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'Celebrity Apprentice' recap: And the winner is ... (find out next week)

May 16, 2011 |  7:45 am

I could say I told you so: I've thought from the beginning that John Rich and Marlee Matlin would be the ones to make it to the final episode of "The Celebrity Apprentice." Lo and behold, here they are.

It's hard to believe it has come this far after that first week, when I was trying to figure out who David Cassidy was and the boardroom was so packed there weren't enough seats. If there's any central lesson from this season, it's that sharp elbows won't get you to the finale, but having a sharp mind, that's the key. 

Week after week, we saw the manipulators (Star Jones) and the delusional (Gary Busey) go home, as well as some of the whiners (Mark McGrath) and the divas (Dionne Warwick — yikes!). Some good ones left too: Niki Taylor and Lisa Rinna (who, I admit, I didn't think I would like).

When Sunday night's episode began, the crew was down to four: Lil Jon, Meat Loaf, Matlin and Rich. Donald Trump called in his previous winners — Joan Rivers, Bret Michaels and Piers Morgan — to interview the final four and offer their evaluation to Trump. He would fire two based on their appraisal.

Morgan was his usual imperious self. A snotty know-it-all, he's a reminder after all this royal-wedding hubbub why Americans revolted against the British to begin with. The other two champs, I have to say, were brilliant — and I'm glad to see that Michaels is looking well after his health problems in recent years. And, of course, Trump took credit for all the success that they've had since their runs on "Apprentice" — because it wasn't as though they were celebrities or anything before they signed up for the show. (I could talk further trash here on Morgan, but I'll refrain.) 

Both Matlin and Rich handled themselves in the interview with the same vigor and professionalism that they had shown in the boardroom. Lil Jon ran into some problems, though, when he said he thought, like I did and many others, that it would be Matlin and Rich as the final two. Meat Loaf was called to the carpet for being too emotional, toggling between bursts of tears and fits of anger — though mostly tears — throughout the season. 

And then there were two.

For the final challenge, it would be a creative one to build a "retro" ad campaign for 7-Up, which includes a 60-second advertisement and a live show. Matlin was given dibs on picking either the 1980s and a music theme, with Def Leppard, or a 1970s theme with the Harlem Globetrotters. She picked the '70s, and Rich got the '80s. 

Then, some of their former teammates returned to help out. This time, Rich had the first pick, and he brought back his pal and creative partner on the show, Lil Jon. The rest of his team included McGrath and Jones. Matlin took Meat Loaf, La Toya Jackson and Richard Hatch. 

Once again, it appeared that Rich's team took a strong lead at first: They were quick to come up with a concept — 7-Up, apparently, is "still keeping it real" — and were able to snag Dee Snider to shave off his fu manchu mustache and reprise his Twisted Sister look (i.e., lots of frizzy hair and hot pink).

Over on Team Marlee, I thought they came up with a great idea of featuring all the terrifying styles and trends of the '70s that 7-Up has outlived. They also managed to get the guy in the original '70s commercials, although whether he gets to do the ad hangs in the balance of legal stuff waiting to be sorted out. If it comes through, I think that could be a coup for them.

But, just like last time, Matlin ceded far too much control to Meat Loaf, who, I worry, got too far from the message. When the 7-Up actor's appearance is in question, he goes into fit of anger (last week, it was the tears) and threatens to chuck a cellphone across the room. (Is it just me, or does phone throwing seem to be the No. 1 way celebrities deal with anger, especially if there's an underling at whom they can throw it?)

It's still difficult to tell which way the show will go, although I have to give the advantage for now to John Rich.

And the winner is ... . Tune in next week, folks.

Who do you think the winner is? And were you at all surprised that it was Matlin and Rich who made it to the final round?

— Rick Rojas