The Ego and His Show


Like millions of other Americans, last night I watched the final episode of The Apprentice. And like millions of other Americans, I gasped at the surprise revelation that capped the season: that Donald Trump, who had been posing as a millionaire, in fact has no money at all.

No, wait -- what actually happened was described by critic David Zurawik:

…once Trump made the choice of Rancic, The Apprentice deconstructed before our eyes into pure cheese.

The panels of the boardroom that Burnett had made a place of judgment and seat of power were pulled away to reveal a live studio audience on hand at NBC's Rockefeller Center. With that, Trump took center stage and, like a daytime game show host, launched into some of the most unabashed self-promotion prime-time television has ever seen.

He was ostensibly giving Rancic three minutes to choose one of two jobs as his prize: managing a new Trump Tower in Chicago or a new Trump country club on the Pacific. But the language Trump used -- "a spectacular building project that will result in one of the world's greatest towers setting new standards of architectural excellence" -- was the lexicon of the infomercial. The promotional pictures NBC let him air were an infomercial.

All of which is true, but I'm left wondering: Does Zurawik think this is a new development? Not an episode of The Apprentice goes by without Trump stumping for one of his businesses or properties, proudly declaring the "quality" on display. The would-be apprentices then dutifully ooh and aww, perhaps in earnest and perhaps to suck up. It would be obnoxious if it weren't so funny.

The Apprentice has been one of the most skillfully plotted reality series in the short history of the genre. Trump's relentless self-promotion was part of the deal: Consciously or not, he's playing the caricature people either love or love to hate, and that's part of what makes the show so watchable. (Much more watchable, to my taste, than that overrated duo of departing hits, Friends and Sex and the City.) And hey, it used my favorite O'Jays song -- or a bowdlerized version, anyway -- as its theme music. Can't beat that.

Besides, better for Trump to spend his time playing himself on TV than to spend it, say, ripping off people's property via eminent domain. Here's looking to next season.