Celeb Apprentice: The Little LaToya That Could

As usual, I found last night’s Celebrity Apprentice terrifying. Mark McGrath howled at Gary Busey since he is this Timberwolf, NeNe Leakes’s anger flared up since she is NeNe Leakes, and worst of all, I feared that Trump would fire 54-year-old preteen LaToya Jackson. How I fretted! How I shivered! Celebrity Apprentice without LaToya Jackson is like American Idol without Steven Tyler’s gnarled smirk: a funless, glamor-free depression.

THE CHALLENGE: Nothing titillates the masses like a “corporate presentation” contest! Weeee! The teams must create “interactive exhibits” (read: big embarrassing dioramas) for Australian Gold, a sunscreen and tanning lotion company that uses a surfing koala named Sydney as its mascot. The execs feel strongly about the koala. “He’s the coolest guy wherever he goes,” deadpans one lady CEO, slamming her fist on the table in the name of all boogieboarding marsupials. Honestly? She might’ve slept with Sydney a couple times. I see rumpled bits of eucalyptus in her dye-job. Sick! The teams talk among themselves and select exciting project managers: Backbone picks Mark McGrath and A.S.A.P. selects our LaToya. Yes! It’s the classic battle of “real bandleader vs. woman in a bandleader uniform.” Just like in the Bible.

TEAM A.S.A.P.: Now, of course LaToya is coerced into being project manager because her teammates want her to crash and burn. NeNe, Marlee Matlin, Star Jones, and even Hope Dwoorstop think LaToya is basically a Christmas tree in a military jacket, but we know better: We see that LaToya is useful when it comes to staring at clipboards, squeaking, and looking raceless. Fully dependable in all three avenues. 100% guarantee.

The team cooks up a generic idea for their presentation concerning the beach and sand, but that’s as far as they get.

“I’m kind of thinking…” LaToya begins. She never finishes the thought, but then you realize it’s the truest full sentence in history. Left to figure out the challenge for themselves, the rest of the team picks up chores: NeNe decides to don a koala suit for the presentation while Hope Dwoorstop promises to “stay out of the way.” That’s a quality I like in doorstops. I always trip over intruding ones!

Then LaToya’s reign of senselessness enters the math world in a dangerous way. She tells the girls to pick up “125 bags of sand,” which Marlee figures is 6,000 pounds of grainy silica. What do they need all that sand for? Does LaToya want to recreate the Sphinx, pyramids, and, hell, all of Giza as part of her presentation? You can’t tell. And you can’t ask either, because LaToya will squeak to the northeast and wander off if confronted. Star laments LaToya’s inability to understand a budget, and we soon watch helplessly as Ms. Jackson leads the final presentation. There’s sand, volleyball nets, gold-bodied extras, and even fake snow on the ground (since LaToya claims “you need sunscreen in the snow too”), and the Australian Gold execs seem weirdly satisfied. If a meek churchmouse cooed at you about sunscreen, you’d be awkwardly comforted too, I imagine.

TEAM BACKBONE: The dudes, meanwhile, are working around a very specific toxic-waste issue named Gary Busey. Mark McGrath, who is like a literary wolf hero from The Call of the Wild, says that Busey is too maddening to remain in the game. The others concur, but they’ll have to be sneaky if they’re going to set him up for elimination. Or they’ll have to finish melting him.

After the Australian Gold execs emphasize the importance of using their logo — and their erotically pouched mascot — in the final presentation, McGrath comes up with another plan: A pirate theme, of course! And the awesome pun of “treasure-ing moments” to sell the product. Poetic. “Mark McGrath” is an anagram of “Maya Angelou But a Wolf,” if you didn’t know. The gents agree on the Dead Man’s Chest theme and start recreating the joy of a thriving Long John Silver’s. They acquire shipwreck props, buccaneer costumes, plank paraphernalia, Penzancian pizazz, and even some “pirate lasses” who wouldn’t look out of place on an old episode of Comedy Central’s The Man Show or a current episode of the little-watched Cinemax series Pirate Brothel. The team’s got to work extra hard because Gary told the execs that their product “gives him a sexual feeling,” and that’s almost as revolting as when he called his johnson “Big Wednesday” last week. Gary’s libido tends to ruin challenges, I find.

John Rich dreams up an awful pirate ditty to sing for the execs. It’s very “Yo, ho, ho, and put on yerrr sunscreen, matey.” I don’t see an Ivor Novello award in its future. Thankfully, the team’s final walk-in diorama looks impressive: The wooden planks and ship detritus set a scene, and it’s more a sensible one than Team A.S.A.P.’s multi-biome collage. The final presentation goes over fine, but Gary corners the executives and improvises about 15 pages of pirate jokes for their viewing horror. Tee-hee! He even pitches himself as a spokesman for their company. Tacky! And he also pushes away Meat Loaf when he tries to engage the execs. Fabulously insane! Will Team Backbone’s strong pirate theme and Buseyian whimsy win out over Team A.S.A.P.’s super-golden set?

BOARDROOM: The Donald has plenty of issues with both presentations. He can’t believe Team A.S.A.P. didn’t strip down Hope Dwoorstop  and force her to shake her golden little tail for the suits. “Being Playmate of the Year, we thought this would’ve been a great opportunity for Hope to be front and center, drawing in kind of a crowd,” said one exec. That’s right: Hope is being penalized for not getting naked enough. The exec may as well have said, “All Hope knows is taking off her clothes! Why wasn’t she gyrating on visitors like a horny St. Bernard? Greasing her groin with a buttered spatula and moaning like a slave princess? Giving deep, sensual kisses to Surfin’ Sydney and a dozen of his platypus buddies? Come on.” Trump insists that the guys’ pirate theme was also a heaping dung fortress of stupidity. The swashbucklers had nothing to do with sunscreen, and the dudes failed to reference the all-important Surfin’ Sydney. Yikes.

After NeNe calls LaToya a prehistoric braindead elf (or something) and Mark McGrath says he takes full responsibility for his team’s decisions, Trump renders a verdict: The women win! LaToya ends up earning $40,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and Mark McGrath and Team Backbone face elimination. Meat Loaf, Lil Jon, and John Rich try to get Trump to fire Gary Busey, who they say is impossible to work with, but McGrath dug his own grave. Trump fires him after a lengthy aBuse-athon. Like any rational viewer, I wanted McGrath to win this damn contest. I’m sad. Look, there’s the moon. Arooooooo.

Just before the curtain closes on another fine week of workplace professionalism, NeNe starts a fight with LaToya backstage and says she resembles “Casper the friendly ghost.” Oh, NeNe. If anything, LaToya is Michael Jackson’s ghost. (You’d think LaToya would be making more money now that she can claim this is so.) But don’t mind NeNe; LaToya is safe and sound on Celebrity Apprentice, and we get to watch her sharpen her shoulder pads and addition skills for another week.

What did you guys think? Hilariously crazy episode? Terribly idiotic pirate theme? Leave your angst and excitement in the comments, follow me on Twitter at @louisvirtel, and read me regularly at Movieline.com!

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