“We can’t always know how everything is going to unfold and this is what it is,” the former governor of California, 69, told PEOPLE after a press conference for The New Celebrity Apprentice on Friday. “The bottom line is that Trump did a great job for 14 seasons and I had big shoes to fill in this 15th season. I love the show and I’d always wanted to do something like this. I’m so grateful he ran for office so I had the opportunity.”
Trump, 70, hosted The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice beginning in 2004 and has served alongside series creator Mark Burnett as an executive producer.
The business mogul stepped down from hosting the NBC reality competition when he began his run for President of the United States, but it was revealed Thursday that the president-elect will remain listed as an executive producer on the show this season.
“I knew that from the beginning that he’s an executive producer on the show,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at the press conference. “It’s no different than when I was running for governor and I became governor. My credit starring in Terminator still said Schwarzenegger and everything stayed the same and I continued getting the royalties and all that stuff. So, I think that this is a contract that he had. I think that it was great that he was part of it.”
A rep for Trump has said that as a co-creator of the show, the president-elect “has a big stake in the show” but a source close to Trump says he “does not have any current or ongoing obligations to the production — it’s just a title to honor that he was a major creator of the show and takes a share of the profits.” And New Celebrity Apprentice contestant Kyle Richards tells PEOPLE that Trump “was never on set” and she wasn’t even aware he was credited as an executive producer “until today.” Still, the president-elect’s title on the show has already raised eyebrows among those concerned the future president — who has said he will be turning down the $400,000 annual salary traditionally paid to the president of the United States — could be receiving a paycheck from a media company that is covering his presidency and whose news division will be overseen by his administration.
And even though NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt has said the controversial politician “would never be back on Celebrity Apprentice as long as I’m here,” Schwarzenegger may have a different plan.
“I don’t think that he’s going to be co-hosting with me [but] maybe we can have him as one of the guest advisors or something like that if he has time,” said Schwarzenegger, who welcomes Ty Banks, Warren Buffett, Jessica Alba and more moguls as guest advisors for his first season, which finished filming earlier this year and premieres Jan. 2.
However, Trump himself tweeted on Saturday that he wouldn’t be involved in the show while he served as president.
“Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are rediculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS,” he wrote. “I have NOTHING to do with The Apprentice except for fact that I conceived it with Mark B & have a big stake in it. Will devote ZERO TIME!”
Schwarzenegger says he has known Trump for 30 years now and even though he did not endorse him as a candidate, he called Trump after he won the presidential election in November.
“I wished him good luck and [I] hope that he’s successful,” said Schwarzenegger. “Because like I said after President Obama won … ‘I hope he’s going to be very, very successful because if the president is successful, then the country is successful and we’re all going to be successful.’ ”
He also hopes Americans give the divisive politician time before judging him.
“I think you’ve got to give him a chance,” he said. “I just feel like we cannot judge anything after one month. He hasn’t even entered office yet. So let us watch him go and get started before we go and start judging all the little moves … I only know because that’s exactly what happened to me, also. I know that [I was judged] taking a long time finding my chief of staff.”
Schwarzenegger also hopes people will give The New Celebrity Apprentice a chance before judging it because of Trump’s affiliation.
“The key thing is this is an entertainment show that allows celebrities to raise money for charities they care passionately about. It’s not about politics. I hope people are able to enjoy the show regardless of their thoughts about politics,” he said. “I am the new host, and I hope that I can match up to what [Trump] has done and continue on with a great, successful show. As a matter of fact … I want to have my ratings a little higher than his were!”
The New Celebrity Apprentice premiere Jan. 2 on NBC.