Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"The Apprentice" vs. "Survivor"

I've made no secret over the years that I positively hate the show Survivor, because it's boring and it rewards people for behaving in ways I'd never ever ever want to see rewarded in real life with anything other than a swift kick in one of several nether regions. But then, I've become hooked on The Apprentice, which is basically Survivor transposed to a business environment. I've been trying to figure out why I like Donald Trump's show and not the other one, and I've come up with two main reasons.

:: The "challenges". Both shows divide a group of people into two smaller groups, who are then set to competing against one another in a specific "challenge" (in Survivor lingo), or "task" (as it's called on The Apprentice). The team which wins typically earns some kind of reward, while the team that loses gets to sit down with Trump or Jeff Probst, dissect the defeat, and then see one of its members shown the door.

On The Apprentice, the tasks are business related things that do pertain to actual skills a business person might need: negotiation, sales skills, management of personnel, et cetera. Yes, they're still manufactured tasks -- such as the episode when the two teams each took a day "managing" the Planet Hollywood at Times Square. (I'm sure they weren't really managing the entirety of that restaurant's operation.) But for the purposes of the show, they're real enough. Contrast that with the dorky games they come up with for Survivor:

OK, Survivors, listen up! What we have here is an obstacle course! First you're gonna hop on one foot across these three-inch wide beams over those mud pits. Then, you're going to get into one of these rowboats and row across this pond using oars from which the blades have been removed. When you reach the other side, you'll find a piece of paper on which the name of a Broadway show has been written; you must sing one verse of one song from that show before you move on to the rope ladder which we have covered with maple syrup. At the top of that ladder, you'll find a flag. Pull that down and then swim back to the starting point, at which point your second person will go. The first team to bring back all five flags wins immunity!

Yeah -- the ability to do that well is one which will really come in useful sometime down the line. And really, there's something about the whole Survivor exercise that reminds me of my grade school gym classes, when we'd walk in to discover the gym set up in some weird fashion we haven't seen before -- say, the high horse sitting in front of a miniature dodge-ball court in turn in front of a rack of medicine-balls -- with the teacher standing there with his hands behind his back, whistle around his neck, and always starting each instance of gym class with the words, "OK, listen up!" We'd be thinking, "What the hell is this?", with much the same expressions of bewilderment that the contestants on Survivor display. Of course, back then, we didn't get fresh pizza or a trip to a spa on the next island over if we won.

None of that crap, though, on The Apprentice. Briefings on-the-fly by the boss are pretty standard in any job these days.

:: My other reason for liking The Apprentice while hating Survivor is simple: NO ALLIANCES.

Half of each episode of Survivor seems to always be devoted to contestants trying to form alliances with their teammates to get rid of other teammates, preserve themselves in "the game", et cetera. I guess the show's fans find this all very interesting, but to me it's always incredibly boring. There really are only so many hushed conversations out by the water hole or down by the waterline about whether or not it's George or Tammy or Brunhilde's time to go or whether they're a threat next week or whether they can be counted on when voting time rolls around which I am prepared to watch, and I reached my quota way back during the very first iteration of Survivor. Of course, the show's fans may claim that each season this stuff gets more compelling, since the initial level of trust now seems to be set at zero, but really, it's all terribly boring and the same.

On The Apprentice, though, this alliance-stuff doesn't happen -- or at least, not nearly to the extent it does on Survivor. The show is structured to keep it from happening. Nobody is "voted off" The Apprentice; each week, Donald Trump alone decides who gets tossed. The losing team's "Project Manager" -- i.e., the team member who took charge of that episode's "task" -- decides on two teammates who will confront Mr. Trump, while the remainder of the team, now safe from being fired, goes back upstairs to the suite. Then, Trump quizzes the Project Manager and the two teammates before finally firing one of these three. (Now that the show has progressed to the point where there are too few contestants left for things to work this way, I assume the process will change slightly.)

When there's only one vote being cast, and it's not even being cast by a contestant, there's not much to gain by trying to gather everyone to your side. Sure, there's a little of it -- pledges by project managers not to take certain people into the board room, and that kind of thing -- but it's really surprisingly ineffective. (A couple of weeks ago, just such a strategy completely backfired for a Project Manager, and she got fired.) This lack of all that boring crap about alliance-forming and who betrayed whom and so on makes The Apprentice a lot more interesting to watch.

Of course, once The Apprentice is into a fifth or sixth season, all this might have changed and the show may have become boring. But I found Survivor pretty uninteresting in its first season, whereas I'm enjoying The Apprentice a lot.

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