I think The Apprentice has just about run its course for me. The intense commercialization of the program, with each episode lavishing praise upon the corporate sponsor du jour while simultaneously elevating to godhood the Trump Organization or Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has gotten a little hard to stomach. The players are largely the same mix of ladder-climbing type-A personalities every season, without the benefit of exotic locales and bikinis to distract viewers. The challenges are capricious and success often has little relation to how well the players worked. Trump, in particular, places a disturbing emphasis on victory. When a team loses the challenge by a couple of bucks and Trump asks "What went wrong?" the correct answer is that nothing went wrong. The team did well and came up short by the slimmest possible margin. A mensch would tell the team that they did very well, but the nature of the competition is that there's a winner and a loser-- so let's talk about what could have been improved. Instead, when the team says it was a virtual tie, Trump just pounds them with "But you lost!" There's no praise for what went right, just griping about what went wrong. That may make for better television, but it cultivates an image of a guy I'd never want to work for.
I had hopes for Martha's version, but it appears to be heading down a similar path despite all the talk about a softer, gentler Martha. Yes, Chuck almost quit. But what wound up happening was that the entire team rallied around him, and he bounced back with renewed focus and leadership. He had a moment of weakness, and then rebounded. But Martha ignored the unity that brought to the team-- and the leadership he displayed by bringing Jim and Dawn to the boardroom in an effort to eliminate the central conflict within their team-- and focused instead on that one moment of weakness. Her reasoning was petty and superficial, ignoring the bigger and more pressing problem of Jim's collossal ego. One can't help but wonder if Martha's leaving Jim alone for the same reason Trump kept Omarosa around-- a good villain makes people tune in. If I was a boss and an employee acted with the disrespect and childishness Jim demonstrated in the conference room, there would be no question about who got fired.
A problem with judged shows in general, and especially ones in which the judges have such a vested financial stake in success, is there's a strong incentive to rig the outcome to create higher ratings. Perhaps Martha already knows that she'll fire Jim eventually, but wants to keep him around a while to spice things up. That might be exactly what some viewers want, but for viewers like me it undermines the integrity of the competition and makes us far less interested in tuning in.