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'Celebrity Apprentice' recap: Three hours later, three feuding stars fizzle out

May 9, 2011 |  7:45 am

It's a sign of the times at NBC that "Celebrity Apprentice" managed to stretch across three hours of prime-time real estate. President Obama might have interrupted last week with word of Osama bin Laden's death. This week, however, Obama had only "60 Minutes" to Donald Trump's 180. 

And it was a slog, even for the biggest "Apprentice" fans. One could have watched a movie or taken a nice Sunday drive in the time it took for one episode. (I don't even want to guess how long the finale will be!)

But it was worth the time in that the story lines have finally come together in a way that you may never have expected. A lot went down in those three hours, and the trail has been blazed to the finale. (In fact, I've decided who I think will win — more to come on that.)

It started off with a huge disappointment from NeNe Leakes. She just quit. All her hollering about how she would be the one who could put Star Jones in her place turned out to be empty threats. The heat even continued this week, when Jones said she couldn't move past last week's messiness with Leakes. Then, Leakes and Meat Loaf switched places on their respective teams. Instead of going along with it, Leakes just disappeared. Donald Trump called her a quitter and said that Jones had indeed kicked her ... rear end (hey, we're a family blog). 

But if you think Jones came out as a victor, you would be dead wrong.

The almost-as-long-as-the-"Today"-show episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" on Sunday night consisted of two challenges. The first: The two teams had to put on a comedy show to raise money for their charity. Team Backbone — formerly the men's team — was led by La Toya Jackson; ASAP — once the women's team — was led by Meat Loaf. 

Although Loaf's team managed to win, it came as a surprise after the flood of Loaf's tears. He cried, and he cried, and he cried some more. He didn't want to raise all this money, only for it to go the other team's charity if they won. Jones even called Trump on Meat Loaf's behalf as a way to console him, asking if there were any way he could reconsider that decision. He said no; "Celebrity Apprentice" might include a charitable aspect, but it's really about winning. (What?! You mean Jones didn't throw former teammates under the bus simply for the sake of the American Heart Assn.?!) His tears turned out to be for naught — even though Jackson, with John Rich and Lil Jon, managed to put on a heck of a show. 

Now, Jackson, according to Trump, holds the record for being the only "Apprentice" contestant to be fired twice in a season. And, he said, she's the last.

On to the second challenge: Both teams had to make a promotional spot for On Star, now that the product once available only in General Motors vehicles is available for any car. Rich took the helm for Backbone, meaning he was just Lil Jon's boss, and Marlee Matlin led ASAP. It's a rematch, if you'll recall, after the huge art-show episode in which both teams brought in well over $1.5 million, and Matlin won with just shy of a million dollars. (No wonder it seems they've run out of friends to ask for donations.)  

With ASAP, Matlin may have been the project manager, but she ceded much of the control to Meat Loaf, who, well, does what Meat Loaf does. He ran wild, taking over the production. And Jones, without control, took over for Meat Loaf as the fretting member of the team.

Team Jo(h)n struggled, initially, when a sinus infection seem to have toppled Rich, but Lil Jon — I'd say for the first time this season — really picked up the slack and ran with this video. It was on message and did exactly what the On Star executives had asked. ASAP's video, however, did not, and Backbone won this time.

All this led up to one of the most interesting, and surprising, boardroom showdowns I've seen thus far. I actually thought Meat Loaf would be sent packing. Both Matlin and Jones suggested that he's the one who should be fired. But he was able to step up where Leakes had failed. He put Jones in her place and was able to force her to show her true colors. 

In the battle with Leakes, Jones could portray herself as the smart, educated lawyer who would not demean herself to a loudmouth from Atlanta like Leakes. The fact that someone as brash and in your face as Leakes was usually a voice of reason on the "Housewives" shows what kinds of characters she was up against. Here, though, it was easy for Jones to cast her aside as a simpleton with volume.

With Meat Loaf, that was much more difficult, as he's definitely a Trump favorite and, with his tearful ways, seen as a — dare I say — sweetie. Maybe he shouldn't have called her "sweetie." But the level of disrespect she showed him was much more appalling in my opinion. She cut him off and said flatly that he wasn't qualified to engage her in a debate. 

But it didn't work. This whole season, she's tried to put on the act that she's this powerful Super Lawyer, a manipulative and Machiavellian figure like Glenn Close's character in "Damages." She acted as though she was so many steps ahead of everyone else, she was watching the show on the other side of the season finale. 

But with all her talk of strategy and figuring out the moment to kill, she failed to see the weeping fool in the sequined dinner jacket, ready to pounce.

Let the countdown begin: As the season starts to wind down, who do you think will be the final two? My bet: John Rich and Marlee Matlin. Also, what do you think of NeNe Leakes walking away like that? Were you as disappointed as I was?

— Rick Rojas

Photo: Star Jones, Meat Loaf and Marlee Matlin are all smiles on stage after their comedy show, although such happiness didn't last through the next challenge. Credit: Douglas Gorenstein / NBC