them. This network is only being restrained from torturing someone to death for five thousand dollars and broadcasting it live by a full prime-time schedule, and I wouldn’t rule out Who wants to be eviscerated? for the February sweeps.
And this is why most of FOX’s reality shows fall apart. While a little affection for the contestants isn’t exactly a necessary detail in a show’s construction, it helps. We can hate them as much as we like. We’re not the ones with the actual power. It’s safety loathing. FOX has the money, the cameras, the inmates in the Maximum Security Wing writing the scripts, and, just in case you forgot, Rupert Murdock. We subliminally sense how much the network despises the people they’re giving airtime too and tune out in large numbers, feeling vaguely outclassed. A show would have to present a group of people so incredibly stupid, egotistical, delusional, and deserving of punishment, that we as viewers could abandon mere malicious joy and embrace outright sadism. And that just doesn’t happen very often. To wit, it happens less than FOX stealing a show idea from another network. Then again, you could say the same thing about sunrises.
For what it’s worth, the slow-motion sky tour is very dramatic this time of year.
‘To those who would seek entry to this citadel of big business, beware,’ the voice continues to monotone, coming dangerously close to adding ‘he pompoused’ as a way of describing speech. ‘Entry is a privilege sought by many, but guarded by an exclusive few,’ and now we know exactly what they’re ripping off. So what does this make, three billionaires on the air in the same month? Can’t they just buy their own cable channel, schedule twenty-one hours a week of waving their vaults at each other, and leave the rest of us alone?
Lots of wealth-related images (yachts, diamonds, etc.) start to flash on the screen, and the voice continues. ‘People who hold the key to wealth beyond your wildest dreams. People of unparalled financial mastery, who deserve to be worshipped like gods among men –‘ and I’m starting to think this is Donald with a bad cold ‘—people like me.’
And we enter the cabin of a private luxury jet, where we meet Mr. N. Paul Todd. (The N is for ‘Notorious’) He is, as expected, a billionaire. He buys companies. He sells companies. He’s rejected the little expenditures, like really good hairdressers and a color palette that flatters his complexion. ‘The point is,’ as he says, ‘I’m loaded,’ and given that they serve drinks on this flight, I’m very willing to believe him. ‘I’ve got craploads of money. But more important than that, I’ve got wisdom. It’s the kind of wisdom that can only come from having craploads of money.’ (At this point, I’m starting to actively miss Donald.) ‘So I’m looking for a protégé’. A squire. A disciple.’ The stewardess serves him a drink, and he serves her a butt-pat. ‘What’s the word? Someone not very old that I can tell all my business secrets to…?’
He’s gathered a group of twelve overqualified, overeducated, Type A+ overbearing overachievers, and they’re going to compete for a lucrative place in his company. He will test them. He will berate them. He will be kept from killing them only with great difficulty. But there’s one little detail the contestants won’t know going in.
The camera pulls back to show N. Paul Todd sitting in a studio set made up to look just like a small section of luxury jet.
He’s a total fraud.
Meet William August, attorney, veteran actor of twenty years experience, and the bait at the end of the barbed hook. He will be playing the ‘most obnoxious, demeaning boss that anyone’s ever seen’, and we know he’s been watching NBC while he studied for the part. His corporation was never registered. The billions are a total sham. (This is FOX: there’s barely enough money for the film.) The contestants on their way to meet this tycoon are competing for a job that doesn’t exist. They are coming to be humiliated, deconstructed, tortured, and made to look like absolute fools in front of an audience that may not be dwindling with quite the same speed it was five minutes ago.
In other words, FOX has once again found a show to suit their particular talents, and there’s not a thing the Coy family can do about it. Welcome to My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Boss. And you wondered how they could possibly do a sequel…
The contestants arrive in Chicago, are told they’re worth their weight in gold and deserve transport to match, then get bundled into an appropriate transport. Three armored cars, normally used for moving bank deposits and the like. Which is very secure, somewhat flattering, and vaguely appropriate, but it lacks a few things. Like proper seats. Air conditioning. Windows. The ability to get out. The game has been on for less than two minutes and the first hours of torture are underway, because those cars are going to aimlessly circle Chicago until nightfall. (Hopefully someone packed the two-hundred mile deodorant.) There are twelve players, packed six to a car: the third vehicle contains a predictable surprise.
Since we’ve got some time to kill and there’s no introductory segment for the contestants, let’s head over to FOX’s Big Obnoxious Website and meet the suckers!
Annette is twenty-four, blonde, and works as a salesperson in Whippany, New Jersey. You may think this is very little information to be the whole of a contestant’s bio on an official website. And you’d be right. However, you’re also free to make all the jokes you want about ‘Whippany’, so let’s call this one a break-even.
Christy is thirty, also blonde, and is an entrepreneur hailing from Austin, Texas. Is she originally from Austin? What kind of entrepreneur? What does she hope to achieve? Is that her real hair color? Doesn’t matter, people: this is all the information FOX is willing to release. We can assume her ambition in life is to appear on a reality show, develop a fanbase, get a few commercial endorsements, and graduate to movie work. We can also assume that about the other eleven contestants, so this isn’t a whole lot of help.
Elli is only twenty-six, but she’s already become a marketing firm president down in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m sort of impressed by this, because up until this point, I didn’t realize there were any reality show contestants from Jacksonville who didn’t work as Jaguars’ cheerleaders. In fact, I thought it was local law that anyone else wasn’t allowed to leave the county. Then again, for all I know, she markets the cheerleaders to other reality shows… She’s an auburn-edged redhead, which makes her the minority contestant for the women. Expect heavy discrimination early in the show’s run.
Kerry is twenty-nine, and works as a media marketing director in Jersey City, New Jersey. In theory, I could go to every single business there, knock on the door, and ask if they had anyone by that name in that department, but the RTVW expense sheet only has a double-digit entry for a travel budget, and it’s expressed in cents. Oh, and she’s blonde.
Tonia is thirty-five and works in construction in some capacity or another down in San Marcos, Texas. While she is blonde, further overfilling our quota, she’s notable for having a Standard Human Body. The other five female contestants have Standard Just Missed Being On Survivor Bodies, which means they’re secretly praying a swimsuit competition comes along at some point, and whatever you do, don’t offer them peanut butter and/or chocolate. Tonia is there to keep FOX from being sued for appearance discrimination, and will thus have to make it to the middle of the series. It’s a legal thing.
Whitney is twenty-six and keeps herself busy as a shipping executive in Atlanta, Georgia, where her hobbies include packaging non-blonde women into crates and sending them out of the country, because they just don’t belong, you know? She’s probably very disappointed to be in Chicago, because a New York billionaire would have given her a shot at meeting George Steinbrenner during a reward, and then she could have tried for the bounty on his head. It’s a shipping executive thing.
Damian is twenty-nine and also claims to be an entrepreneur for some mysterious enterprise which he can’t possibly go into details on a website about, because what if someone stole his idea? He’s from Chicago, which probably gives him any home field advantage which might turn up. He probably isn’t the Antichrist, but FOX would make a great platform to take over the world from, so watch your step. He’s sort of blonde, in a ‘hair so short all he’s got is roots’ way.
Daniel is also twenty-nine, hails from Dallas, Texas, works as a financial manager, and is wearing something that really wants to be a cowboy hat when it grows up. Based on stance, dress, and an odd choice in glasses, he’s probably meant to be Raj, which is an impressive feat when you consider the two shows were probably casting around the same time. (Odds of someone having applied for both: one in one. Odds of any of the Apprentice contestants being able to figure this con out: three in four, excluding Maria: negative odds can’t be measured.) Since he’s Raj (or Not-Raj – click?), he can’t possibly be blonde, but he probably hits on them a lot. So no matter how the show works out, he’s died and gone to Heaven. FOX can at least take pride in the ‘died’ part.
David is twenty-five and works as a financial advisor in Atlanta, Georgia. Have you noticed that despite the vast number of reality show contestants claiming this profession, none of them have told us what they actually do? It just sounds so bad to say ‘My job is to make people give me all their money.’ But he has dark hair, so after that initial amazing blonde ratio, we’ll call that one point in his favor -- which will now be removed for appearing on the show. But right now, starting at zero is an advantage. It’s certainly an improvement over the –1 to –50 granted to the rest of the pool.
Douglas is a twenty-four year-old investment banker from Greenville, North Carolina. He’s also African-American. I’m only bringing this up because it almost completely removes any possibility of his being a blonde, although if he really made an effort… He looks a little bit like Kevin of The Apprentice, but that’s mostly because he’s the only dark face in a sea of pink skin. (The FOX quotas only apply to blondes.) To tell them apart, keep this in mind: Kevin has a chance. Douglas is doomed. And yes, that’s four Ds in a row, which given the gullibility of this group, makes for a pleasant sense of synergy. I guess there weren’t enough potential contestants with ‘F’ names applying.
Michael is thirty-four and sells liquor up in Reading, Massachusetts. Most of what you need to know about Michael comes from his picture, because this one of those men you can look at and instantly say ‘He sells liquor, doesn’t he?’ Followed immediately by ‘He gives out a lot of free samples, right?’ And concluded with ‘Mostly to himself…’ He isn’t blonde, but his skin is sort of orange, which probably counts for something.
Robert is twenty-eight and brokers mortgages in Middlesex, New Jersey, which means I really, really hope I don’t know him. There’s a chance I’ve seen him. I may have spoken to him. ‘Taken a swing at him’ isn’t completely off the probability list. Robert looks like five percent of the males in Central NJ, right down to the slightly cocky set of the shoulders and the oh-so-charming way he’s jammed his hands into his pockets. Fortunately, that five percent figure means he isn’t blonde, but it does mean he’ll probably take this summary as a compliment and make several bad assumption phone calls. Based on this, I’m tempted to place him in the –50 range immediately, but this would only lead to phone calls from his ‘bar dates’ trying to make me place him at –125.
That’s everyone – which means the con is on, and the actual episode summary can finally begin. (Just because it’s unofficial didn’t mean it was going to be short.) We’re off! Not as much as these twelve people are off in their assumptions, but we’re off!
And what are those assumptions? (Beyond the future movie gigs, that is.) They’ve been told they’re going to meet a brilliant, reclusive billionaire who’s going to offer one of them a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity. The once-in-a-lifetime humiliation opportunity wasn’t mentioned, but it should become clear eventually. It is, as N. Paul tells us, the first step on the worst experience of their professional lives.
However, there is going to be a partial consolation, if only to forestall one of twelve lawsuits. While the job is fake, the corporation is a paper kitten, and the paintings in the rented mansion are color photocopies, the prizes are real. Any reward given out during the show is the actual deal, and there’s going to be a payoff for the final future psych ward admittee standing. The game itself will also be honest – or at least, as honest as a con job ever gets.
Oh, and while one contestant will be eliminated each week, it won’t be by N. Paul. There’s a ‘secret boss’ working behind the scenes, and he’ll make the final firing decisions. There are no clues given to his identity, but we can safely guess it isn’t Boston Rob. All we’re told is that the secret boss will be revealed later in the series (translation: last episode, special two-hour presentation, twenty minutes of commercials per hour, twenty-nine minutes of ‘coming up next’ teasers per hour, final eight seconds of the show), and it’ll be the most astonishing revelation in reality TV history. Which means Donald has deals with two networks.
The contestants are released from their forced bondage in front of Chicago’s Lyric Opera House and head inside. The third car disgorges two security guards and a large clear plastic garment bag full of money, hermetically sealed for your protection thanks to that amazing late-night infomercial product that sucks more strongly than FOX’s last six reality shows. They follows the contestants in, keeping a short distance back.
The procession stops in the lobby, where two flat-screen monitors have been set up below a balcony. The guards drop the bag on the floor in front of the contestants, getting their complete attention – which doesn’t get to stay there long, as dramatic music calls their attention to the balcony – and N. Paul Todd, watching. Waiting. Assessing every woman’s figure.
In our first confessional-tell of the series, Christy says ‘And there, up in front of us, appeared – this man.’ So Christy’s already seen the first part of the truth. It is, in fact, a man up there. And they say an Ivy League education doesn’t mean what it used to.
‘Welcome to my world,’ says N. Paul (the N is for ‘Neatly Placed Clue’, as he’s an actor and they’re standing in a place that hosts twelve-hour bouts of fiction with unhappy endings). The contestants are suitably impressed – especially Whitney, who c-t feels N. Paul (the N is for ‘Nicely Dressed’) looks very professional, and if only she knew to add ‘actor’ in the right place, she’d be home and dry.
N. Paul (the N is for ‘Nasty Lies’) steps between the monitors and starts to introduce himself. He’s the founder and president of IOCOR, Inc, a company that specializes in buying and selling other companies. The total net value of his little occupational time-killer is 3.8 billion. Christy, already visibly impressed, parts her lips in a reaction that you generally don’t get in a PG-13 setting.
‘If this is part of his world,’ Daniel c-ts, ‘this is where I need to be.’ Daniel, you already made it. You’re on FOX!
N. Paul (the N is for ‘No? Really?’) continues. One of them will be invited into his corporation, to earn a massive salary and learn his secrets at his feet, which will offer an improved kissing position. Whatever their backgrounds are, they got the contestants here, and no more: all victims start off equal in his eyes. ‘There’s no future in the past,’ he tells them. ‘Elli, you’ve got your own marketing firm?’ Elli smiles. ‘Who cares?’ Elli stops smiling. ‘Daniel, you’re a top car salesman,’ which he apparently does when he’s not busy being a financial manager, (censored) FOX website… ‘Doesn’t mean crap. It’s just another line on your resume’.’ A small part of Daniel’s world falls away.
‘What I’m not looking for are suits,’ says N. Paul (the N is for ‘No Foreshadowing Here). ‘I’ve got an office full of them. What I am looking for is someone with a thirst for more. More power. More money. More knowledge.’ More DAWing.
The riskiest-to-date part of the con starts: these business majors have to believe their billionaire is the real thing, and that means learning about his business. The monitors light up with the IOCOR logo, and N. Paul asks who’s heard of his company. It only takes a second for the crickets to start chirping. No one’s heard of his company. His company doesn’t exist.
‘Not many,’ says N. Paul. (The N is for ‘Now We’re In Trouble.’)
Damien drops into c-t with the first open doubt. He keeps up on the financial world, he knows who the big players are, and he’s never heard of IOCOR (which is Latin: it means ‘to jest’). These corporate backstabbers in training have virtually memorized the Fortune 500, and little old IOCOR isn’t even in the Fortune 3.8 Billion. How is N. Paul going to convince them their eyes have just been making little visual skips since high school?
Why, with the power of – PowerPoint! Strange – but supposedly easy to use – program from another coast, brought to Earth to help sell ambitious DAWs on a total lie, it’s PowerPoint, here to save the day, display graphics, float names past your eyes at high speed, and be recognized by my spellchecker! Yes, it’s PowerPoint, which, in its usual identity as a mild-mannered bluescreen, knows the con is on. To wit, it’s all on it right now, and it’s got to deliver the goods.
The images start flashing by, just slowly enough to register as images, too quick to make out much detail. There’s pictures of N. Paul on the cover of industry trade magazines that probably don’t exist (Nouvelle Entrepreneur, International Commerce), articles about him in kanji characters, and some minor information on IOCOR itself (founded 1990, founded 200 companies, currently owns shares in or the whole of 75 companies). The names and corporate logos of IOCOR’s businesses also start to appear on the screen. Heartsoft. Omi Laboratories. Hillman Financial. Krover. Liquiplex. All names that look vaguely like ones someone might know, and if they go by fast enough, you might think you’d read something familiar. And even if you didn’t, they look sort of real – all the different logos and fonts help sell it – and there’s a lot of them. Michael is actually c-t convinced by the sheer weight of names, and the others aren’t far behind him.
Not that this excuses any of the contestants from falling for this. Just sayin’. But since they’ve fallen for this con job, we no longer have to feel the least bit sorry about anything that happens to them, in any way, for any reason, ever.
I hardly ever say this, but – thank you, FOX.
‘…and of course, I’ve tried to avoid the losers,’ N. Paul wraps up. ‘If there’s anything I hate, it’s investing my time and effort in a loser.’ Pause. ‘Are there any losers here tonight?’
No hands go up.
‘Wrong.’ Eleven of them are losers: they just don’t know it yet. By the end of the series, eleven will be eliminated. (And even that number is wrong. There’s twelve losers. It’ll just be eleven humiliated losers and one final loser with a bit of consolation money.)
The rip-off portion of the show starts in earnest as the game is explained: the contestants will be competing in a series of tasks designed to test their business skills, and they’ll be divided into two teams for that purpose. Oh, and the teams will be men versus women. Plus here’s two executives who will travel with you and keep an eye on all proceedings: Jamie Samuels, executive vice-president at IOCOR and the proud owner of a pair of brass ones, and David Hickman, chief operations officer and head executive in charge of half-closed closets. The only concession to originality is David’s age: he’s nowhere close to his seventies, but it’s not something he can really do much about right now.
N. Paul pops open a bottle of champagne and waiters bring in trays of hors d’oeuvres, giving the contestants a sample of the good life – FOX style. It’s all in the presentation, and you can present anything golden and bubbly in a champagne bottle. In this case, they’re presenting rotgut. Mad Dog 20/20. The cheap seats at the nearest convenience store. Pure firewater. N. Paul makes the rounds, asking everyone how they’re enjoying their drinks. The answer is ‘a lot’. Every con artist knows: you can leave out the large details if you get the little things right. It’s amazing what the eye will fill in on its own – not to mention the tongue. Annette and Christy take c-t time to praise the drinks, while Douglas is proud that N. Paul would share the bottles with them, since the champagne was ‘very aged, very distinctive’. It’s vintage last week, and according to VH1, wasn’t that the best week ever?
And the hors d’oeuvres? Well, they’re supposed to be expensive duck liver pate’ with hints of endive and something called ‘liverot.’ What they are is well-blended baloney, processed cheese, and a heaping helping of something the non-Internet community likes to call Spam, plus a few other disgusting ingredients from under the refrigerator. But they’re presented very well, and they just melt in the contestant’s mouths – well, mostly. As Kelly c-t puts it, ‘some of the food was more sophisticated than I was.’ In a perfectly-timed shot, this statement is immediately followed by a lump of Spam sliding onto a plate.
N. Paul makes the rounds with the women, establishing his character: that of someone who has 3.8 billion dollars and 2.6 million sexual harassment suits up in the air at all times. Each female contestant is asked how their love life is, and whether they have a boyfriend. Whitney turns out to be married, which gets her some sincere billionaire consolation. Elli’s c-t confused about why he needs to know this, feeling it has absolutely nothing to do with any prospective business relationship – but she’s not going anywhere, and neither are any of the other contestants. The fish are on their hooks, the reel is starting to wind them in, and all is well with the world, at least until their friends see the first episode.
The teams are housed in a large penthouse apartment with a magnificent view of the Chicago skyline – Christy, our c-t time leader, talks about how this is a life she could get used to, after previously c-ting about how she’d be willing to do whatever’s necessary to get the job, and if this was a Burnett series, we’d be adding up her ouster votes by now – and get a good night’s sleep, awaking to find a messenger on their doorstep with two letters from N. Paul (the N is for ‘Not Ripping Off The Phone Call.’) The producers want to see how quickly they can corrupt these fine, upstanding corporate citizens, and the first trick is appealing to their darker sides. They have to pick minicorp names – but the women will name the men’s team, and vice-versa. N. Paul wants them to pick horrible, demeaning names, to show how little they think of their competition. (And to think the Apprentice teams came up with ‘Versacorp’ and ‘Apex’ without that motivation!) It’s the fine art of corporate sabotage.
‘Oooh, we’re women!’ Elli notes. ‘We’re good at that!’
The debates begin, with both teams enthused about their challenge, and Michael understanding it better than anyone: they have to find a name where, when the women walk into a business and announce themselves, they’ll automatically put their heads down. ‘PMS!’ Robert exclaims – but it gets rejected. The women, having gotten a good look at Daniel’s hat, are stuck on ‘Doofuses’ and ‘Geeks’ – but not for long.
‘MyBe-yotches.’ (From the women’s team.)
Eventually, the teams settle on their as-yet-unrevealed picks, and the camera moves to a ringing phone. (It’s FOX: they couldn’t hold off the steal forever.) Kerry answers it and is told to have the teams meet a pair of limos in front of the building at 11:45 that morning: they’ll be taken to their first challenge. Oh, and dress casually. The men mostly take that to mean jeans and t-shirts. The women almost universally take that to mean short-shorts and tight t-shirts, complimenting each other on their matching attire and – there’s no good way to put this – the subtle details of the lower halves of their bodies with a possibly N. Paul-inspired rear pat as they get in the limo.
The limos take the teams to an abandoned empty warehouse in a less-than-corporate section of Chicago, c-t freaking out Robert and making the rest of the contestants question what they’re doing here. Refurbishment? Finding a company to move in? Knocking down the inner walls to create a skating rink? It could be anything.
It turns out to be N. Paul’s entrance cue (as Elli breathes an excited ‘Yes!’ – still offended by those love life questions, Elli?), with Jamie and Hickman moving into position behind him.
‘This rat-infested dump is a little different from that penthouse you moved into, isn’t it?’ asks N. Paul (the N. is for ‘Not Necessarily Obvious’). ‘There’s a lesson in that. Sometimes, the key to success is buried under a mound of crap.’
But ‘As a great man once said – screw the other guy before he screws you,’ which means it’s time to find out the team names. The women have named the men ConCad, Inc.: ‘Con’ for con artists, untrustworthiness, and having picked up no hints whatsoever, ‘Cad’ because they’re really an old-fashioned lot at heart. The men are less than dismayed by this, because it sounds a lot like an actual corporate name, and it’s something they can say without wincing. As Daniel c-t notes, you could list it as the title for virtually any corporation in America.
And the women? Damien says that while in the spirit of corporate sabotage, they thought of the worst corporate scandal in recent years: Enron. And since their opposition is all women, they figured they’d go with – Femron. The women execute a mass giggle-wince, followed by protests that they love the name, it’s fine – but first reactions count, and the men have won Round One.
The second order of business is the naming of Team Bosses: Tonia for Femron, Michael for ConCad. N. Paul (the N is for ‘No Kidding’) warns the bosses not to get too far ahead of their troops, or they might find themselves shot in the back. This is probably a kinder fate than making it to the end of the show.
The third order of business is to announce the first task. N. Paul is curious to see how his prospective employees would manage at the absolute bottom of the economy. After all, if you want to reach the heights, you’ve got to start from the depths. So the first task is – panhandling.
Robert does his second c-t freakout, (Was he the one outside the jeans shop hitting on everything that passed by…?) quickly followed by Annette.
The minicorps will have every penny taken from them, given a selection of begging equipment to choose from plus thirty minutes to pick it out and agree on a strategy, and then they’ll be dropped off in the heart of Chicago. Whichever team begs up the most money will win, and the losing team will report to the Office and have someone dismissed. And that’s it. N. Paul leaves our Ivy League homeless to their job, with Hickman accompanying the men to their racks and Jamie escorting the women.
The loading areas are decently equipped from a Beggar’s Guild viewpoint. There’s a shopping cart (partially loaded) to push, a guitar case to have money tossed in (plus the guitar), neck braces, casts to put on, makeup to make the contestants look dirty and/or diseased, a selection of bad clothing, blank cardboard signs and magic markers – the works. If the teams can’t get a decent start in the begging business here, they can’t do it anywhere. Damien quickly claims a neck brace, and Daniel starts making up signs.
The women regard the clothing with open dismay, as the bum look went out in 1998 and it’s too early for them to look retro. Femron comes to their first major corporate decision: they’re not going to use any of that stuff beyond a little cardboard for signs and a couple of cups to keep the money in. They’re going to use themselves! And how can they use themselves? Whitney demonstrates with a quick shimmy, and talk of a kissing booth begins. They’ve already got the short-shorts and tight t-shirts: unless some of that clothing has a strategically-placed rip or two, what else could they possibly need? Robert and Daniel immediately c-t realize the advantage Femron has going into the task, but also know there’s nothing they can do about it: sex sells, and sex will continue to sell, and this flashback to the lemonade in A1 will not go away.
Lacking the XX attributes to vamp their way into money, the men go with an oddly non-XY tactic: charity. They make up signs that say ‘Help Chicago’, write the same thing on their shirts, and hit the streets to start their beggathon. They’re going to ask for money in the name of local unnamed charities – mostly to help the children, you understand, and every dollar they get will be donated to someone, honest it will – and hope people will be more generous to a second, unseen party than they will to the entrepreneurial icons in front of them. This doesn’t go so well at first. Chicagoans are not stupid. They want information. What charities does this go to? Local ones.
Where’s your paperwork? We don’t have any on us right now. Can you prove anything you’re saying? If you give us a minute to think of something. And why are all those cameras following you around? Oh, we’re making a documentary about people who won’t donate to charity…
To their extremely limited credit, the men do take to begging with a will, following people down the street, waving signs in their faces, and using all the better Manhattan subway ‘give me money and I’ll go away’ annoyance tactics. David even plays the guitar badly and then follows people. But for some reason, virtually no one’s respecting ripped cardboard signs done in magic marker, and the cash just doesn’t seem to be coming.
Meanwhile, the women are going for the direct approach. ‘What will it take for me to get the change in your pockets?’ Whitney inquires. ‘I can hear it jingling!’ Oddly, this doesn’t work either, and the targeted men scurry away, with Whitney muttering ‘Bastards’ in their wake. Whitney, at least, has adapted to the lifestyle.
Jamie’s surprised by one display: as she c-t notes, there’s Kerry, with a cup and a piece of cardboard, ‘an Ivy Leaguer, a media marketing director, out there breakdancing on the street because she thinks it’s going to help her business skills.’ Behold the power of DAWism, Jamie. No task too big, no task too small, no task too demeaning – yet.
Tonia, as the least conventionally attractive member of Femron, is segregated from the pack and left to beg with a solitary cup on a nearby street corner. This is the last we see of the Team Boss for the rest of the episode. The power of Authority has been trumped by the power of Cut-Offs.
Femron tries to solicit donations for their sorority, a hug for a dollar – but somehow, conventionally attractive women in short-shorts and tight t-shirts can’t get money out of people. The Fifth Sign Of The Apocalypse comes to pass, and it’s on FOX, so no one’s going to notice…
The camera switches back to the men, who are starting to see the occasional dollar. Daniel extorts thirteen cents from a pair of passing kids, and is happy to get it. Michael uses a whopper of a lie – ‘we’re trying to raise ten thousand dollars in three hours, and if we do it, the city will match every penny’ – then c-ts that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and no lying was involved – then turns around and admits it was lying, but how does that make it wrong? Michael, your Apprentice 3 application is waiting at the penthouse.
Damien, however, is the star of the show. He hails cabs and gets money out of the drivers. He chases people into the street offering to carry their umbrellas. He rolls around on the sidewalk in faked agony while begging people to ‘Help! -- Help Chicago!’ He promises not to usher in the final judgment for another two years. He does everything short of dropping people into cracks in the earth, and he may have done that off-camera. Damien will do whatever it takes to win this challenge, and nothing is off-limits. Damien, your Survivor 10 application is waiting at the penthouse.
Sadly, there’s something Damien can’t do, and that’s grow breasts. (One good case of gynecomastia could have turned this whole thing around.) Christy, seeing that the general begging isn’t working, decides they need a specific, non-traceable cause, and comes up with the perfect one for short-shorts: cheerleading camp! Suddenly, Femron is on the street to raise money for young women to learn pyramid formations, and part of that involves demonstrating the moves. The jumps. The splits. And while doing splits onto a Chicago sidewalk in short-shorts is not a task to be undertaken by the wary, Whitney does a credible version of the basic move, Elli brings in a ten and then a twenty, Femron has the complete attention of most of the street, and Christy c-t feels the women have won this one.
Again: this is not a Burnett series. Hubris means exactly nothing.
The challenge ends at sunset, and the teams are brought to meet N. Paul (the N stands for ‘Note The Artificial Look’) in what’s supposed to be the worst vacant lot in the worst part of Chicago, with an excellent view of the El overhead and the comforting songs of police and ambulance sirens ringing out to the populace. There’s cheap tents. A burned-out van. Plenty of abandoned furniture. A couple of barrels with burning trash inside. It may look like it was put together by studio executives who’ve never been in the bad parts of town in their lives, but it’s a real slum lot, honest it is. Just as real as N. Paul himself, who just showed up with stooges attendant to announce the results – but first, as the billionaire said, he hates wasting his time on losers. So for the losers of this first task, there’s a consequence: they’ll spend the night in the lot, ‘like the homeless people you may one day become if left to your own devices.’ No phone. No lights. No motor cars. Not a single luxury. They’re stuck on a FOX series, as miserable as can be.
And who’s it going to be? Well…
(At this point, Damien c-ts that the men took a quick count and knew they were around three hundred, but weren’t sure exactly what the total was, joining She Who Must Not Be Hired as a graduate of the School Of Inexact Math.)
And since it now matters: the burned-out van sleeps three.
But as there are consequences for losing, there are rewards for winning. The women will go back to the penthouse, celebrate their victory, and when they’re ready for bed, they will find in their rooms six handmade goosedown mattresses with a somewhat unique inner fill -- $10,000 in small bills. ‘There’s no better sleep than sleeping on a bed of money,’ N. Paul tells them, and the women start to get excited. They weren’t expecting such a lavish reward on the first task. They didn’t think they’d be getting paid for their victories. They’re happy. They’re nearing ecstasy. And as it turns out, they’re not keeping the mattresses or their contents. It’s a one-night thing, just to give them a taste of the billionaire’s life.
The ecstasy goes away with a hood pulled tight around its head, trying to pretend it wasn’t even looking.
Once again: you’re on FOX!
‘They won because they had boobs!’ Robert laments <click?>, and ConCad settles in for their night in the lot. Sadly, there’s no real danger: with all those cameras around, none of the locals are going to try anything. But it is a little bit cold, there’s no blankets evident in the tents or van, the hot-dog-on-a-stick tastes horrible, and there’s the El to contend with: every time they come close to falling asleep, another train passes overhead. Loudly. Not much time is paid to the men’s suffering – in fact, nowhere near enough – come to think of it, what is this, Extreme Junkyard Makeover? – but it’s clear they’re having a miserable night.
Femron, however, gets to see what a $10,000 mattress looks like: two of the women open them so they can gape at the contents, and Whitney proposes a quick count. There’s no time for it before bed, though, so the women take the total on faith and settle in to sleep.
At least, that was the theory. One of the show’s themes is to make sure the rewards for the winners are occasionally as bad as the consequences for the losers – and sometimes, they’re worse. Those $10,000 beds are real. Very real. Want to know how real? Take ten thousand new, stiff, paper-cut-assured pieces of paper. Crumple them up a little. Stuff them in a cloth sack. Lie down on it. Try to sleep. And the operative word here is ‘try’. Sleeping on ten thousand dollars feels exactly like sleeping in a very large wastepaper basket. There’s edges poking into your back, no support whatsoever, little crumple zones get you in the kidneys, and let’s not even talk about what’s going on near your neck. Sleeping on ten thousand dollars sucks, and it doesn’t take long for the women to realize this. In this case, ‘not long’ translates to ‘around one in the morning.’ Annette is the first to switch to sleeping on the floor as everyone starts to understand what a lousy reward this really is and begin tossing their sheets down for a little hardwood rest. Kerry gets the final line of this segment: ‘The Apprentice would never do a prize like this!’ And she’s right. With Donald, they’d be sleeping on solid gold. Or even worse, Donald.
The first consequence was mild torture. The first reward was mild torture. This series is starting to look mildly interesting.
N. Paul, like many creatures of evil, likes to come out at night, and the first visit to his office (a whiter, paler wood version of a certain Boardroom) takes place on the third night. David directs the men to leave their bags in IOCOR’s fake reception area, walk past the hasty painting of N. Paul (the N. stands for ‘New Realism Portrait Style’, and into the Office, where they take their seats, doing their best to look distinguished, non-responsible, and non-fireable in their fine business suits. Daniel looks particularly distinguished in a gray number, which almost forgives the website hat. Of course, it doesn’t matter. They can look as good as they possibly can, they can say words from the heart, they can lie like dogs. The only person they have to impress, most of them will never see until the last episode airs – but they’re trying so hard. Doggie treats all around! (They’re actually imported hors d’oeuvres, you know.)
‘The only point of this charade,’ our fake boss c-ts, ‘is for N. Paul Todd to confuse them, and basically tear ‘em a new one.’ So it has been spoken. So it will be done, because N. Paul said so.
N. Paul (the N is for ‘Now You’re In For It’) comes in and sits down: Julie to his left, David on his right, the contestants arranged on the other side of the table. So much originality everywhere you look.
The ripping of the new one begins from the top down, as N. Paul gets into third gear without making stops at first and second. The men were pitiful. They were outclassed by a bunch of cheerleaders. Their education meant nothing. Six real homeless men would have done better than they did. And homeless people make some good money, too. ConCad sits still and quietly takes it. What else can they do? Well, if you’re Robert, you wait for an opportunity and then say how much easier it is for conventionally attractive blondes to get some attention than it is for, say, him, no matter how much he’s been practicing at the mall.
Which cues Hickman, who has seen the real problem. The men don’t think they’re sexy. Does, say, Michael think he’s personally sexy? (Michael manages a nod.) Hickman can look in the mirror and say he’s sexy. The others have to work on that. Until they can convince themselves of their own sexiness, they’ll never be able to win as a team. Doesn’t Damien agree with him? (He does.) And why didn’t the men use their inherent male sexiness to full advantage? Why didn’t they go after, just by way of example here, any passing gay couples? Flirt a little, seduce, and we all know the ‘let me pick up your dropped silverware’ trick is good for a favorable Zaggat report! Why weren’t the men thinking that way?
Well, actually, one of them was. ‘David, you took your shirt off,’ Hickman notes.
‘Just for the first five minutes,’ David replies, ‘and then we figured out it wasn’t working.’
Hickman shrugs and looks mildly dejected. ‘There was something there.’ And it wasn’t there before.
Jamie feels the men weren’t specific enough. ‘Help Chicago’. Help it what? Secede? Join Canada? (And to think this was filmed before the election.) N. Paul thinks they needed a more direct target, like a contestant’s mother having lung cancer. Jamie’s willing to settle for ‘Help Chicago’s – homeless. Help Chicago’s – hookers.’ ‘Help Chicago’s DAWs’ just didn’t have the right ring.
Damien, to his very weak credit, tries to counter: he feels that if they’d gone as specific as lung cancer, they only would have gotten people who’d been affected by that disease, and wouldn’t have cleared three hundred. N. Paul isn’t having any of it: he feels that if the minicorp is going to lie, they have to lie big. There’s nothing worse than a loser who lied, and that’s straight from the lawyers at Trading Spouses and The Next Great Champ.
Finally, it comes down to Michael, who, as Team Boss, must tell N. Paul ‘which two people, in addition to yourself, will be exposed to elimination tonight.’ (Somewhere in California, a trio of NBC copyright lawyers realize they can’t take any more near-misses and charge head-first into the nearest wall.) Michael thinks it over, then picks Daniel and Robert, as the other three just worked a little harder. N. Paul notes the names before informing David, Douglas, and Damien to ‘go relax at the penthouse’. (Two more lawyers suffer skull fractures.) Oh, and there’s one more thing.
They can take Michael with them.
‘This game is based on reality,’ N. Paul says with a completely straight face. ‘The boss is always insulated. The boss always has deniability. The boss always has someone under or around them who takes the first fall.’ (Hickman gives him a look of pure foreshadowing.) ‘So for the rest of the game, that’s going to be the rule.’ And once again, so it has been spoken, so it shall be. The Team Boss of the losing team cannot be fired: they just get to nominate the people who might go. (Somewhere in California, five NBC lawyers revive and start to frantically take notes.) This is an interesting idea. This is a license to fail and hope to oust someone you don’t like. This could be The Apprentice played misere’. But what this really is happens to be is My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Boss, so strategy is going to be a joke no matter what happens. Don’t worry about it.
Michael attempts to thank N. Paul, gets sharply told ‘Don’t thank me,’ and leaves with the other three.
It’s down to Robert and Daniel. As N. Paul puts it (the N is for ‘Nsightful’), their fifteen minutes of fame just got cut down to two. It’s time for them to defend themselves. Robert takes the initiative and goes first.
‘As far as why I should stay – I’m a very dynamic person. I’m a hustler –‘
‘So what?’ N. Paul Nterupts.
‘So what?’ Robert’s just been thrown off his game by the first foul tip.
‘Your teammate identified you as the weak link.’
‘Because he thinks I’ll win this vote-off.’ (Robert, do you know what show you’re on?)
‘Because of my personality.’
And so it goes. Every time Robert gets a line of thought going, N. Paul throws out one of those three vital questions and cuts it in half. There is no time to think. There is no chance to reason. There is no way Robert is getting to finish a sentence. It’s almost like having Maria in the room, only less demeaning. In the end, Robert is left stuttering to a bare-rim stop, insisting that he was brought in as a pawn so that the actual weak link could be sacrificed. And that trick hardly ever works.
With Robert completely confused, it’s time for N. Paul to lay into Daniel – but Daniel does it first, answering each interjection before it can be uttered. So what? So he may have done less than other people: there’s no real way to tell on this task. But he knows he’s a closer, and in his current field, whatever that is, he’s one of the best there is. Who cares? He cares and IOCOR should care. Why? Because the more he learns, the better he does, and the more money they all make. Daniel has taken those interruptions as if they were gospel from the soon-to-be-licked feet of the master, and figured out a way to answer all of them in what, if seen on NBC, would be a speech that – well, actually, it was halfway lame, and he’d probably get fired anyway, but my, the man is quick on his mental feet. N. Paul doesn’t have to do anything: he just sits there and listens to Daniel trying to get the noose off his neck.
N. Paul (the N is for ‘Not Buying It’) c-t admits that he would have been impressed – if he was a real boss – then sends Daniel and Robert out of the room so he can think it over.
It takes about five seconds from the time the door closes until the time Jamie loses it and starts laughing. (Luckily, someone thought to soundproof the Office.) After a little group hilarity, N. Paul announces it’s time to see the real boss and heads out of the room, returning after the commercial break.
A quick c-t from the fake boss lets us know that N. Paul receives only the name of the person to be fired – not a reason. This leaves him free to make up any weird motive he wants – and he proceeds to demonstrate, with Robert as the first target.
‘Look, I’ll be candid,’ he tells Robert. ‘I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but you’re short.’
A shocked smile makes its way onto Robert’s face and, feeling lost, decides to stay there until someone comes looking for it.
‘You’re short,’ N. Paul repeats, almost mournfully. ‘Tall people have an advantage in business.’
‘Is that so?’ Robert tries to rally, his smile looking alone and forlorn.
‘Don’t you think so?’
‘I do not think so at all.’
N. Paul dismisses it. ‘Maybe because you’re short, you’ve learned to make excuses for yourself.’ It’s just something Robert will have to overcome in life.
Daniel’s turn, and N. Paul (the N is for ‘No Punches Pulled) is going to be just as candid with him. He says that when he looks at Daniel, he sees nice clothes. A really expensive watch. Accoutrements. He, personally, bought the suit he’s wearing to the Office for $500 off the rack and had it modified to fit. He thought he’d made himself clear. He wasn’t looking for a suit. And ‘you’re wearing the most expensive one in the room. So – get the hell out of my office.’
Daniel, looking like a man who’s just been poleaxed by an Armani, gets the hell out of his Office. (In final confessional, he admits he had no idea how N. Paul (the N is for ‘No Natural Fibers’) felt about expensive clothing, and if he’d had any idea, he would have dressed down for the Office meeting. Guess you missed that article in Nouvelle Entrepreneur, Daniel.)
N. Paul turns to Robert and congratulates him with a rare smile – then adds the final twist – and for once, it’s not of the knife. The person who survives Office elimination is automatically Team Boss on the next task, and thus, can’t be sent home next week. (A lot more note-taking is done on recycled sequoia pads.) Robert’s free and clear for one show, and visibly happy about it: he offers a handshake to his once and future tormentor, which is accepted – then leaves, heading back to the relative safety of the penthouse.
But, as we’re told, Daniel was the lucky one. Daniel is free, and only has one episode’s worth of ‘I didn’t know!’ actions to explain back home. Eleven are left – and there’s plenty of torture equipment that hasn’t been taken off the shelves yet.
Who will be eliminated? Who will win? Who, if anyone, will figure it out? Who read their contract all the way through and realized they couldn’t leave if they wanted to? Who cares? I want to know who’s going to wish they’d never come. And so far, the answer is ‘All of the contestants.’ Personally, I can live with that.
Tune in next week. There may be blood.