Friday, February 11, 2005

Survivor - Manhattan

I totally missed the first season of The Apprentice. Quite frankly the show didn't appeal to me any more than most reality shows have appealed to me. When you add in supreme egotist Donald Trump the show was definitely not on my list of shows that I had to see. A couple of things changed last Fall which allowed me to see most episodes of the second season of The Apprentice and I have to admit that I was intrigued.

The Apprentice has an excellent pedigree. It comes from producer Mark Burnett who created Survivor and before that the Eco-Challenge races. More recently Burnett has had some failures. The Restaurant which ran on NBC was a qualified success in it's first season but the second season was much less popular. His non-competitve "reality" show The Casino which ran last summer on Fox was at best dreadful. His attempt at a sitcom, Commando Nanny (based on his own experience as an former officer in the British Parachute Regiment who took a job as a nanny after leaving the service) was so terrible and trouble-plagued that while the WB Network actually bought it and put it on their schedule, it was cancelled without airing. Burnett is on much sounder footing when he sticks to what he knows which is people in competition in unfamiliar surroundings, like racing through the jungles of Borneo, trying to live on a deserted island in the South Pacific with a group of people that they have nothing in common with, or trying to succeed in business by really trying.

It seems apparent to me, and probably to just about anyone who thinks about it for more than a minute, that The Apprentice really is Survivor retooled for a different network. In Survivor disparate individuals are put together into teams, or "tribes", to live and work together and accomplish goals. In The Apprentice disparate individuals are put together in teams, in "corporations", tow live and work together to accomplish goals. In Survivor success brings reward and immunity from elimination, while failure means that one of the losing group will be taken out of the game. In The Apprenticesuccess brings reward and immunity from elimination (both for the group and potentially for the leader of the winning group if they lose the next challenge), while failure means that a member of the losing group will leave the game. In both Survivor and The Apprentice, while the tribes and corporations attempt to put display a united front of people who are working together, the truth revealed in individual interviews is frequently backbiting, disloyalty and open dislike and disdain for other competitors on their own team. In Survivor losing teams go to "Tribal Council"; in The Apprentice they face "The Board Room". The big difference between the two shows is that while eliminations in Survivor are decided by votes of the other members of the losing team and give vent to interpersonal rivalries and competing alliances, eliminations in The Apprentice are made based on the opinion of one man: Donald Trump. It is a change that makes the show both stronger and weaker than the original.

In The Apprentice the tasks that the teams have to accomplish are business oriented. Decisions on the team that wins and who loses are made by experts in those aspects of business. Where Trump comes into the mix is in deciding which member of the losing team will be eliminated. There is some input from team leaders - they choose who will go into the final board meeting with them - but it is Trump who makes the final choice with advice from his associates George and Carolyn, and by viewing videos of the teams during their tasks. Given that Trump is (supposedly) looking for someone to lead one of his companies, it isn't surprising that for him leadership ability is a major consideration. During all of the second series of The Apprentice and the first four episodes of the third Apprentice - a total of 17 competitions - "Project Managers" for failed teams have been eliminated 13 times, with one competition having two players eliminated and one player quitting during an episode. In short you have to screw up pretty badly to be eliminated when you aren't project manager. Almost inevitably this leads to the most qualified people being in the running to win the game. At the same time it undercuts the importance of interpersonal relationships within the teams. It doesn't matter who you like personally unless you are prepared to actively sabotage someone's efforts during a competition. The makes the backbiting and alliance building that is the hallmark of Survivor and vital in the way that show works, seem unimportant and petty in the world of The Apprentice.

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