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'Celebrity Apprentice' recap: Star Jones is a shark, and she keeps on swimming

April 25, 2011 |  3:05 pm

NUP_143141_0127 La Toya Jackson finally comes into her own on "Celebrity Apprentice," only to be shut down.

Timid and seemingly disconnected for most of the season, she sat to the side, following orders and offering excuses when things didn't work out. Up until this point, it seemed the key to her survival was Donald Trump standing up for her in the boardroom.

But then she teamed up with NeNe Leakes. 

Star Jones, in an interesting move open to a lot of discussion (Show Trackers, please discuss!), paired Jackson and Leakes, who had been bickering with each other, to work together on the project. Leakes has been Jackson's sharpest critic inside the boardroom and out. I suspect Jones thought that by making them work together, she would build in a little protection for herself. Ultimately, it did work, but not without showing a hole in her armor. 

This week was all Trump: Both teams had to create an ad campaign for Trump's hotels. Ivanka Trump was one of the executives consulting on the project. Donald's sons, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, sat with him in the boardroom. 

Both teams failed miserably. When it was revealed to them that the Trump hotel executives thought it was a decision of the lesser of two evils, they were stunned. You could see in their reactions that both sides thought that they really had pulled this off, when in reality they had both created quite amateurish campaigns that looked like they had been done by middle-schoolers with a desktop computer and clip art. (John Rich was the project manager for men; Jones led the women.)

Out of that, the women were the lamest of the lame. And Jones, in an instant, flipped into self-preservation mode. If there's one thing this woman can do -- aside from fretting over printed materials -- she can manipulate to protect herself. By keeping Leakes and Jackson behind to face Trump, she did just that. 

It was risky in that Leakes could be a wild card. Leakes had buddied up to Jackson, surprisingly. It was quite nice to see the two of them warm up like that, actually, and it added a new dimension to the portrayal of both of them on the show. But Leakes had also conceded that she still believed Jackson to be the weakest player on the team. Jones bet that Leakes -- who never fails to keep it real -- would speak up against Jackson as the weakest player. And on that bet, Jones was correct.

That's not to say that Jackson, even with her voice weak from laryngitis, didn't do a good job standing up for herself. The lamb-in-waiting all season came out swiftly and strongly in her own defense, and probably offered a take-down of Jones that many other contestants have tried and failed to accomplish (i.e., poor Lisa Rinna). 

I initially questioned Leakes' judgment on this, though. If she wants to win this show, or at least pave a path toward that, seizing this moment to push Jones out the door could have been the best thing for her to do. Leakes and Marlee Matlin -- who, surprisingly, Leakes accused of kissing up to Jones -- work together like magic and could easily carry the team. They could have dropped Jones, an untrustworthy bully, and managed just fine. 

But I remembered what this game is about -- especially for someone like Leakes. Winning, for some of them, isn't about a prize for charity and bragging rights at the end of the season. It's about getting their name out there and stirring up some buzz. 

Now I see Leakes' strategy: Feuding with Jackson isn't going to get her anywhere. Jackson, I have to admit, is smart enough to know how to portray herself as vulnerable. Feuding with her would make Leakes out to be the beast. And there's no sense in fighting with Matlin, a class act who probably has the greatest cache of goodwill of anyone on the show. And Hope Dworaczyk, despite her contributions, basically serves as a piece of furniture at this point. 

With Jones, she can turn up the volume, go after her like she's Kim Zolciak on a tour bus and won't look like the monster attacking Bambi. She might look like a hero. Heck, she might even land a talk show. (And I would watch it, every day.)

What do you think? Did Star Jones manipulate her way into not going home? Should she have gone home instead? And what do you think of La Toya Jackson finally coming into her own? And are you bracing yourself for the Star vs. NeNe war we've been promised all season?

-- Rick Rojas

Photo: With La Toya Jackson, Marlee Matlin, NeNe Leakes and Hope Dworaczyk in the boardroom, Star Jones defends her turn as project manager after her team fails at making an ad campaign for Donald Trump's hotels. Credit: Douglas Gorenstein / NBC 

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