The man wears a suit, the dog just pants. ~ James Ertner
I hear Chicago is a cool place. After all, it‘s home to cutthroat billionaires, elevated trains, and on occasion, reality TV website conventions. Plus, every March they dump green dye into their river. And didn’t Harrison Ford run around in the streets looking for a one-armed man? Chicago: a city so cool they put pickles and tomatoes on their hot dogs. I’m convinced.
Enough of the paltry attempt to set atmosphere. Only one particular billionaire is the focus of our attention tonight. He is an average-looking man dressed in a conservative dark suit and red tie, enjoying that hallmark of billionairedom - a ride in his private jet. He lightly taps the tips of his fingers together, subtly suggesting that he cradles the world in his well-manicured fingers. He introduces himself as N. Paul Todd, and wastes no time in informing us he has a crap load of money. With money comes wisdom, so he has a crap load of wisdom as well. This generous soul is ready to share his crap with the little people - you know, the rest of us slobs who are slugging through life without private jets.
N. Paul Todd is on the top of his game as CEO of IOCOR, Inc. And yet, he is like a sad clown, crying on the inside because he lacks fulfillment. He needs a special person onto which he can dump his crap load - a dumpster-slash-protégé, if you will. To that end, he has invited a handful of top applicants to compete for the coveted prize of becoming N. Paul Todd’s personal compost heap. What with Trump, Cuban and Branson also playing reality TV mentor, I’m starting to think billionaires are all fluffy pink teddy bears with hearts as big as all get-out under their vampiric, money grubbing exteriors.
A silent flight attendant appears with a drink, and Mr. Todd playfully slaps her behind as she scurries out of sight. Yes, being a billionaire comes with all the perks, and sadly, we’re told, this does NOT include N. Paul Todd. Whaaaahh??? The camera pulls back to reveal he’s not sitting in a lushly-appointed private jet, but on a flimsy airplane set on a sound stage. Hey, what gives?
I’ll drop the pretense at surprise, since we’ve all seen the promos for weeks and know we’re watching the premiere of My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss. N. Paul Todd (played by actor William August) is here to pull the wool over some other folks’ eyes. This time, instead of a naïve but sweet Catholic school teacher, we’ve got a room full of smarty pants with stellar resumes to point the neener finger at.
Gold? They Must Mean That Cheap Crap They Sell On QVC
We get our first glimpse of the corporate hotshot-wannabes sitting in stony silence in the back of three armored cars. They have been told they are “worth their weight in gold;” hence, armored vehicles will carry their precious selves. Their tortuous journey begins with them being driven aimlessly around Chicago while they stew in each other’s presence, undoubtedly forbidden by producers to speak to one another. Since they can’t see out, they aren’t even aware of how pointless the journey is. It’s a beautiful day for mind games.
The competitors have been told they will meet a brilliant but reclusive billionaire, who will offer them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While they sit glumly in the airless, windowless trucks avoiding eye contact with each other, we’re told that they represent the best and brightest in their respective fields. The competitors come from prestigious universities and successful Wall Street firms, and therefore, won’t be easy to fool. I feel compelled to point out that anyone who has witnessed the drunken hazings of Greek Week would not be so quick to label college students as “smart.”
Let’s Meet Hardly Any of Them
Shiny-headed Douglas, we learn, is a star analyst for an investment bank. Kerry is a top executive at a major media corporation, and has the pouty collagened lips to prove it. Damian, the clean-cut blonde with the firm jaw, was valedictorian of his business school. What glowing Christmas letters their mamas must send out every November 15th.
The others are eye candy, we’re told. That’s it. I don’t know why they only introduced three of them, but that’s what they did. So, let’s move along, nothing to see here. *swinging nightstick*
Meanwhile, from the back of his cozy limo, the BFOB assures us that although he’s a fraud, the game - and the prize money - are real. Also, while Mr. Todd will be firing one person every week, he won’t actually be making the decision on who to send packing. Some mysterious figure is observing the competitors’ every move and controlling the game from afar. The BFOB promises us the identity of the top secret boss will be the most astonishing revelation in all of reality TV history. We already know he lies for a living, so if it turns out to be Gary Coleman or Lassie some equally lame boss, don’t send me the hate mail, please.
Mars, Bringer of Cheesy Reality TV Competitions
While Gustav Holst’s The Planets climbs to a fever pitch, the hapless contestants are led into a spacious lobby of an imposing building. Stacks of cash are pitched brazenly onto the marble in front of them. From a balcony above, a shadowy figure appears. “Welcome to my world,” declares the billionaire host dramatically. The overall effect is awe-inspiring, and the contestants may just be paralyzed with fear, as they neither move nor speak.
The BFOB comes down the stairs, and begins one of those business pep talks that make my eyes glaze over. It boils down to this: money is good, he’s got a lot of it, and he’s ready to share the secrets of his success. More interesting than the speech is the contestants’ first impressions of N. Paul Todd. He’s elegant, sophisticated, and has “an air” about him. Sounds like the big con is off to a rip-roaring start.
Smiles begin to fade as Mr. Todd winds down the platitudes and gets more specific with his business advice. There’s no future in the past, he says to the group, and a few dutifully nod. He points out Elli as having her own marketing firm, and she brightens visibly at being singled out. “Who cares?” he says, bursting her bubble. He points Dan out as a top car salesman, and Dan beams with pride. “Doesn’t mean crap.” Dan squirms with embarrassment, and the eye-candy women have that deer-in-the-headlights look at the thought of being singled out next. Sure, they played with the editing to get those facial expressions, but the results are ever so worth it.
Mr. Todd tells them that he’s not looking for suits. Hold on to that little nugget because believe it or not, it becomes important later. As he blah-di-blahs more pep talk, we hear what he’s really thinking - that he has to fool these people at all costs. Meanwhile, he wants to know who has heard of his company, IOCOR. Dead silence. Not a chatty one in the bunch.
Damian, the self-described “entrepreneur” from Chicago, has never heard of N. Paul Todd or IOCOR, and he keeps up with the Fortune 500 companies. Little does he know that IOCOR is Latin word meaning to joke. Now comes the hard sell: the contestants are treated to a slick presentation showing bulleted lists with Hard Facts and Large Numbers With Dollar Signs. Important-looking business journals float by with N. Paul Todd on the cover. Lastly, a graphic showing the logos of all the companies owned by IOCOR - all seventy-five of them - leaves an indelible impression of deep, deep pockets. Still lined up and standing at attention, you can practically see the dollar signs glowing in the competitors’ hopeful eyes.
Yes, Sir! Loser, Sir!
“Who here’s a loser?” the BFOB challenges. No one rises to the bait. “Wrong,” he tells the wannabe billionaires, since eleven of the twelve standing there are losers. We just don’t know which ones are the losers yet.
With this profound bit of wisdom, Mr. Todd presents more rules of the game. The group will be divided into two teams, who will perform tasks. Sound familiar? As to the team division, the name of the game is boys versus girls. Sound even more familiar?
We can’t be spoofing Trump without our Carolyn and George, so next we meet Jamie Samuels, Executive Vice President, and David Hickman, Chief Operating Officer. Not that it matters, since they’re bonafide fakes. David the actor has the successful businessman look down pat, but doesn’t seem to know what a COO is. Meanwhile, the BFOB warns the group that Jamie has a “set of brass ones.” I guess he’s seen that key chain she got in self-defense class.
A Taste of the Good Life
To everyone’s relief, the awkward speeches are over. As if by magic, waiters appear carrying trays of empty champagne flutes and luscious hors d'oeuvre. Mr. Todd opens the first bottle of billionaire bubbly, commenting on what a heck of a treat they’re in for. Soon the players are excitedly imbibing and nibbling, secretly thrilled at getting a crack at billionaire food.
While they gush to the camera about the exquisite champagne, we snicker at the truth: they’re drinking some cheap swill purchased at a convenience store. But wait. . .if the champagne is fake, what’s in the duck liver pate that Damian describes as melt-in-your-mouth delicious? No worries, it’s just the trailer park version of pate: bologna - which really should be spelled baloney, since it’s that fake stuff made for white bread sandwiches; spray-can cheese (a personal favorite); and other unnamed but “disgusting” ingredients. We watch the chef create another culinary delight as a hunk of Spam is converted into appetizing little meatballs. It’s all in the presentation, folks.
Mr. Todd puts on his best obnoxious boss game face, and spices up the food fest even further by serving the women of the group some gratuitous and inappropriate curiosity about their love lives. He approaches Annette first, she of the flirty flared miniskirt and blonde hair. When asked if she has a boyfriend, her jaw drops. N. Paul Todd, it seems, is a bit of a sleazebag - you know, the kind of guy who is juggling several sexual harassment lawsuits at a time.
I Ask You: What‘s In a Name?
The contestants are housed in the lap of luxury in what I can only assume is a typical billionaire’s penthouse. It’s an incredible mix of views and hot tubs, decorated tastefully. Seriously, you should see the place. I hate all billionaires from now on.
The first task of the competition is to corrupt these business school do-gooders. Well, that’s the actors’ first task; the hapless show competitors are told their first task is to name the opposing team. Sabotage is mentioned, and even though it’s not spelled out explicitly, they all get the real meaning of the task: give the stinky boys/girls an icky/wimpy name that really means LOSER. *snicker*
We’re teased mercilessly by hearing some excellent suggestions. For the women, the men come up with such zingers as PMS, Blonde Ambition, Barbie Corp, Clueless Inc., and Second Place Dot Com. The women lovingly coin these blows to the ego: The Geeks, The Failed Endeavor, The Runner Ups, or perhaps the most simple team name of all, My Bitches. I’m visualizing the corporate stationery at this very moment.
Energized and ready to start the game, the teams are sent to a mysterious location to receive instructions on their first task. The dress? Casual, which translates to short-shorts for most of the women. Annette (at least I think it was Annette, since I’m having trouble distinguishing the blondes) dimples perkily for the camera and giggles that the girls in shorts all matched their outfits, which was “cute.”
Unfortunately for the cute squad, their destination is a rat-infested dump of a warehouse. White tank tops and tiny shorts don’t seem like a wise fashion choice for the day’s work. Or will I eat my words in a few paragraphs? I wonder.
Embrace the Crap
Mr. N. Paul Todd sets the tone for the day by announcing the business maxim behind their task: “sometimes the key to success is buried in a mound of crap.” I hesitate to visualize the Successory poster that would go along with that pearl of wisdom.
The first order of business is to learn what name the teams have cooked up for each other. The women proclaim the men to be Team
. . .Concad. Hey, what happened to My Bitches? “Con” is because men are big ole’ meanie liars, and “cad” refers to un-gentlemenlike behavior. *crickets chirping* Great job, women. And by great, I mean excessively lame. The men show that they, too, pulled their punches, coming up with Femron to evoke a subtle association with those bad boys of the business world, Enron. Well, it’s a hair better, but nothing like the majesty of PMS Inc.
The challenge is announced - the competitors must prove they can succeed even if they start on the bottom. Will they be the mailroom staff at a large corporation? Will they deliver the city’s papers, or sweep up its tourist attractions? No, but they can add this jewel to their resumes under “special skillsets”: panhandling.
The competitors do not look pleased. After all, didn’t those twinks on the Apprentice get a budget to make lemonade at least? Jamie and David, the executive advisors, lead the competitors over to the materials they will be allowed to use in the assignment: a laughable assortment of bedrolls and blankets, beat-up shopping carts, old suitcases - in short, the kind of possessions you might find in a homeless person’s vicinity. They are shown a rack of ragged clothing, as well as jars of dirt and mud to adapt themselves to the part of street beggar. They are told to think outside of the box - in fact, they can use cardboard from boxes to make begging signs.
The men are haunted by the specter of all those blondes in hot pants, and know themselves to be at a disadvantage. They load up on the homeless accoutrements: guitars, signs, a fake neck brace. The women look over the equipment and quickly decide they will be better off making a kissing booth. Call me crazy, but I suspect that Daisy Mae kind of attitude will take them far in this competition.
Help Chicago vs. Save a Cheerleader
The men decide to make signs that read simply, “Help Chicago.” In a spate of helpfulness, they add “Donations Needed!” on the back. Sadly, the denizens of Chicago are not so easily parted with their pennies; many dare to ask questions about the bogus charity and express cynicism at being asked for money by a bunch of random guys who have written “Help Chicago” with a marker on their t-shirts. Charity or not, can’t they see what a desperate cry for help that is? Meanwhile, the lies are flying fast and furious. Dan talks thirteen cents out of some pre-teens on bikes. Damian writhes on the ground in the fake neck brace. Michael, sporting a Smashmouth-like goatee, tells passersby that they are trying to raise $10,000 in three hours; if they can pull it off, the city will match the funds. Goatee speaks; people listen.
The women fare a little better, especially when Kerry gets out the breakdancing moves. They flirt with several cover stories, such as collecting money for their sorority, or simply bleating “dinero” at non-English speakers. Not much change is clinking into their cups until nightfall, when they come up with a moneymaker: they are moms collecting money to send their daughters to cheerleading camp. Inexplicably, this motivates random folks to give in five-, ten- and even twenty-dollar increments. Who cares about the plight of the homeless when there are cheerleaders in danger of suffering the boredom of staying home all summer?
Sleeping With the Els
At last, the long day ends, and the teams assemble in a new location to find out who won the challenge. The décor of the morning’s abandoned warehouse is looking mighty chic now, as the contestants find themselves smack in the middle of an old-fashioned hobo camp. Overhead, the elevated trains rattle past every few minutes. Oddly, although there’s a lot of junky furniture and trash, the area has a hosed-down look to it that suggests it was created not so much by hobos as by a FOX set designer. No matter; it’s no penthouse, and the competitors are not happy to find out that the losers will be camping out in the shabby tents propped up among the trash.
TrumpTodd advisers announce the results of the panhandling contest: the women of Femron earned $334, while the Concad men pulled in a paltry $312. Dan should have hit up a few more kids for their allowance - maybe the ones who still had training wheels on their bikes.
The women are told their special reward awaits them back at the penthouse in the form of blissful slumber on their very own hand-tufted featherbed. Wow, it already sounds so expensive and billionaireish, but it doesn’t stop there. The mattresses cross over the line from unnecessarily expensive into sinfully decadent. . . since they are stuffed with $10,000 each. The women are stunned at the lavish reward, but the bloom on the rose fades a bit when Mr. Todd adds that they won’t be able to keep the money. They are winning the reward of learning what it feels like to sleep on money. I echo their unspoken thoughts when I say, “um, okay.”
On to the losing team, who will have to suffer a “consequence” for losing the challenge. Mr. Todd makes his speech to the men short and to the point. The guys are losers. The men head for the tents, grumbling sourly about blondes with boobs. They roast hot dogs over their trash fire and try to sleep with the ever-present trains roaring overhead.
Lamest Reward Ever
The girls cannot resist opening their mattress to discover the hidden money. The proximity to so many thousands leads to an evening of giggles and pillow fights in their baby doll nighties. But rather than bore you with that silliness, I’m sure you’re more interested in what happened after the lights went out.
The catch, as we’re told gleefully by the BFOB, is that rewards on this show are designed to be not so much rewarding as they are irritating as hell. The women find out that sleeping on money is woefully uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, that some of them abandon their beds entirely, muttering that they would never have to put up with this kind of treatment on the Apprentice. It’s a life lesson, my friends. Submit those reality TV applications to a network other than FOX.
On the third night of the competition, the men of Concad file into the IOCOR boardroom - sorry, make that conference room - to await their fate.
The BFOB reminds viewers that he’s not making the game decisions, so his only purpose is to confuse the participants with a barrage of harsh criticism and humiliation. He hits them where it hurts, pointing out that with all their combined education and business experience, they performed worse than a bunch of “homeless guys” who apparently turn out a good buck compared to the men of Concad. The men squirm uncomfortably, especially when told that they were whipped by a “bunch of cheerleaders.”
The dig is too much for Robert, the mortgage broker from New Jersey. He interjects that he disagrees about the cheerleaders, but before he can finish his thought he is cut short by Jamie, who assures him that they were cheerleaders all right. And they were using cheering skills to win. After an awkward pause, Robert says his point was that it is easier to solicit money as a pretty girl in skimpy clothing than as an average joe in a t-shirt. Executive adviser David states that what he’s getting from the conversation is that the men don’t see themselves as sexy. Some looks of disbelief are beginning to pass between the men.
David expands on his point, saying they need to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and say, I’m sexy. The men nod their heads stiffly, visibly at a loss for words as David continues with the theme, telling the men they should have used their sexiness to attract the proper customer - gay couples, for example. David, one of the blonde hotties, had apparently taken his shirt for a few minutes at the beginning of the day. Adviser David brings it up as a lost opportunity. The men are beginning to look downright stunned at the conversation‘s turn.
It’s time for executive adviser Jamie to give her opinion of the task, and she blasts the men’s “Help Chicago” slogan for being too vague. That sounds like it could be genuine advice, but her suggestions for a more specific slogan include “Help Chicago Join Canada” and “Help Chicago’s Hookers.” Damian responds to the criticism in measured tones that they were trying to reach as many people as possible, not limit their marketability. N. Paul Todd puts an end to the conversation by proclaiming that if you’re going to lie, lie big. There’s nothing worse than having lied - except for being a loser who lied. This time, none of the men can think of an appropriate comeback.
Michael was this week’s Team Boss, which I failed to mention earlier since he was never shown leading his team in any capacity. However, now it is up to Michael to make the Jellicle Choice (with apologies for the Cats reference). Who will he choose to “expose to elimination?”
The reason for the awkward phrase is revealed after he chooses Robert (the mortgage broker who dared to question the cheerleaders) and Dan (the quiet guy who has had quite a few confessionals peppered throughout the episode, so is most likely doomed). The Team Boss, we learn, gets a free pass since in “reality”, the boss always has plausible deniability. Michael gets to Kenneth-Lay-sashay out the door, leaving his subordinates to twist in the wind.
Alone At Last
The two candidates on the chopping block are given a chance to defend themselves, lest their fifteen minutes of fame be reduced to two, as the BFOB taunts them. Robert goes first, painting himself as having a strong sales personality seen as a threat by the other players. If I sound a bit vague, it’s because N. Paul Todd thwarts him at every turn, interjecting “Who cares?” and “So what?” whenever Robert makes a point. Robert struggles manfully to explain himself, and despite the jibes manages to keep his cool.
Next, Dan launches into his defense, and disarms the BFOB by stealing his catch phrases. “I’m a closer,” he says, “and who cares?” The BFOB is left without much to say, since Dan said it himself. In an aside to the camera, Mr. Todd says he actually would have been impressed by Dan‘s answer, had he been a real boss. He sends the two men out so that he and the advisers can make their decision. When the doors close behind them, the actors burst into laughter, like twelve-year-olds pulling a prank on the teacher.
The Man Behind the Curtain
The mystery boss tells the BFOB who to eliminate, but doesn‘t explain his reason for choosing one over the other. Mr. Todd figures this gives him free reign to make up his own reasons. . . and they’re so bad, they’re goooood.
Robert, he tells him point-blank, is short. Tall people are at an advantage in life, and Robert just isn’t. Tall, that is. With eyebrows slammed up into his hairline, Robert says he doesn’t agree that tall people are at an advantage. “Maybe because you’re short you’ve learned to make excuses for yourself,” Mr. Todd concludes, shaking his head in mock disgust. The BFOB tells Robert that his lack of height is something he will have to overcome in life. Robert’s jaw clenches, but he says nothing further.
Daniel is braced for a body blow, so he is surprised when Mr. Todd points out Dan’s expensive tailored suit. Dan nods, not sure where the BFOB is going with the observation. Mr. Todd says his own suit came off the rack, although he had it altered slightly. Still, we‘re not sure where he‘s going with the suit observations. The BFOB leans forward to make his point - he explicitly said he didn’t want a “suit”, and Dan is wearing the most expensive one in the room. So get the hell out of his office. Ka-ching! We have a weekly catch phrase.
Robert looks startled to have survived, but perks up when told that each week’s survivor will be next week’s team boss, and therefore, safe from elimination. Dapper Dan, however, mostly looks puzzled to have lost on the merits of his pink designer tie. As the limo carries him to safety, the BFOB calls him the luckiest player in the game, having escaped before the real hell begins.
Robert shares the boardroom experience with the rest of the competitors, and they begin to question the BFOB’s character. In future episodes, expect a paintball challenge, sexual harassment on a yacht, and one-on-one basketball where the BFOB let loose with some elementary schoolyard taunts. All this craziness will lead us to the most “shocking revelation in reality TV history.” What, the BFOB has a switching twin?
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