The Apprentice 2010: Task 7 Performance Review

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Octane is charged with creating a backers audition for Little Miss Fix It, a production about an 11-year-old girl who meets a 12-year-old impressionist painter. Steuart assigns Anand Vasudev and Clint Robertson with handling promotions, but is confronted with the challenge faced by every Octane project manager to date: What to do with David Johnson, especially with Gene no longer available to “manage” him. At first, he attempts to isolate David away from the main task by sending him out for food, even though David expresses a clear interest in and has past experience in theater. When David returns, he is clearly disappointed that he has been left out of the process of choosing the musical numbers and other creative work. Steuart, Clint and Anand discuss their presentation with only token regard for David’s unsolicited input. In response to being largely ignored, David begins to engage the actors for their production. Though Anand questions the decision, Steuart allows David to take charge of instructing the actors, in part to keep him occupied and in part to have a fall guy in the event that Octane loses the task. David shines, clearly in his element and thoroughly enjoying the creative process of “playing” with the actors. Meanwhile, Octane’s promotional materials include a Playbill and poster with plenty of information about the production.

The Result: Both teams presented equally appealing investor auditions, impressing the judges with both productions. But the goal was not to put on the most entertaining production, though that was a key to the ultimate objective. It was to create a production capable of raising money from investors. Octane’s promotional materials included contact information to allow interested investors to learn more about the production and ultimately invest. Fortitude provided information about the play but no way for investors to follow up. Fortitude missed the point of the backers audition: to raise money, not merely to entertain. In a split decision (with Chenoweth voting for Fortitude), Octane wins the task.

Who I Would Have Fired: Stephanie absolutely should have been let go–and she would have been, if Mahsa hadn’t inadvertently stepped directly into Trump’s line of “fired.” As the most experienced sales person on her team, Stephanie missed the fact that Fortitude’s promotional materials lacked the most critical information: a way for investors interested in backing their production to follow up. (Mahsa, assigned to work with Stephanie on the graphics, has zero marketing or promotional experience.) That oversight was the sole reason for Octane’s narrow victory. Stephanie was so concerned with being excluded from the creative portion of the task that she did not bring her “A” game to the assignment Liza gave her.

Fortunately for Stephanie, she was smart enough to stay quiet once Trump turned his attention to Mahsa, whose mouth finally wrote a check (for $320, the figure she shared with Clint prior to reaching the boardroom on Task 6, earning Trump’s wrath) she couldn’t cash. By holding her tongue (unlike Gene on Task 5), Stephanie avoided the possibility of joining Mahsa in a double-firing. By the way, I don’t believe for a second that Mahsa shared her team’s performance with Octane as an act of disloyalty against Fortitude. That sounds too much like she actually thought about what she was going to say, and the possible consequences of saying it, before she said it. Does that sound like Mahsa to you? No one was more surprised than she was that her indiscretion would ultimately lead to her dismissal.

Interim Evaluations of the Black Candidates: Liza did well in a losing effort, especially considering that she led team members who range from ambivalent to openly hostile to her candidacy for the apprentice job. She clearly impressed with her presentation skills (especially when compared to Steuart, who was terrible), putting herself front and center as project manager on this task. Knowing that the task fell outside of her area of expertise, she properly delegated the work to those on her team best suited to do it. But wasn’t there any way for her to see, correct and approve proofs of the promotional materials prior to the day of the audition? Liza deserved to survive the board room on this task. But what she needed was a win as project manager.

Dead Men Walking: Mahsa’s gone, leaving David, Brandy and Stueart on my list of candidates whose chances of becoming Trump’s next apprentice are slim to none. Brandy is the only candidate left yet to have served as project manager, so I expect she’ll have a chance to make me eat my words on the next task.

I am still unimpressed by Steuart, despite earning a win as PM on this task. His speaking skills were not much better than Gene’s on the Rockport Fashion Show task, even though he was reading from index cards. And it could have been the editing, but he sure looked like he was staring at the cleavage of the composer and lyricist of Little Miss Fix It as she was explaining the play’s storyline to team Octane. Last week, I said that Steuart would have to impress me as a project manager to change my mind. That just didn’t happen on this task.

David had his best performance ever, taking the lead on the creative side of this task. For the first time, he was the star on a task–and he was able to succeed while being himself. Even better, he truly enjoyed and got real satisfaction from his work. David’s performance shows that he is best suited to not a traditional, corporate job but a more creative, non-traditional job where his impulsive, temperamental and unpredictable style is not only acceptable but an asset. My advice to David: switch from a career in sales to one in film, theater or television production. You could really be successful. More importantly, you’ll be something you haven’t been at all during your time on The Apprentice–happy.

Who Will Be The Next Apprentice?: I’m sticking to my original “Final 4”:  Anand, Clint, Stephanie and Liza (in that order) have the best chances of landing the job contract with Trump. Liza, of course, remains my long-shot pick, although nearly everyone else believes she “doesn’t have a chance in hell” of becoming Trump’s newest–and first black female–apprentice. While she did not notch a win as project manager, I’m betting she’s survived long enough for Trump to abandon the men-versus-women theme, which I believe will work against her as long as the other women (especially Stephanie) see her as unworthy of their respect.

Who do you think will be the next apprentice? Can Liza win? Who do you choose for your Final 4? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

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