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'Celebrity Apprentice' recap: Donald Trump's circus is back in action, and what a show!

March 7, 2011 |  8:00 am

NUP_142225_0010 Justin Bieber probably should have watched the premiere of "Celebrity Apprentice" Sunday night on NBC.

It might have been instructional to see how poor David Cassidy, a 60-year-old man still described as a "teen idol," was humiliated. It could be argued, and it would be true, that "Celebrity Apprentice" is merely a vehicle to humiliate one-time "celebrities." But this was a new low.

I must admit I fall well outside the demographic that knows who David Cassidy is, and I'm even further from knowing anything about his music. But if the Wikipedia entry on him is at all true (I had to look him up to know who he was), this was likely a big step down. 

You know you're clinging onto fame like Mufasa hanging off that cliff in "Lion King" when you've subjected yourself to a comeuppance from Richard Hatch, the dreadful, tax-evading winner of the first "Survivor." And it's clear that things have taken a weird turn when you're relying on Jose Canseco to both protect you and vouch for you.

What can I say? It was a weird night.

Donald Trump certainly corralled an interesting -- to say the least -- group featuring has-beens, former reality stars, a disgraced former athlete and, for good measure, a couple of actual celebrities there because, I suppose, they had nothing better to do. 

The Trump split the group into teams the easiest way possible: men versus women. 

On the men's team, called "Backbone": Canseco, Cassidy, Hatch, Gary Busey, Meat Loaf, Lil Jon, John Rich and Mark McGrath. 

The women called themselves "ASAP," which stands for Artists, Singers, Authors and Professionals -- or, um, something like that. LaToya Jackson, who was labeled as a music icon -- kind of a stretch -- struggled in explaining the team name to the Trump and could never get it quite right.

That team consists of: Jackson, Dionne Warwick, NeNe Leakes, Marlee Matlin (yeah, the Academy Award-winning actress), Hope Dworaczyk, Niki Taylor, Lisa Rinna and Star Jones.

(If you have to Google a good number of these contestants just to figure out who they are, don't worry -- you aren't alone.)

The first challenge was to open a pizzeria to raise money for charity. The ones who think they're connected immediately picked up their phones and began the begging. As you'll learn on reality TV, a phone is never to be put up to the ear. Pssh, that that how the normals do it. A celebrity turns on the speaker phone, holds it in front of his or her face with a loose wrist and uses the loudest outside voice they can muster. 

Others went to work. And a couple started early in their attempt to plow their way to the top. 

They managed to run a pizzeria about as well as many pizzerias are run. There was a line, there were self-important manager types, and there were the lazier employees who wanted a break every five minutes.

Hatch and Jones were the project managers for the men and women, respectively, and they were both equally horrendous. Hatch was bossy, demanding and pushed Cassidy around like a schoolyard bully. Since he outplayed and outlasted everyone else on the island like 10 years ago, it's clear he thinks he's some kind of hot shot. And -- in case you're not connected to reality -- Star Jones knows everything and everyone. Despite shrinking herself into oblivion, she still apparently knows the first family of Bermuda well enough to bother them to donate to her pizza-parlor adventure. 

But there was nothing more egregious than putting Dionne Warwick on the register. It's not Warwick's fault that she couldn't make change or work the credit-card machine; Jones should have seen that coming. (The psychic Warwick should have too, but I'm not going to go there.)

Some of the things made clear in the show weren't surprises: Gary Busey's ramblings can be terrifying and often make no sense whatsoever. Star Jones is, without a doubt, the most important person in any and every room. NeNe Leakes (full disclosure: she is my favorite housewife, period) is waiting in the wings to start up some drama. 

But there were some surprises: Jose Canseco was remarkably tempered and reasonable. I was waiting for a bout of roid rage, especially against Richard Hatch. But he was sensible and stood up for the tiny, defenseless David Cassidy, which is honorable. Apparently, Lil Jon is incapable of verbalizing beyond screaming interjections: "OK!" "Yeaa-yahhh!" "Shots! Shots! Shots!" 

Country-music star John Rich is pretty sharp and witty and is a good addition to the show. Lisa Rinna -- especially now that those unfortunate lip injections have been repaired -- is more than willing to talk trash behind her project manager's back and will likely help Leakes putting some shade on Jones and some of the more foolish ones on the show. (Also Marlee Matlin, why are you doing this? Aren't you better than this?)

Ultimately, the women -- with their cashing in of chits and Niki Taylor's supposedly delicious pizza -- won handily, bringing in well over $100,000, getting something like three times what the men pulled in. The men had to stay behind in the board room with the Trump and his kids, who are business and leadership experts because, of course, the Trump is so wise that such knowledge is just intrinsic for his offspring. 

It was whittled down to Hatch, Canseco and Cassidy. Cassidy squirmed in a pathetic and demoralizing sit-down. He was asked if he was too embarrassed to say anything, and his diminutive size was bandied about. He might as well have hidden behind Canseco, in his amazing bedazzled pinstripe coat, surely a staple of the Ed Hardy Professional Collection. 

That's where the lesson for Justin Bieber comes in. You might be riding high now: Some fool paid $40,000 for your hair, your life has been made into a 3-D movie, and Usher may be your BFF. But be careful, such success is fleeting. One day you will be 60 years old. It might be you being shoved around and bullied by That Man Who Won Some Reality Show a Decade Ago and being judged by a businessman with a punchline of a hairdo.

And it might be you who can't make it past the first episode. 

***

The Men/Backbone:
David Cassidy
Richard Hatch [project manager]
Jose Canseco
Gary Busey
Meat Loaf
Lil Jon
John Rich
Mark McGrath 

The Women/ASAP
Dionne Warwick 
NeNe Leakes
Marlee Matlin
La Toya Jackson
Hope Dworaczyk
Lisa Rinna
Niki Taylor
Star Jones [project manager]

***

What did you think? Do you think the Trump should have sent Richard Hatch home instead?

Go ahead make some predictions for the season. It looks like it might be a doozy!

-- Rick Rojas 

Photo: David Cassidy. Credit: Virginia Sherwood / NBC  

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