I FOUND OUT WHAT PEOPLE MEAN BY DOWN AND OUT: The breakneck slide into the Christmas holidays has begun, with the short plateau leading up to the New Year and the subsequent vertiginous plummet into the long, sunless balance of winter. In TV terms, that means the tentative roll-out of replacement shows, the return of cash cows like 24 and American Idol, and the ritual revival of The Apprentice.
It’s no secret that the lame mule in the Mark Burnett reality show stable has been suffering in ratings for at least three or four seasons, amidst increasingly lacklustre seasons culminating in wildly dissatisfying finalists and mostly forgettable winners. (Does anyone remember Kendra? It’s barely been six months and I doubt anyone can recall Sean without a preemptive wince.)
It’s no secret that season six was going to transplant the show from Manhattan’s concrete canyons to the sprawl and freeway tangle of Los Angeles. Last week saw the announcement of a few new wrinkles to the show, which only slightly creak like desperate fixes. Hoping to ramp up the competitiveness among the A-types, the new season will let winning team leaders keep their job until their team loses, and take part in losing boardroom sessions to advise on who needs to go.
This season’s contestants — which include Kristine, an L.A. lawyer, Martin, an Atlanta lawyer, Muna, a New Jersey lawyer, and Stefani, another L.A. lawyer — will be put up in a "swank SoCal mansion" according to a story on Zap2It.com. There won’t be bedrooms for everybody, however, as the losing team after every challenge will sleep in tents in the backyard, where they’ll have to rough it with outdoor showers and porta-potties.
You’ve got to love the last touch, which has that cruel, wanton touch that too many reality shows have been missing these days. And while it’s nice that the show seems to have discovered the dirty fun in treating human beings like lab rats or domestic pets, it seems like a half-step doing it while the show is set under the rainless skies and endless summer of California.
Here’s hoping that, should The Apprentice survive to return to New York city, future losing teams will be forced to decamp from Trump Tower and march north to Central Park, where they’ll have to bivouac for the night in the Sheep Meadow, and bathe in the pond by Wollman Rink. In the meantime, the show can move to Seattle, where camping in the backyard will be more of a hardship under sleet-grey skies and daily drizzle, or to Las Vegas, where losing teams can sleep indoors — in a caravan of rented cars in the parking lots of the casinos, dodging night security guards while sneaking in and stealing food from the buffets. There’s a lot that Burnett can do to revive the franchise before he resorts to the suggestion I’ve been making since season one — a final, winner-take-all duel with cutlasses and ankle chains, under a spiked ceiling that lowers an inch every 20 seconds.
Shake your head all you want — you’d watch.