Friday, March 28, 2008

Piers Morgan Wins The Celebrity Apprentice

Los Angeles - In the end, evil bested good on Celebrity Apprentice .

At least that's how Donald Trump chose to spin the finale showdown Thursday between country singer Trace Atkins and British tabloid editor turned America's Next Got Talent judge Piers Morgan.

During a live two-hour finale, about half of which was devoted to the charity gala the finalists presided over, with the final segment reserved for clips and more boardroom bickering, Trump picked the brash, outspoken Brit to be the Celebrity Apprentice.

This season the winner couldn't really be Trump's apprentice, of course, considering Morgan already has a job and the point of this inaugural edition of the Mark Burnett-produced competition show, its seventh cycle overall, was to raise money for the stars' respective charities.

The biggest beneficiaries of this 13-week experiment were Morgan's cause célèbre, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which raises money for the families of U.S. troops killed or severely injured while serving their country, and the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, Atkins' pet charity since his 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with multiple life-threatening allergies.

More than $1 million was raised through the various tasks the 14 B-listers (and Omarosa, whose list usually includes four letters) were asked to perform, ranging from peddling tickets to Broadway musicals to dressing windows to showcase Vera Wang mattresses.

For philanthropy's sake, it was lucky that most of the tasks turned into three or four-person games of "whose rolodex is the beefiest?"

And more often than not, it was Morgan who came through with the big donors, like Virgin mogul Richard Branson, who cut a check for $10,000 during the Broadway task, and Talent executive producer (etc.) Simon Cowell, who during the final challenge bid $100,000 for a shopping date with Ivanka Trump.

So it didn't matter that four out of five moralists—not to mention most of his fellow contestants—would have sent Morgan packing, preferring Atkins' quiet confidence and gracious demeanor.

"This would have been a much shorter boardroom if you had a better bedside manner," Ivanka Trump informed the former Daily Mirror honcho before he was named the winner.

"You don't know about my bedside manner!" quipped the cheeky father of three, who took a decidedly war-like approach to each task, rooting out and destroying weak links with undisguised pleasure—particularly when he laid waste to Omarosa in week 10.

All of which made for a much-needed injection of oomph into the tired Apprentice format that was reflected in the Nielsen ratings. This season averaged 9.2 million viewers per week as opposed to season six's 7.4 million, when a plain-old defense attorney was the last one standing.

"Surprise" appearances by celebs such as Alec and Billy Baldwin (Stephen's bros), David Hyde Pierce (Taxi star Marilu Henner's New York theater pal), Bob Saget (just hanging out?) and porn star Jenna Jameson (Ultimate Fighting champ Tito Ortiz's girlfriend) probably helped, although it's interesting to note that the guests tended to be of a higher star caliber than the friends or family members they were helping out.

Trump also threw in another $250,000 for the Intrepid fund, and NYC-based brokerage house Cantor Fitzgerald promised to match up to $250,000 the amount raised from viewers' text-in donations.

Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm that on 9-11 lost more than 700 employees who were working in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, also made a strong showing during Thursday's finale, with one of the partners bidding $100,000 apiece to have tea with the Duchess of York, Sarah (the original "Fergie) Ferguson, and spend an evening with Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, both lots benefiting Morgan's effort.

Considering it was all about the dollar bills y'all on this go-round, Atkins probably didn't stand a chance, even though he maintained his southern-gentleman stature throughout, was on multiple winning teams (although 0-2 as project manager, while Morgan was 2-1) and patiently babysat the Backstreet Boys during the final task.

The "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" singer looked downright stunned when Nick Carter asked for wheatgrass juice for their dressing room—although not as mortified as when Morgan, reacting to Omarosa's absurd assertion that he was gay, walked back into the boardroom and kissed Atkins on the cheek, calling him a "beautiful cowboy."

He really did not get that one. ("Brokeback boardroom," boxer Lennox Lewis astutely called it.)

And in the end Morgan just made more money, which is what Trump is all about. That and gold. And pink ties.

But, then again, if this is actually "the toughest thing [he] has had to do in a long time," as Trump always claims it is when it comes time to fire "two terrific people," then who's really the big winner here?

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