This is actually a review of both Fox's "The Rebel Billionaire" and ABC's "The Benefactor" because both are essentially the same and both are essentially rip-offs of NBC's "The Apprentice". Both also simultaneously got the idea that the way to compete with Mark Burnett's classy monster hit was to take the action out of the boardroom, out of the office and indeed out of New York and have its contests compete in daring stunts to get in the good graces of their chosen billionaires. At the same time too, who would have thunk it. It file this under Fox's Richard Branson opus because "The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best" is just too hilarious a title to not have in my comment list. Fox's globe-trotting spectacle also boasts "the biggest prize in reality show history". Not just an apprenticeship or a big wad of cash but "his job". Fan yourself to keep from fainting.
While this may begin to sound like comments that should belong in my jumble-packed review of "The Apprentice", but it only underscores the fact that in the copy machine world of TV, remakes and imitations only succeed in making you appreciate how good the original product really is. Neither of these shows can touch "The Apprentice". Not by a long shot.
The first of which is that Richard Branson and Mark Cuban are no Donald Trump. That is the big thing. The laid back, sandal-wearing, Hawaiian-shirted, president of Virgin Corp., Richard Branson is the likable one of the two daredevil billionaires. Cuban is the lesser known owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a guy who made his money in the dot com boom and an overgrown baby. Yet, even with Branson's perennial happy-go-lucky smile neither of these guys have the personality to drive a show. What we like about Trump is his bluntness. These guys are wacky by definition but seem too afraid of offending anyone to be interesting. Branson gives away a ticket to the task winner to board his private plane and head off to another adventure. He over-dramatically puts his hands on the loser's shoulders like a father sending his only son into the volcano.
Cuban is far worse. This show boats the concept that it doesn't take a final showdown to kick someone out, that Cuban can do it any time. But this guy is so completely inept at host duties and, even communicating with these people, that when he awkwardly tells people to leave there is an equally awkward pause where the person appears to be trying to figure out if this clown actually means what he says and really has the power to send them packing. Compared to the creative tasks of "Apprentice" and the adventure of "Branson", Cuban's gauntlet of tasks includes spying on them making conversation and actually playing Jenga on TV in attempts to discern their personality. Yes, you see, the prize in both these shows is given based on who the hosts like the most. Who they personally believe is the most creative or commanding or personable. It regresses back to an arbitrary popularity contest where "Apprentice" has leaped forward as a show about doing the job and getting results.
Secondly, personality is everything. Not just in host but in contestants. Donald Trump has a reputation such that he attracts a certain group of people. The contestants on "Apprentice" have personality, love them or hate them. We have people to root for (and against). The people that flock to these two shows aren't big Mark Cuban or Richard Branson followers, they are just typical reality show money-grubbers.
"The Apprentice" transcends its material. It's not personal, it's just business, but it's not just business, it's life. It is a look into how different people behave under pressure, how they solve problems and why the American corporate structure is the way it is on an individual, scale. "The Benefactor" and "Branson's Quest" are simply overblown stunt shows. We are told these guys took huge gambles and risked it all to win their fortune and if these contestants can skydive, make interesting conversation, spend the night in an African savanna, write lengthy essays about why they should win, cliff jump and possibly even go over Niagara Falls in a steel barrel only then will they get the fortune. It is "Fear Factor" without the gross-out gags.
"The Apprentice" is more than the standard reality show, particularly in the production area. The music, the sleek visual style and sharp editing make it the most unique looking and atmosphere engulfing reality show on the air. It is exciting from beginning to end. Apparently ABC and Fox haven't picked up that style and suspense should also be part of the package.
"Benefactor" was put out of its misery early. "Quest" was dragged out to a long, tiresome 2 hour finale. Another in Fox's bloated rip-off reality show failures. The clones came and Trump destroyed them all. Let's hope this is a quickly learned lesson for the networks about trying to ride the wave of this particular show with their own dumbed down versions. Duplicated but not equaled, "The Apprentice" is still the best reality show on TV.
"The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best" & "The Benefactor" - * ½ / 4
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