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“The Apprentice” – Episode 306 – The Writing On The Wall

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After the past few weeks of watching “The Apprentice,” anyone with a college degree may have started to question if four years spent as an undergraduate was nothing more than wasted time. The Street Smarts team has really cleaned up, and the university grads have faltered in nearly every challenge so far. With a five-to-seven manpower advantage, the task this week was Net Worth’s to lose.

The concept for this challenge was simple: both teams had to create a piece of graffiti advertising to promote Sony’s upcoming “Gran Turismo 4″ racing game for the PlayStation 2. Focus groups would provide feedback on each ad, but ultimately, it was to be the Sony executives who would decide the winner.

On the surface, it appeared that Net Worth had the advantage here. Tara, the project manager, had a clear vision of what the advertisement should be, and she seemed capable of rallying the team behind her. Only Audrey caused a fuss, clashing first with Tara over the concept for the artwork, and later with Craig (who finally got to speak on-air) over the chain of command.

The real friction came, however, when it was time to pitch the ad to the executives. Tara must have felt a good deal of ownership over the project, as she explained in detail the concept without ever giving any bit of credit to the rest of her team. You could see the entire group flinch each and every time she used the word “I” rather than “we.”

Ultimately, it seemed that Tara may have either over thought or misunderstood the task. While the clearly-stated goal was to create an ad for the game, Tara seemed to think she was supposed to create some sort of art installation for the community. First, she was concerned that some part of the ad would offend the target audience, a fear that may have stifled the rest of the team’s creativity. Throughout the process, she stuck to her idea of integrating the artwork with the Harlem landscape, a thought that seemed counterintuitive to the ultimate goal. For the ad to truly me memorable, it should stand out from its surroundings, not blend in.

Without a clear vision, Magna had a much harder time of it to begin with. The team seemed disorganized, and actually began to paint their wall before they had even decided on a concept for the ad. Project manager Alex realized quickly that his team was well on their way to yet another failure, and took decisive action.

Knowing full well that his team of well-educated entrepreneurs could not necessarily come up with an “urban” marketing message on their own, Alex hit the streets and dragged a group of Harlem residents over to get some constructive feedback. This hands-on market research likely saved Magna from complete failure, as the team quickly gained control and worked to integrate a smattering of new ideas into the ad.

Alex’s management style stood in sharp contrast to Tara’s. While Tara took it upon herself to see her own concept through from start to finish with focused determination, Alex was much more nimble and willing to change things up on the fly. Whereas Net Worth’s advertisement was created from a singular vision, Magna’s was an amalgam of ideas from both the team members and their ad hoc market research group.

The Boardroom began with clips from the focus groups discussing both ads, and it was immediately clear that Magna was the winner. By using various symbols to depict particular key points, from the game’s rating to the idea of leveling up within the game itself, Magna’s ad did an excellent job of selling the product. The feedback from the focus group was universally positive, as the participants all picked up on specific aspects of the painting that appealed to them.

By contrast, Net Worth’s ad drew decidedly mixed feedback. Their ad seemed far more generic, with far less personality. Nothing in the painting was really that appealing or even suggested why someone might want to buy “Gran Turismo 4.”

The Sony execs agreed with the focus groups, and Magna was declared the winner of the challenge. The college grads really needed this win, and they pulled it off with flying colors, due in large part to Alex’s excellent work as project manager. By showing a willingness to listen to others and not being afraid to try novel ideas, Alex proved himself to be a great leader tonight.

Tara, on the other hand, showed herself to be a visionary, even if the vision was more than a little off-base. By getting so wrapped up in her own ideas, she ignored both the executives and her teammates and ended up with a creation that didn’t really serve its intended purpose. While the failure was clearly her fault, she dragged Audrey and Craig back into the Boardroom along with her to try to scapegoat one or both of them.

There was no real excuse for firing Craig. Tara simply brought him in for his comments during the initial session, in which he blamed their failure on her. And while Audrey has continual been at odds with nearly all of her teammates, it was hard to blame this one on her. Ultimately, Tara had a take the fall, and, after a brief discussion, she was summarily fired.

Who’s Next To Go?

Last week, I had predicted Angie would be fired if Net Worth lost the challenge, but she laid pretty low tonight. Tara’s firing really came out of the blue, particularly cause, before tonight, the only thing we had seen her do was to save the day by finding a casting agent in the last challenge.

The teams are more evenly matched now, and it’s tough to imagine what could happen next week. From the previews, it seems that the task has something to do with either daycare or children’s birthday parties, so I’ll go with the team that seems more kid-friendly and predict that Net Worth will win the next challenge.

That would put Magna right back into the Boardroom. I had previously predicted Stephanie would be next to go from that team based on the way she completely alienated herself, but it seemed that there was at least a little bit of reconciliation at the beginning of tonight’s episode. Of the remaining members of Magna, the only one we haven’t seen much of is Kendra. Based on the fact that she hasn’t really done anything for the team yet, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that she’ll be kicked out next week.

Who’s Going To Win?

My picks for the past two weeks have been Bren and Tana, with Tana having a slight edge. After watching some of the interactions tonight, I’m still convinced it will be these two in the final round.

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About Nick Danger

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    As an aside, did anyone else notice that, when the teams were talking with the Sony execs, there were Samsung brand televisions clearly visible in the conference room?

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Did anyone else think that Magna’s billboard — as art or urban art at least — was kind of awful? I didn’t think either team was great, but I was really surprised to see Net Worth lose the task.

    It was obvious as soon as Net Worth lost that Tara was going. I put the odds at 80% in my mind. She caused her own demise in keeping control so tightly over the task. The smart PM delegates a lot to leave him/herself lots of “outs.” Of course, the really smart PM wins.

    I would have liked to see John pulled into the board room, just to see him tear apart all comers.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    I notice more and more Trump’s execution style in the board room. Once he gets the project manager to finally — after lots of finger-pointing and evasions — confess that yes, there were mistakes made, Trump will put the knife in: “It was a BIG mistake,” he’ll say, and then, boom, you’re fired. Once things of a couple of dogs in a fight, one finally yielding his soft belly to be ripped apart.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    There’s definately been a trend this season of people shooting themselves in the foot in the boardroom. The smart PM would need to stick to his/her guns and not admit any problems with the planning and strategy but instead scapegoat one of the other team members for failure on the execution side.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    My biggest problem with the show is the boardroom, and particularly Trump’s erratic methods for choosing the week’s loser.

    Last week, for instance, he scolded the dude he would eventually fire (Matt?) for interrupting another team member. This actually seemed to play heavily into his decision. This would make sense… except yelling and screaming have long been a way to avoid getting fired on The Apprentice.

    Perfect case in point: Andy the Harvard grad from last season. Bro got basically shouted down by two women, and Trump was only miffed that Andy didn’t shout back.

    It’s possible that Trump makes up him mind early about many players, and simply waits for a likely moment to knock them off.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    I think the key is knowing when it is appropriate to scream.

    Trump shouted down Michael last week because he butted in when Bren and Steph were going at it. Michael should have just kept his mouth shut and let the other two tear each other apart. Instead, he tried to get his two cents in when the facts were already against him. If he had lain low, there’s a good chance that Trump would have fired Stephanie instead.

    I don’t view Trump’s decisions as erratic. There’s been a clear reason for each of the firings this season, and I agreed with pretty much all of them.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Well, I guess I disagree with the philosophy that one’s boardroom “performance” can influence getting fired or staying on. I think the focus should be on the task, not knowing the key moment to scream. In essence, the show devolves to being able to talk your way out of shit, and properly applying the knife to your “team mate” at the key moment.

    I still like The Apprentice. But I really appreciated the more humanistic quality to Richard Branson’s Rebel Billionaire.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Trump hates it if you:

    1.)Don’t defend yourself against attack (Andy, as well as others from last season)

    and

    2.) Unneccessarily cause trouble for yourself. Michael was a perfect example; he couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut. Same was true with what’s his name last year, Bradford, who brought himself into the boardroom despite having an exemption. Trump was so offended Brad didn’t take advantage of his own “Get Out of Jail Free” card that he axed him then and there.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Yeah, I thought it was silly that Brad got axed for that reason. It may have been “stupid,” but I thought he should have been judged on how he performed. He was proud of his performance that week, and dared to say so.

    I think the need to have shocker endings / crazy boardroom antics fuels some of the decision-making. A sober weekly assessment would get boring over the long haul, etc.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    Eric, not sure if you have spent much time in the corporate world, but in my experience, that is pretty much how it works. I know many people who are completely incompetant at getting anything done, but still manage to make themselves look golden in front of the boss. On the other hand, I know plenty of effective managers who constantly get passed over for promotions because they don’t stick up for themselves.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Scott — Yes, you’re absolutely right, and that’s the prevailing culture that I’m kind of railing against here. Performance should trump all (ha ha), but it clearly doesn’t, even on a reality show about business.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    This is nowhere close to reality.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Branford was judged on his performance in the boardroom. He was guaranteed to move on to the next round and threw it away. Trump doesn’t just wants someone who wins all the time because no one does. He wants to see how people handle themselves. Branford lost because what he showed Trump is that he’s a reckless gambler who doesn’t think things through. Would you want someone working for you, possibly making deals for you that would give away a position of strength? I completely understood why Trump fired him if you think big picture.