Celebrity Apprentice Finale Recap: Save a Horse, Hire a Cowboy!

Here’s the best compliment I can give both John Rich and Marlee Matlin, the two classiest Celebrity Apprentice finalists ever to sit across from Donald Trump and stare at his crust-colored hair thatch: They exhibited such intelligence and poise during last night’s two-hour finale that I almost forgot how dicey the season really was. Remember Nene Leakes’s remarks about La Toya Jackson’s Casper-like skin? Dionne Warwick’s powerful use of the word “hussy”? David Cassidy’s un-kneaded clay face? They all became distant memories as Rich and Matlin squared off at the final boardroom table, arguing for Trump’s final check like cocky southern lawyers in a Grisham thriller. Was the winner deserving? Join us for a recap of the (partly live) conclusion.

Let’s break down both teams’ actions before we inspect the live portion of the show. We’ll learn a lot about teamwork and 7-Up Retro this way! You’ll grow as a person and die only a little.

JOHN RICH’S TEAM: John and his teammates Lil Jon, Star Jones, and Mark McGrath are a strong foursome for one reason — they’re not the freaks on Marlee’s team. God, look at those cut-ups: La Toya Jackson, Richard Hatch, and Meat Loaf are less handymen than handicaps, and John has none of their emotionally crippled nonsense to deal with. Good on him. Together Star, Mark, and Lil Jon help finish filming John’s commercial and staging his big presentation with ease.The only setback is John’s relationship with Def Leppard, the ’80s band that gave us more stripper anthems than I’m comfortable discussing, who are scheduled to make an appearance during his ’80s-themed presentation. They seem unamused by all of John’s suggestions, but later John claims they were accommodating and helpful. I don’t understand, but Celebrity Apprentice is not about understanding. It is about surviving. Girl, we’re almost there. Hold onto your Jose Canseco Juiced memoirs and pray!

When it comes time for Trump and an audience of unenthusiastic extras to witness John’s final products, we’re treated to a halfway decent commercial (featuring Dee Snider of Twisted Sister as a wannabe auditioner) and one giant-ass snafu: John introduces Def Leppard, but they don’t come onstage. They’re not even in the building yet. They haven’t even poured some sugar on their morning Starbucks yet. Sensing that he’s introduced a band to a crowd of awaiting concertgoers, John improvises and plays an impromptu concert. Yay for inventive desperation! That’s what Donald Trump and his masculinity issues are all about. Soon enough, Def Leppard does arrive, and they blow the roof off the joint. And in an unprecedented couple of scenes, random donors give John $275,000 for his charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. But are these accomplishments explosive enough to earn John the title of Celeb Apprentice champ?

MARLEE MATLIN’S TEAM: What a deranged bunch of convicts. Richard Hatch, who is in jail right now, won’t stop complaining about Marlee’s inability to “step up as project manager.” He needs your authority, Marlee! Because maybe with a little guidance, he can dodge prison. And by “guidance” I mean “adherence to tax laws.” While Def Leppard is a pretty corny choice for John’s ’80s-themed presentation, Marlee is stuck with a worse gimmick for her ’70s-themed one: the Harlem Globetrotters. Yes, after Marlee airs her 7-Up Retro commercial full of disco outfits, glitter balls, and general Meat Loafery, she has to take her audience to see the Harlem Globetrotters stage one of their patriotic basketball expos. This would be a perfect idea if, say, Scooby Doo was the host of Celebrity Apprentice — but he’s not. Instead it’s that shady carnival owner in the gorilla mask named Donald Trump. Hope is fading for Marlee’s squad!

And wait, she’s not done with despair yet: During her final presentation, Marlee presents what could be the single worst commercial in the history of Celebrity Apprentice. I’m serious. There’s no logic, reason, or abstract philosophical throughline to Marlee’s ad, which features La Toya dressed as Wonder Woman, Richard Hatch in a creepy blond afro, and Marlee sporting glittery bell-bottoms. Upsettingly terrible. It has nothing to do with 7-Up either, which might be an important component in a 7-Up ad. Oh, the nonsense! It is so prevalent on this show, yet always a traumatizing surprise.

LIVE SHOW: Before Trump declares a winner, we rejoin him in the present day — in front of a live New York audience — as he reintroduces past contestants ranging from the majorly cleavaged Lisa Rinna to the fierce frown of Nene Leakes. These are hardened broads with axes to grind. Mysteriously, Dionne Warwick and Jose Canseco aren’t in attendance, which is weird because they’re not in idiot jail like Richard Hatch. (Though they’re more than eligible, of course!) Trump asks David Cassidy if Richard Hatch belongs in the pokey, and Cassidy — who fought with Richard in the first episode, he’ll have you know — claims Hatch is “in the right place at the right time.” Super resentful! And a little bit funny, for real. Can’t believe decent humor is able to escape from David Cassidy’s makeup-suffocated pores. It’s so scientifically improbable.

Then comes the season-retrospective clip packages we all know and love on reality show finales. Check it out: Gary Busey was a horrifying Yeti this whole season, wasn’t he? Oh, how we cringed at his every twitch, squeal, and gurgle! Hey, Nene Leakes and Star Jones fought a lot, right? Hey, La Toya was a whining terror in a bandleader jacket, right? It’s not a pleasant season to revisit, honestly. Part of the problem with Celebrity Apprentice is that the ugliness gets nauseating on this show, especially when the same insults and tantrums repeat themselves each episode. I don’t know how you Real Housewives fanboys handle it.

One bit of live fighting was magic, though. During a dust-up between Nene and Star Jones, the former View co-host delivers a verbal smackdown to the Bravo star’s big mouth: “You attacked every black woman on the show. It was embarrassing.” To be fair, Nene did attack all the black women on the show — and even some of the pale green women like La Toya. But there’s no way it was a race-related resentment, and Star should feel weak for bringing the argument to a seriously accusatory place. Donald Trump is not the man we want presiding over televised discussions of race. Or our nation, for that matter. In case we hadn’t settled that matter yet.

After that short-lived brouhaha (and a quick Gary Busey monologue where he explained that Omaha Steaks marketed his senseless kite idea), Trump brings out John Rich and Marlee Matlin for a final consultation. He asks the eliminated contestants to select a winner, and even Team Marlee members like La Toya vote for John Rich! “I think the $275,000 put him over the top!” La Toya chirps with that unmistakable 54-year-old cricket coo. Mark McGrath agrees: “Marlee had the best week in Celebrity Apprentice history,” he says, referring to the challenge where she earned $1 million for charity, “but John had the best season in Celebrity Apprentice history.” McGrath’s powerful endorsement is proud and positive. And he looks like a wolf, which makes it seem fiercer.

Without further ado, Trump selects a champion. Drum-roll please, armless Def Leppard wonder? The winner is John Rich, who we definitely knew was going to win. You can’t argue with a decent soda can design, a solid commercial, and the sudden windfall of $275,000. Marlee may have an Oscar, but John delivered the season’s Best Performance by a Country Troubadour in a Leading Hat. He led the most challenges, used the most creativity, and hid behind the most Stetsons. That’s all respectable in the long run.

I leave you now (on this, our last foray into Celeb Apprentice‘s psychological warfare) with a quote from Gary Busey, who tried to explain how smart he really is during one segment. I’ve broken it down into a poem for your analytical, tenth-grade mind. Godspeed, and don’t explode at the computer after you read this Harlem Renaissance-shaming confessional:

Crazy Like a Fox

I’m very mysterious when I work.
I don’t let others know
what I’m thinking
or how I’m moving.

I’m also trained in neurolinguistic programming,
which means I can watch people’s eyes
when they’re talking to me,
and tell if they’re lying,
telling the truth,
or making up a story

that has nothing to do
with the subject we’re talking on.

What did you think of the finale? Did John deserve to beat Marlee? Did we all deserve to beat David Cassidy senseless? What about Meat Loaf’s obnoxious self-promotion halfway through the live segment? Leave your comments below and tell me if you almost died at any point during the show. I was on the brink of spiritual collapse myself, child. Also: Read me regularly at Movieline.com and find me on Twitter at @louisvirtel!