Trump's teammates: Executives Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross help `The Apprentice' cast spell on viewers
By Amy Amatangelo/Television
Thursday, March 18, 2004
NBC's hit reality series ``The Apprentice'' may have made ``You're fired'' the catch phrase of the TV season, but the show also has launched two unlikely stars: Donald Trump's top lieutenants, Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross.
The two shadow the contestants on missions to prove their worthiness for the ultimate prize of an executive position within the Trump organization (and a $250,000 salary). Flanking Trump in the boardroom, they offer sometimes harsh commentary on the contestants' shenanigans.
Kepcher, chief operating officer and general manager of Trump National Golf Club, has earned the reputation of being, well, a little scary. She rarely smiles, and a recent NBC promo warned, ``Don't cross Carolyn.''
``I thought the commercial was a hoot,''
Kepcher said. ``I'm a tough person. I think you need to be. I am demanding. I don't take excuses. I don't have time for excuses.''
Both Kepcher and Ross are surprised about the success of the show (which airs tonight at 9 on WHDH, Ch. 7).
``The reason it's such a hit on a bigger level is the mystique of Donald,'' said Ross, executive vice-president and senior counsel for The Trump Organization. ``There are the people who love him. The people who hate him. And the people who have no opinion who think, `I would like to watch the show to see if I love him or hate him.' You also get to see Donald's human side. Like the girl (Katrina Campins) who told him, `I've never been duped.' And he told her, `I've been duped many times.' It shows his humanity and humility.''
Although those climactic boardroom scenes that end with someone sent packing only take up minutes of an episode, they actually last up to two hours.
``The only one (the contestants) have to appeal to is Donald. They've got to convince Donald. He's very perceptive. He's a wonderful judge of character,'' Ross said. ``The producer and NBC have no input in the end result. They didn't say, `This one may be good for TV so leave him on.' Nothing is staged. There are no retakes of any kind. It's Donald's decision to make. This person is going to be working in his organization. Have we always agreed on who should go? No. It's not a democracy. We give him the input. But it's not two-out-of-three control, which it shouldn't be.''
Trump only hears the results of the contests in the boardroom. Kepcher and Ross keep him informed about what transpired before.
``We are basically his eyes and ears,'' Ross said.
Although they never see what happens in the plush suite the contestants call home, the producers will sometimes alert Kepcher and Ross if they missed some important behind-the-scenes action.
Ross said he was tipped off to the screaming match between Heidi Bressler and Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth and the blossoming romance between Amy Henry and Nick Warnock.
When the 16 candidates were divided along gender lines at the beginning of the season, the women were quick to use sex appeal to their advantage. In the first mission, to sell lemonade, they gave out their phone numbers and flirted relentlessly.
``That was a no-brainer,'' Kepcher said. ``But when they use it time after time, by the fourth episode, the only thing I knew about these women is that they look cute in short skirts. They hadn't really shown me anything. I was looking to see more out of them. By the fourth episode, I walked into Donald's office and I told him my thoughts, and we agreed, `Let's do something about this now.' And it is brains, not beauty, that will lead to the ultimate apprentice.''
The executives are getting used to their new status as celebrities who are now recognized on the street.
``People say, `I love this show. You got rid of the right person. I can't understand how you let Omarosa stay that long.' People are much more involved in it than I thought they would be,'' Ross said.
Both Kepcher and Ross will take part in ``The Apprentice 2'' (auditions are being held at The Rack, 24 Clinton St., Boston, on Saturday at 9 a.m.). The live finale for this season airs April 15, and Ross and Kepcher know the identities of the final two candidates, but that's about all they'll own up to.
``Some people gave up,'' Kepcher said. ``I think whoever is going to win is going to have to jump off and start running. I know the last two contestants. They're strong people.''
No matter how qualified the winner is, there will still be a big learning curve. ``An unpolished stone with the right cutting can end up a gem,'' Ross said. ``There's enough raw material to turn out a superb executive. Who knows? One year could be forever.''