It helps to be thin, young, and hot looking. Middle-aged, plump, and plain are not on the top ten list of attributes The Apprentice casting directors seek in a contestant. Brainpower comes into play, but only after you pass the physical appearance test. After all, this is TV, folks.
On March 9, 2006 at 4:00 am, a blonde Trump Corporation wannabe named Farrah Evagues stole through the dark with her blanket, mittens, and foldable lounge chair, staking out a first-in-line position at the Globe Theatre inside Los Angeles’ Universal Studios.
Farrah was not the only rebel who pooh-poohed the rules on the NBC website that stated: “Arrive no earlier than 6:00 am.” Twenty other daredevils braved the biting, 45-degree air with Farrah until two or three hours later when the bulk of applicants arrived. All hoped to be chosen as contestants for The Apprentice and to meet Donald Trump in person.
Los Angeles provided the backdrop for the first casting call. The show would be recruiting candidates in 16 other cities, including Chicago, New York, Honolulu and Phoenix.
I arrived at 6:45 with my resume, prepared to undertake two roles: as an applicant and undercover reporter. Why shiver when one can both shiver and also ask questions?
I weaved through the long line of freezing people, inquiring about jobs, qualifications and reasons for wanting to work for “The Donald.” Few applicants wore winter coats, yet many were cloaked with paranoia.
My questioning began: “What do you do for a living?” Most people were tight-lipped.
“I’m not going to tell you. I might get disqualified,” said one.
Another replied, “I have my answer, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”
A woman, whom I later learned was the former Miss Yugoslavia, gave me an impolite, cold stare. No words. Maybe she feared I’d steal her identity and blurt out, “Great idea. I’ll be the former Miss Yugoslavia, too.”
Perhaps The Apprentice hopefuls thought I had the power to vote them off the island. They were clearly “island” experts. I overheard conversations about Survivor, Deal or No Deal, America’s Top Model, and other reality shows.
The only seemingly honest answers I got were: “I’m a demolition derby manager.” “I’m a professional reality show contestant. I’ve tried out for The Apprentice three times.” “I’m a teacher.”
In fact, three applicants told me they were teachers, including 58-year old Lancaster resident Bill Newyear who appeared to be the oldest in line. He told me how his generation comprises 25% of the population.
“It makes good TV to have an older Everyman,” Bill said. “If I get selected, it would show Trump’s commitment to people like me, that we are not ready to go out to pasture yet.”
My second question: “Why do you want to be the Apprentice?”
Again, most applicants were not forthcoming, but two answered, “I love golf” and “I need formal grooming to make me into the perfect candidate for the workplace.”
As an employment recruiter, Orange County resident Diana London didn’t care if she was chosen. She was there to pick up clients from what she deemed an educated pool of candidates and to sneak a manila envelope to Trump, which revealed details about an invention she hoped would prove profitable for them both.
At 8:00 am, an Apprentice staff member began affixing plastic identification bracelets to the applicants’ wrists. I acted bent out of shape. “Bracelets without diamonds? I certainly expected more from Mr. Trump.” The staff member was not amused.
Then a Universal Studios employee announced: “Anyone who moves outside the rope can be arrested for trespassing. We can’t have people visiting a theme park without paying for a ticket.”
“Yeah,” I leaned towards her. “We wouldn’t want hundreds of people in business suits making a mad dash for the ‘Revenge of the Mummy ride.”
I was finally permitted to enter the audition room and noticed Jay Leno taping a “Jaywalking” segment for The Tonight Show. Inside Edition, TV Guide and other members of the press were positioning their cameras and microphones.
Two representatives from the casting company interviewed the eight applicants at each table; there were five tables in the room. We were asked our age. The casting reps seemed displeased with my answer: “45,” yet thrilled with the answer given by the 24-year-old to my left.
We were asked to debate whether a company should have a policy against dating in the workplace, and then whether bosses should dictate the smoking habits of employees outside of business hours.
No one looked at my resume. All attention was on the youngsters at the table. I felt like I had wandered into a casting call for an ingénue. I figured the Everyman curtain had fallen on the 58-year-old teacher from Lancaster and the other “over-40’s” in the room.
My group interview ended. I left the table to find 32-year-old Australian business analyst Gavin Hadwen who claimed he too was trampled by the Trump cattle call.
He said, “It seemed to me that if you were over 30, you had less of a shot.”
I told him, “There have been a number of Apprentice contestants in their thirties. But forties is a different story altogether.”
Trump randomly wandered from table to table, observing interviews. Periodically he would whisper to a casting rep, who then discreetly initialed a particular applicant’s paperwork. This surely meant the individual had advanced past the first hurdle and would be asked to return for the second round.
The show’s casting producer Scott Salyers says his primary job is to find someone who can run Trump’s business. On the other hand, the show survives from ratings, which arguably increase when the young and beautiful are cast. If viewers want to see an older Everyman, they could demand change with the click of the remote control.
The morning was successful for some. Diana handed Trump her “invention” envelope, and the former Miss Yugoslavia received the all-important tiny initial on her application. Maybe we will see her next season.
As I prepared to leave, I overheard Trump say, “I am looking for smart people. I am always looking for smart people.“ He mentioned two applicants he had met that day with more than one academic degree.
It was my chance to reveal something about my severely neglected resume. I held my head high, marched over to the billionaire and stated, “Mr. Trump, I have five degrees.”
Without missing a beat, he countered, “You’re over-qualified”–a perplexing statement considering last season’s winner also had five degrees.
I like Trump because he is down-to-earth with a keen business sense and a sane perspective of the world, but I have one question for him:
Am I really over-qualified? Or is it that I’m 45?
Published in the Los Angeles Daily News on March 19, 2006 and in the Santa Monica Daily Press on April 17, 2006 and in the Tolucan Times on March 29, 2006 and in The Simon magazine on March 20, 2006
Trump saw this article in the Los Angeles Daily News and wrote me a personal letter, thanking me for writing it.