Apprentice Week 11: It's a Bloomin' Circus

I have mixed emotions as we approach the final weeks of this season’s Apprentice. I’m excited because the tension is building, and it will be a tight race to the end. Of course, I will be a little disappointed when it’s over and I no longer have an episode to look forward to.

But mostly I’m relieved that I’ll be able to stop doing these Apprentice entries for several months. That will give me another 6 hours each week. With that said …

We are coming into the final weeks. The six remaining candidates went to Rutgers University to throw competing tailgate parties. Each team ran a miniature Outback Steak House and sold food. Trump fired the right person this week, but it was a close race. Trump and company also fixated on a detail that was blown out of proportion.

I am not impressed with the integrity of some of the Rutgers staff.

To avoid ruining the surprise, don’t look for your Christmas presents early, and don’t read on. If you’ve already seen the Apprentice this week, or don’t care, keep reading.
This week’s result was a big surprise. But unlike past surprising victories, this was not a subjective decision. This was all about dollars. And Gold Rush lost. Soundly. There was no doubt.

Synergy beat Gold Rush by more than 50%. Synergy brought in $2,750 while Gold Rush brought in just $1,750.

Table of Contents

Lessons Learned
  • When in doubt, go back to basics.
  • Stay focused on, and aware of, the actual goal.
  • Don’t voluntarily surrender a competitive advantage.

The Task

Trump led his entourage onto the practice field, and, surrounded by cheerleaders greeted the team. “Welcome to week 11 of your 13 week job interview. Amazing how fast it goes.” Yeah, that’s because it has actually taken place over the course of 5 weeks so far, and not actually 11.

When Trump took a break from staring at the cheerleaders, he gave the teams their task. They would each host a tailgate party in the parking lot in partnership with the Outback Steakhouse. Trump apparently eats at the Outback all the time. “I love ‘em. They’re the best.”

So Trump expects us to believe that living in New York, near Smith and Wollensky, Peter Lugar’s, Gallagher’s, The Palm, and all the other legendary steak houses in the city, Trump is sitting down to a Blooming Onion and washing it down with a Wallaby Darned?

I enjoy a good Outback dinner, too, but there’s a reason it’s less than half the price of a real steak house. And there’s a reason they are doing tailgate parties at Rutgers University. And it’s not because they are the premium steak house in the city.

But, back to the task. Each team was to host a 3 hour tailgate party in the parking lot. The team that sold the most food, based on revenue would win. Each team had $2,500 for their event that would not count against their sales. For details, see the official dossier.

Synergy didn’t do much creatively with their seed money. Gold Rush had the money booth and other costs.

But this is a sales task. Why didn’t one of the teams hire some salespeople to walk around the cars like stadium hot dog vendors? Real simple stuff like that would have made a big difference. The teams generally do not seem to use their cash well.

The Cheerleaders

One thing NBC showed us was that the Cheerleading Coach at Rutgers doesn’t exactly keep her word. There could be an element of dishonesty or a fear of conflict at work here. Or it could just be unfortunate editing. Regardless, this episode showed us that she can’t be trusted.

Lee likes to get an early start on things. That made all the difference in the Ellis Island Task, and in the Gillette Fusion task.

Once Gold Rush started brainstorming ideas, they decided they wanted the cheerleaders at their event. As one of the Gold Rush guys stated, “They’ll have three good looking girls. We’ll have 40!”

Michael called the coach and she committed to send the entire squad to Gold Rush for the duration of the event.

Later, Allie visits the coach and tries to involve the cheerleaders in Synergy’s event. The coach says she already had an exclusive deal with Gold Rush, but in the interest of fairness, and the good of the University, she is willing to send 20 Cheerleaders -- half the squad -- to Synergy. Despite the commitment she made earlier.

So when Michael follows up with the coach, she tells him she decided to send a few Cheerleaders over the Synergy to be fair. And asks if that’s okay. She tells Michael it would be only 1 or 2.

Now Michael makes his big mistake. He entertains the idea, and checks with Lee and Sean, who promptly kill it.

So Gold Rush won’t approve the change. After Michael leaves, the coach calls Allie to back out of their arrangement.

So, she tried to back out of commitments to both Synergy and Gold Rush, and lied about her commitment to Synergy. Not good.

She really should learn how to say “no.”

Ultimately, Michael’s decision to consult with Gold Rush and entertain the idea of surrendering their exclusivity is why Trump fired him.

And in the end, despite all the hassles the Cheerleader issue created, it didn’t matter. It turned into a huge distraction for both teams and didn’t help Gold Rush sell more food after all.

Team Gold Rush

Lee volunteered to be project manager. He said something to the effect of, “It’s college; I know students.” Since he was a recent graduate, he felt uniquely qualified to lead the team.

Right away they worked on ideas. They focused on the spectacle. Lee wanted to create an exciting environment. They came up with a wind tunnel money grab and an eating contest. And they secured and exclusive appearance by the Rutgers cheerleaders, dance team, and band.

The eating contest was a terrible idea. It brought in a lot of people, but there were only two types of people present for it – participants and witnesses. Now, remember, Gold Rush’s main goal is supposed to be to sell food.

Eating contest participants are not going to buy food after the contest. In fact, they are likely to not buy food for several weeks.

As for the dozens or hundreds of people witnessing it, well, have you seen any eating contests? They’re disgusting, painful, and unappetizing to watch. I get a little nauseous just thinking about it. And now, after people watch the gorge fest, Gold Rush expects to sell them…more food? Perhaps if Alka Seltzer was on the menu. But there are few people who will be in a rush to buy food after seeing such an event.

Michael worked the microphone at the event, focusing on the party and running the various activities. Lee and Sean supported this and sold food. Different items sold for different prices, most of which were under $5.

If the competition was to see who could draw the most people, or throw the best party, and generate the most buzz, Gold Rush clearly would have won.

But that wasn’t the task. They task was sales and Gold Rush lost focus. They got carried away with the festivities and forgot the basics of why they were there.

Team Synergy

Roxanne was the project manager for Synergy. And Synergy got lucky this week.

What should someone do when things spiral out of control?

Go back to basics.

That’s what Synergy did. Gold Rush got the jump on them. They secured an exclusive with the cheerleaders before Synergy. Gold Rush printed out their flyers while Synergy was trying the food. They were passing out flyers at a pep rally while Synergy was printing theirs. Gold Rush worked Frat row into a frenzy while Synergy rode around in their van.

Gold Rush had cheerleaders, a money booth, and an eating contest. And tons of traffic.

Synergy seemed sunk. So they went back to basics. In a sales contest, revenue matters. They priced everything at $5 to maximize their revenue and the simplicity. They asked for every sale they could. The learned the Rutgers chant to close sales. Then they focused on customer service and began delivering food to people’s cars.

Stripped down to its bare essentials, they combined a good product, at the right price, and added a service component. Then they closed sales, and focused on closing more sales. It was a simple, basic strategy that worked for them.

They didn’t come by this approach as part of some grand strategy. They backed in to it. Gold Rush cut them off at every opportunity to build a spectacle. They wanted to be Gold Rush but were about two hours behind.

So as things collapsed around them, they went back to basics. And the back to basics approach meant victory.

The Boardroom

With such a huge loose, despite all their apparent advantages, Sean, Lee, and Michael were all nervous. Lee decided Michael should be fired and brought Sean on board. Michael naturally thought Lee should be fired for the poor strategic direction he set.

Early in the boardroom Michael said, “I could be fired easily. I was on that microphone.” Once a candidate suggests there is strong reason to fire them, generally Trump will oblige.

Michael attributed the loss to Lee’s poor strategy. He seemed to argue that Lee should have pulled him off the microphone or given him more direction. Michael didn’t sell much because he was running the events.

Then the question of the cheerleaders came up, which should have been the biggest non-issue of the week. Trump and Carolyn lit into Michael for being willing to surrender a cheerleader or two.

Trump said, “I hate the suggestions of giving up some of your assets to the other side. I hate it.” Carolyn described the cheerleaders as their primary asset.

Michael did a terrible job defending himself. He took two approaches. One was to parrot the coach’s suggestion of fairness. The other was say he wasn’t really going to give up any cheerleaders; he just wanted to make the coach think he was considering the suggestion.

Both of which are terrible responses.

What he should have said was this.

“It seemed harmless. And it would have helped us. To see Synergy with just two
cheerleaders, while we had nearly forty, would have made them looks ridiculous
and pathetic. And who wants to buy food from someone so pathetic? Giving up a
cheerleader or two so the other team looks bad seemed like a good idea.

Besides, that has nothing to do with this loss. In the end, we had all those cheerleaders and it didn’t make a damn bit of difference, because Lee
screwed up from the start. He obsessed over the show without ever once thinking
about food.

I’m being attacked because I explored an option we didn’t pursue – and one you don’t think we should have pursued. That’s not why we lost. We lost because of Lee.”

But he didn’t do that. And Trump fired him.

After the candidates left the boardroom, Trump turned to Carolyn and asked if she agreed with his decision. Of course, she said yes. The he asked George if he agreed with his decision. Of course, he said yes. Then Trump said, “Good. I agree, too.” I’m glad Trump agrees with his own decisions.


Sean has had a rough few days. Despite winning last week, Allie and Roxanne were still on his case for suggesting that Allie be fired after the Ellis Island task. Sean tried to smooth things over and talked about the good of the team, but Roxanne told him he should give that speech to him self.

Later in the evening, Roxanne and Allie get on Sean about not apologizing to Allie. They think it’s incredibly rude that he didn’t apologize for suggesting Allie be fired on the task. They keep hounding him into the night, until he does the smartest thing I’ve seen a candidate do. He put in earplugs to silence them, and went to sleep. Meanwhile, Allie and Roxanne continue ranting and raving at him from the next room, unaware that he completely tuned them out.

The next day, when Trump asked for Synergy to get rid of someone and send them over to Gold Rush to even out the teams, Sean quickly volunteered.

I continue to be impressed with how Sean has handled the situation with Allie. The easy way out is to apologize to Allie, to say he was wrong, and to not do it again. But whether it’s out of honesty or ego, that easy path is not for him.

Current Prediction

Final two – Lee and Sean

To win it all -- Lee

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