EXCLUSIVE: Fired ‘Apprentice’ Journey from Homeless to Trump’s Boardroom

Gene Folkes shares what he learned from his reality TV experience

Folkes says being on The Apprentice took him from hopeless and homeless to TV Nirvana.

By April of 2010 I realized I was reaching rock bottom. The impact of the Great Recession on the financial services industry was full-out devastation. I found myself out of work, out of money and out of options. My prior firm had put me on 1099 status and later did not renew my contract. I had a fabulous business plan with 87% funding guaranteed by Prudential, but no investors. I had been living on savings for longer than I could remember, and those funds were drying up. Surfing the web looking for a paying gig, I noticed the ad for Season 10 of The Apprentice. The show was going to focus on “Putting America Back to Work.” I remember thinking, “What have I got to lose?”

After filling out the online application, I got a follow-up email asking for a video and giving me 48 hours to send it in.  The end of the message informed me not to call them, they would call me (or not).  If no one called by May 1st, applicants were to assume they weren’t selected for a self-funded trip to Los Angeles to interview.  May 1st came and went.  I chalked it up to another rejection and set about filling out other dead-end applications.  Relieved that at least I wouldn’t have to fund a flight to Los Angeles, I was truly shocked when a call came from Mark Burnett Productions on the 10th of May.  They told me that I was handpicked by NBC executives after the casting had been finalized.  At their expense, I was in Los Angeles less than 48 hours later for physical and psych evals.  I was in New York five days after that.

While it may sound glamorous and exciting, don’t overlook the stress of having to pull together the requisite professional wardrobe requirements from only the clothes that I had been able to fit in the back of my car. That’s right, as I was in the midst of seizing the opportunity of a lifetime, I was struggling to find a place to live. With literally what I could carry and cram into a garment bag, I made my way to New York City.  From hopeless and homeless to TV Nirvana, I was treated wonderfully by the cast and crew of The Apprentice. The filming and tasks were exhausting, but given what I had left in Texas, it was like a vacation. I was back at work and feeling productive. I sincerely loved every minute that I was a competitor. What I learned from each task in which I was involved will continue to serve me in my future.

TASK 1: As the first project manager for Team Octane, I learned that owning responsibility for an entire team can only be a successful venture if one owns himself first.  Because I am acutely aware of who I am and how I work, I was completely comfortable telling others what to do.  Not having watched the show, I was unaware that losing the task could result in the firing of the PM.  Happily, the men pulled it together, and I became the first male PM to win the opening task. Even though others undoubtedly nominated me to the be PM in order to get rid of me in the event of a loss, the win secured me a once-in-a-lifetime interview with Donald Trump.  Unfortunately, NBC chose not to air my interview as they have for the other contestants.

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  • http://unofficialapprentice.blogspot.com/ Rightersblokk

    Gene was one of my favorites to win this competition.
    Unfortunately, he got fired for owning the task and not throwing everyone else under the bus.
    His integrity will take him further than surviving that boardroom would have.
    What most of the contestants do not realize is that the stuff they do is on record forever. Ten,fifteen, twenty years from now, it’s still going to come back to haunt them.