It’s oddly appropriate that the live season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice was at the American Museum of Natural History. Someday, Donald Trump’s hair and lips will be floating in a jar of formaldehyde in there, and the 25th century equivalent of Maya Angelou will narrate a presentation about the odd world of competitive reality shows. The Celebrity Apprentice has an Olympics-level amount of pomp and self-importance about its finale. It begins with Trump shouting importantly on his phone in front of a collection of trophies, before piling him into a racecar piloted by Mario Andretti to take a quick swoop around the block. And then he arrives on the steps of the Natural History museum, an add for the jellyfish exhibit fluttering above his head as he ascends the marble stairs into a room of cheering audience members.
The finale itself spliced together footage of the last challenge, in which Arsenio and Clay each throw fundraising parties for their charities, with an awkward live reunion, crowned, of course, by the announcement of the winner. There wasn’t much narrative continuity, and much of the reunion seemed like a game of “who needs the least editing in order to be coherent.” The rejected contestants came onto the stage in two batches, to better allow for the obligatory trash talking of Audrey and Lisa. Victoria Gotti accurately labeled Audrey “a cartoon character,” and Takei had a nice report of the money that his charity netted after his appearance on the show, but the really juicy stuff didn’t come out until the most recently kicked off gang showed up. It’s mostly Aubrey blustering and Lisa and Dayana pretending to mend fences, but my favorite was Adam’s interaction with Teresa. Trump calls Adam out for calling Teresa naïve, but he quickly asserts, “she thinks that’s a brand of douche” as Teresa collects her thoughts. Still, the Real Housewife isn’t insulted. Adam has the charm to pull off a joke like that without bruising a tender reality star ego.
When we left off mid-task last week, the celebrities each had their internal difficulties. Arsenio got footage of Magic Johnson shot at an unusable angle, and Clay was in a tiff with Debbie over her cousin painting a mural for him. Both of those difficulties turned out to be easily surmountable obstacles. Arsenio chose a different take of Magic Johnson, and Clay approved the mural quickly after seeing examples of Debbie’s cousin’s work.
Arsenio’s main challenge difficulty is to rake in the funds. Claymates just seem to have deep pockets. Last week, Arsenio had trouble taking in as many donations as the other team. At the beginning of the party, things weren’t promising. There were a half-dozen Arsenio fans lined up for his party to Clay’s several dozen. But checks rolled in from comedians and their representatives. Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Eddie Murphy all sent along donations, and Whoopi Goldberg came in person. Trump’s greeting was priceless: “I love Whoopi! I love Whoopi!”
Putting Teresa in charge of decorations paid off for Arsenio. His celebration has a sleek, curated look, and the guests mill boozily about. Even his PSA isn’t disastrous. The 1980s concept was a bit convoluted for such a short spot, but it got a laugh from the audience, and the Magic footage impresses the Trump clan. The promos for this episode bill it as a battle between comedians and musicians, but it’s hard to tell which act rallied more enthusiasm. Adam Carolla’s stand-up routine neatly skewers Trump, who he described as “Don King but with creepier hair and a broke moral compass.” Lisa’s bit finally allows her to go blue for the audience, but if Trump was bothered by the jokes at his expense, he doesn’t betray much evidence of it.
With Aubrey in charge of the party theme, the decorations on Clay’s side of the party are far more involved. There are carnival games, stilt walkers, children in face paint (who I hope were evacuated before Lisa’s set) and cotton candy. Clay’s micromanagement habit doesn’t endear him to Aubrey or Debbie, but the tasks no longer have to be about soothing your teammates. Plus, those American Idol fans can really bring in the dough. Clay ends up making $301,500 for his charity, compared to Arsenio’s $167,100. Lisa even sends over a drag look-a-like to deposit a $10,000 check for Clay’s team.
As promised, the show that Team Clay puts on includes a duet between Dee Snider and Debbie Reynolds. Aubrey sings “I Will Survive” pointedly at Trump while Penn dances crazily behind her, like a manic shadow giant, and Clay closes out the show with that Dirty Dancing classic, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Dee Snider isn’t in the frame at this point, but I’m betting his ears began to bleed a little bit from all that undiluted pop.
Because Trump is a magical creature, he transports a miniature version of his boardroom table and his red leather throne onto the stage. There’s not much sniping at the team leaders. Not because either of them were perfect, but because there’s not much point bringing down someone in the finals unless you’ve really got it out for them. Aubrey, of course, slips in a dig at Arsenio—“I don’t know him as a man. I don’t care to know him as a man,” she says, fluttering her eyelids—but even former rivals stay positive.
Cue the time-stretching fanfare, which includes a live Clay and Arsenio “Lean On Me” duet and a fond look at the winners of Celebrity Apprentice past. I was hoping that John Rich would show up to pass on his cowboy hat to the next winner, but alas, it was just Trump and the two finalists. Trump bestows his title on Arsenio, and every confetti cannon in the city goes off simultaneously. It’s tempting to feel sorry for Clay, always the runner-up, but even with the extra $250,000 that comes with the title, Arsenio didn’t best Clay by much in terms of fundraising. And at the end of the day, there's no such thing as “Arsenio-mates,” after all.
- Don Jr. seems defeated by the choice. “Dad, this is up to you!” he proclaims.
- Making Lisa sit through a montage of herself cursing and then another one of her crying? Seems like a little roast payback, no?
- Whenever something is titled "And the winner is…" the answer should automatically be "Hov!"
- When Trump asks Adam if it helps to be funny on Celebrity Apprentice: “It helps as much as it helps in golf and porn.”