A SHOW EVEN I COULD LOVE

By LINDA STASI

December 19, 2003 -- MY job hasn't been half the fun it used to be since Donald Trump settled down, settled in, and stopped making front-page news on a semi-weekly basis.

Happily, The Donald, one of the great characters of this city, will soon be his own reality series - and it's coming to a TV set near you.

Although "The Apprentice" won't hit the air until January, I got an advance peek yesterday, and it's a riot.

And it's totally original.

For one thing, there's not one bartender and, thank you, God, not one - count 'em, not one - former cheerleader. That alone should make it a stand out.

But this latest Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Restaurant") reality series will stand on its own because, for once, the premise actually makes sense.

Sixteen young entrepreneurs - ranging from a high-school grad who owns his own mortgage company to the guy who founded Cigar of the Month Club to a young woman who grew up in the projects and ended up working at the White House - are vying for one job . . . as president of a Trump Organization company with a huge salary and a one-year contract.

And each week, The Donald gets to fire someone. Forget alliances, forget cliques, forget schmoozing each other up to not be voted off.

The Donald makes the call himself. If your team wins the challenge each week, you get to go eat caviar in the Trump suite. If your team loses, you go to the boardroom where he will fire someone in front of the rest of the losing team.

Sure, getting fired by a gazillionaire on national TV might be hugely humiliating, but not as humiliating as standing in front of a Tikki god getting bitten alive by mosquitoes, while your own buds throw you out after you went and ate spiders for them.

To keep it honest, Trump sends two of his top people out with the contestants each week to see how well they do in the tasks assigned them.

No, they don't have to swim the East River blindfolded, but they do have to work as a team to make money at whatever project taskmaster Trump sets for them.

Because he's devious, The Donald breaks the 16 wannabe Donalds up into two groups. I won't tell you what they are - but trust me, it makes it even more fun to watch as these Gen-X, self-made tycoons try to work as a group when they are totally and completely driven to succeed individually.

Right off, there are the ones you like, the ones you hate, and the ones who look like born losers but will probably last.

That's because Mark Burnett is a genius in the cutting room - even if you are the one he's sliced to ribbons.

I know. I was sliced up so badly I came out looking like a big bracciole on "The Restaurant."
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