For me, The Celebrity Apprentice is much more than an entertaining reality show competition where Donald Trump hires and fires celebrities at will.
The show is a roadmap of my career.
When I was initially invited to my first Apprentice finale, it was out of sheer determination. Donald Trump was one of the first pioneers of the reality television movement and embraced it almost immediately. After recognizing the success of Survivor, Trump partnered with its executive producer, Mark Burnett to launch what many saw as an American Idol for Wall Street where the brightest business minds in the country would compete for a chance to work for Trump himself.
The idea was both brilliant and innovative. It didn’t take long for the show to find an audience, of which I was an early member. It was during the show’s first season where I quickly realized that I needed to be at the season finale and that I was willing to do just about anything to get there.
Through numerous phone calls, I was able to attend.
While there, I learned many things.
I immediately recognized that there was a red carpet where the celebrities did interviews with the press. I also witnessed what looked like a lavish After-Party which had the grandeur of Gatsby and an opulence that was synonymous with the Trump brand itself. It was there that I decided that covering The Apprentice (and reality television in general) is what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
The next year, I managed to attend the After-Party and (while an associate and I were enjoying ourselves), I saw a VIP section and that in this section, the velvet rope was being lifted only for top-level A-Listers. It was here where I saw Donald Trump rubbing elbows with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard.
I also deduced that immediately upon my return from The Apprentice finale, the first question that I would be asked by friends, family, and co-workers is whether I got to meet Donald Trump. I knew that I had to.
In 2005, the After-Party took place at Planet Hollywood in New York. I handed my associate my camera and told him that regardless of what happened, it was his responsibility to get the photo. When he asked how I would get it, I told him that I would handle it (even though I didn’t really have a handle on anything at the time). My plan was to grab a menu from the restaurant and make it seem like it was the most significant document in the world. A document that Donald himself would have to see and sign just because of how “important” it was. I pushed my way through security holding the menu and wasn’t challenged on my way up the stairs to the VIP. Wearing the trademark purple suit (that I have since worn to an astonishing 1200 reality show premiere parties, finales, and charity events), I was questioned about where I was going and with the confidence of Geraldo and the swagger of Vivica A. Fox, I said that I “had something that Donald needed to see.” I wasn’t questioned. Instead my grace under pressure resulted in being personally escorted to see Trump. When I came face-to-face with the real estate mogul, the handler attempted to tell him about the document in question, I didn’t waste anytime. I asked Donald to look toward the camera and one flash later, I had the most coveted photo at the event.
This story would be fantastic, even if it ended right here. But it doesn’t.
The next year, I had secured a spot on the red carpet to interview all of the contestants and when Donald Trump started to walk by me, he stopped. Perhaps recognizing the same violet ensemble that I had once again chosen to adorn, he turned to me and said ‘so how did that photo turn out?’
It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade since that night and how things have progressed since that time. I graduated from journalism school and have gone on to work for a host of major media outlets including the National Post, the Toronto Sun and Entertainment Tonight Canada. I created and hosted my own reality television series about reality television that aired nationally for three seasons. I set a Guiness World Record (twice) to attend every major reality show finale live in one calendar year. I have established a reputation as being the foremost authority in the genre.
To what do I attribute all of this to?
Donald Trump and The Celebrity Apprentice.
Last week, I had the chance to talk to Mr. Trump ahead of Monday’s Celebrity Apprentice season finale. We shared a laugh over my story about the picture and he explained his decision to fire Team Infinity entirely.
While we don’t know whether Leeza Gibbons or Geraldo Rivera will be crowned this season’s victor, I know that I have already won with this one-on-one chat with the Donald himself.
Murtz Jaffer: Hey Donald, it’s Murtz. How are you?
Donald Trump: How are you? Nice to talk to you.
MJ: Nice to talk to you. I’m very excited for this interview.
DT: Okay good. Let’s go.
MJ: I want to jump right into it. On Monday, you fired Kenya, Ian, Johnny and Brandi. While it’s easy to see why Kenya was sent home, it was shocking that Team Infinity was decimated after they had won five tasks in a row. Can you elaborate on why you decided to fire the entire team?
DT: Well, I felt very guilty actually and it was a very hard thing to do. Because they are all outstanding. They were terrific. But this was a scheduling situation and they all knew that whoever lost this one was going to be a big one. And they lost that one fairly that task fairly easily. But they were under the impression and they were pretty well made aware that there would be very dire consequences for losing that particular task.
MJ: Do you think that this might be one of the most lopsided finales in recent memory? We are used to seeing close Celebrity Apprentice finales with Trace Adkins vs. Piers Morgan, Annie Duke vs. Joan Rivers, and Arsenio Hall vs. Clay Aiken. This time, you will have Geraldo and Vivica who have lost five straight tasks vs. Leeza Gibbons. Is there a chance either of them could beat Leeza?
DT: Well, Leeza’s been outstanding but actually, so has Geraldo. He has won a tremendous amount of money for his charity and Vivica is Vivica. She has been great entertainment. I don’t know if she can necessarily compete. We are going to find that out next week. But those are your final 3. So that will be very interesting. But Geraldo has actually won a tremendous amount of money.
MJ: With regard to PhoneGate, do you think that Kenya stole Vivica’s phone and tweeted from it?
DT: Wow! That’s such a tough question. A lot of people think so. I’m not 100% sure. She certainly denies it vehemently. She has been amazing on the show. She is our modern-day Omarosa. We’ll see, but I don’t know. She said no. I certainly take her at her word for it, but somebody was vicious because what she did on Twitter and in her tweets was incredible. So somebody was pretty vicious to Vivica. There’s no question about that.
MJ: This season of The Apprentice has seen a significant increase in ratings. What do you attribute this to?
DT: Well, I think that it’s just a show that has been terrific. It is in its 14th season and it has been 10 years and 14 seasons. We had many seasons together. We had (as you know), 15 copies of The Apprentice. Many many celebrities were given a show to copy which were virtually exact copies and they all failed which I’m always happy about, I guess. But this has been an amazing season!
Now the first thing that I would say is the cast, but I’d also say that we had a little bit of hiatus because I was so busy doing other things that I wasn’t able to shoot. So we really had a year and a half hiatus which I think was helpful but I think the biggest thing is we went back to the one hour format because the two hour shows were very long. People want the boardroom much more so than the task. You know, we have a task running for the first hour, hour and a half sometimes and I think it was just too long. So people love the boardroom and we got very much back into boardroom action [this season] and we also have one hour shows which I really think are better.
MJ: Many people seem to think that star power has a lot to do with how celebrities do on The Celebrity Apprentice and it’s hard to argue against Geraldo Rivera being the biggest star this season. Does a celebrity’s star power factor into your decision-making when deciding who to fire?
DT: No, it doesn’t. I really go on the merits and sometimes people disagree with me but always on the merits. If somebody is great entertainment and really good and somebody else that is less entertaining but does a good job or a better job, I go with the person that does really the better job. Otherwise I think, we would have lost credibility and I think we would have been off the air years ago.
MJ: Should the winner of The Celebrity Apprentice be the person that raises the most money for their charity, the person who is the most competent or the person that makes the best TV?
DT: I think that it’s maybe a combination of all of those things. Certainly money should not be the most important because some people have better access to money including perhaps a guy like Geraldo. So it certainly is not the most important thing. It’s really a combination of all of the things. I think the most important is levels of competence, how they do, how they get along with other people, how they lead. That’s probably the most important.
MJ: Is there a pressure on you to always up the entertainment factor? Everyone has become used to firing for this reason or that reason or clearing out an entire team like you did on Monday. Is there a pressure that comes with that? To constantly raise the bar?
DT: Well, I think so and one of the interesting things (while it was scheduling to a certain extent), people knew that was going to happen. When I fired the three that was great entertainment because everyone was so shocked including Brandi. She sat there. She couldn’t believe what was happening and the audience was all shocked. So that was good. But I think that there is always a level you want to always, no matter what you do and no matter what business, you want to always exceed what you did in the past and this show is really exceeding. I mean this show is been so successful from the ratings standpoint. The ratings are really high and it’s done really well and I can tell you that NBC is very happy.
MJ: Can you talk about what it’s like to work with Mark Burnett? I feel like he is sort of the unsung hero of the series and I feel like he is largely responsible, as well. I mean you are probably working with the greatest reality producer of our generation.
DT: Well number one, he is a great guy with a great family. His wife Roma is a star and she is fantastic. And I mean she is a star in so many different ways. She is a fantastic person. His family is just beautiful and frankly Mark is an amazing guy. He is obviously very talented but he is also a great person. So I love working with Mark. We’ve had a real success and we’ve had a long-term relationship.
MJ: And we are almost done. Do you believe that this season has been the most competitive?
DT: Well, I think that it has been one of the nastiest seasons, and the level of hatred was certainly there and I guess that if you want to turn that into the word ‘competitive,’ you can certainly say it’s been one of the most competitive. It has been a tough season. Now we have had different types. I mean a lot of different types of people on the show but there have been levels of anger and hatred on this show that I don’t think have been on any of the other shows to this extent.
MJ: We have seen your kids, Donald Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka all serve as your advisors this season. Do you ever think we will see a season of the Apprentice where one of them will follow in your footsteps and make the hiring and firing decisions and if so, how would you choose which one it is?
DT: Well, that’s a tough thing to choose but maybe something like that could happen. The show continues to do so well that, you know, there is no doubt where NBC would want to go. I mean, it’s one of the number one shows on television and it’s been just a great success and in the demos and in the important demos, it does so well. So, I could see something like that happen. Not something we’ve thought of, but something like that could definitely happen. As to who I choose, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just have to flip a coin.
MJ: And finally why do you think people connect with this show so much even after so many seasons?
DT: Well, I think they love Donald Trump.
MJ: What’s next for you?
DT: Well, we are doing a lot of different things and a lot of different decisions and building a lot of buildings all over the world and we are having a lot of fun. Putting a lot of people to work and I’m making decisions and some pretty big ones are about to be made.
MJ: Amazing, well Donald, the first time I was at an early Apprentice finale, and I don’t know if you remember but I was wearing a purple suit and I said, “I gotta meet Donald, I gotta meet Donald.” And they were like ‘no, no, no. He is not meeting anyone. He is upstairs.’ I think you were hanging with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard or something at the time. So I grabbed a menu from Planet Hollywood and I said, “Oh my god… he has to sign this! I came all this way!” So they let me up and I got a photo with you and I’m very excited because now here we are at the next finale and I can’t wait to see you on the actual red carpet.
DT: Oh, that’s great. Well I look forward. Make sure you look me up. Okay? I look forward to it. And NBC called and said that you are so important. So you have come a long way because they said that you are so important. You must do this interview. So that means you are very important as far as I’m concerned, and that’s great.
MJ: I mean I’ll tell you this. Your son helped me a lot when I was in journalism school. You know, everybody else was like interviewing the Toronto mayor and I got to interview Donald Trump Jr., so I’m a big fan of the Trumps. You have all helped me a lot over the years.
DT: Well, that’s great.
MJ: Awesome, thank you so much. We’ll talk soon at the finale.
DT: Very good. Thanks a lot. You take care of yourself. Bye.
MJ: You too. Bye, bye.
The Celebrity Apprentice season finale airs Monday February 16 at 8 p.m. on NBC
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Tags: Donald Trump, murtz, Murtz Jaffer, The Celebrity Apprentice