Celebrity Apprentice is a reality competition program that airs on NBC. The first season began airing on January 3, 2008, and five editions have aired thus far, all in the winter and spring months. Donald Trump serves as the de facto host and head judge, with his daughter Ivanka and sons Eric and Donald Jr. also acting in a judging capacity as their time permits.
The show spun off from, and has now completely supplanted, the original Apprentice series that began in 2004 and also starred Trump. That series featured young strivers, most with a business or professional background, who were divided into two teams and asked to complete tasks that tested business acumen. After week-to-week eliminations, Trump would name a winner, who would then be hired for a position in his organization.
As the original Apprentice faded in the ratings, NBC came up with a celebrity edition, which began airing as a way to fill time during the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. The game was very much the same, as the stars were divided into two teams and asked to complete business tasks, with Trump “firing” at least one celebrity at the end of every show. The most significant difference was that the stars were playing for charity only.
There are other, more subtle differences between Celebrity Apprentice and the original model. The episodes tend to devote relatively less time to showing how the tasks are actually completed, in part because the stars often have little strategy aside from calling in favors and trading on their fame (important if the task involves any type of fundraising). Infighting between the contestants is even more of a plot element here than on The Apprentice. And while Trump’s choice of who to fire in the original version was usually obvious or at least easy to understand, many of his firing decisions on Celebrity Apprentice seem motivated by the perceived need to keep controversial, pot-stirring characters in the game for entertainment purposes.
“Villainy,” at least in the reality TV sense, was the key to victory for the first two winners of Celebrity Apprentice. Piers Morgan was brilliant at advocating for himself, but was hated by virtually every other contestant; while second season (2009) winner Joan Rivers lived up to her tart-tongued reputation, as her feud with poker player Annie Duke ran the entire season. Subsequent winners have been rock star Bret Michaels, country singer-songwriter John Rich, and former and future talk show host Arsenio Hall.
If the series can be said to have had a high point, most fans would probably point to the fourth season, which aired in 2011. Gary Busey’s strange behavior never failed to entertain, while several of the women on the show, most notably Lisa Rinna, Star Jones, Dionne Warwick, and NeNe Leakes, kept their feuds burning for weeks at a time.