March 18, 2004 12:08 PM

Omarosa Manigault Stallworth is a Washington political consultant with a confident stride, a flawless coif and a resume that includes a stint in the personnel office of the Clinton White House. So her tone remains absolutely cool and measured when she’s asked about her tumultuous time on The Apprentice, the NBC reality show in which the dangled carrot is a $250,000-a-year job in Donald Trump’s empire. “I was crucified because I was mature and professional,” says the 30-year-old Omarosa, whom Trump fired in the show’s ninth week. “There were people backstabbing, lying, sleeping with . . .” She cuts herself off. “And I became the villain. It’s quite puzzling.”

But oh so watchable. Produced by both Trump and Mark Burnett, the crafty creator of Survivor, The Apprentice is primo reality television, full of unexpected relationships – even an office fling, so to speak – and juicy emotional standoffs that still haven’t been resolved more than four months after taping wrapped. Glancing at Omarosa during a recent photo shoot, Amy Henry, 30, a former dot-com entrepreneur from Austin, Texas, rolls her eyes. “The word,” she whispers, “is diva.”

But for 20 million viewers it’s Donald Trump, real estate billionaire, best-selling author and gleeful self-promoter, who’s the boss. To the 16 initial contestants flown in to the Big Apple from across the country, he was practically a god. “I was happier than a pup with two peters,” says Troy McClain, 33, a Boise, Idaho, real estate investor who never went to college. “My high school yearbook quote in 1989 said, ‘Donald Trump, I’m coming!’ And I mailed that yearbook to the man.'” But The Apprentice (which ends with a live finale April 15) is really Survivor with type A sharks in suits. “We became enemies or friends very quickly,” says Katrina Campins, 24, a real estate agent from Coral Gables, Fla.

The contestants – who also include Nick Warnock, 27, a copier salesman from L.A., former Wall Street investment manager Kwame Jackson, 29, and online cigar-club founder Bill Rancic, 32, of Chicago – have hit the streets of Manhattan hustling whatever oddball business tasks Trump assigned them, starting with setting up a lemonade stand. Recently “I ran into two drug dealers at a pizza stand at 3 a.m.,” says Kwame, “and one of them said to me, ‘This is what I would have done differently on the lemonade stand. . . .’ ”

In the process, they’ve learned the value of leadership and teamwork and, when it’s time to be evaluated by Trump, a pointed finger. Heidi Bressler, a 30-year-old Philadelphia sales rep who got the boot on March 11, hasn’t forgiven Omarosa for telling Trump that she lacked class and professionalism. Now, says Heidi, “people stop me on the street and they hug me and say, ‘We love you! You make the F-word sound so classy! We hate Omarosa!’ Look up ‘unprofessional’ and ‘unclassy’ in the dictionary – Omarosa’s picture is next to them.” The passions stirred up in those boardroom sessions are genuine: Each show’s finale plays out in only a few minutes on the air, but the contestants have been known to lock horns for up to two hours while Trump and his backup team, George Ross and Carolyn Kepcher, sit back as cool as ingots. “It’s a full-blown slugfest,” says Bill Rancic. “That’s real sweat coming off your palms. No one wants to be fired on national TV.” Too bad. To Trump, 57, “there’s a beauty and succinctness and a definiteness to the words ‘You’re fired,'” he says. The tycoon has turned out to be such a natural performer – “I don’t consider it acting; I consider it my life” – that the boardroom is taking up a bigger and bigger chunk of the show each week. To Katrina, it’s torture: “You have to live with these people; then you go in there and turn against someone.”

After each session, when the surviving contestants return to their 6,000-sq.-ft. suite in Trump Tower, it can feel almost as claustrophobic as the boardroom. For the seven-week shoot last fall they were cloistered in the eight-bedroom, one-bathroom space with limited access to newspapers and magazines. “They wanted us to speak to each other, because the more you speak, the more you fight,” says Katrina. Contestants seldom got more than three hours sleep a night. “You know how if there’s a fire at your job and everyone’s running around trying to put the fire out?” asks Kwame. “Everyone’s using up all their adrenaline.” Meanwhile there was another source of agitation: “The women all got our periods at the same time,” says Katrina. “There was so much PMSing going on.”

Then there was the shocking contempt for housekeeping: With a sink routinely piled with dishes, “the kitchen was the most disgusting part of the experience,” says Amy. “We were all messy. Our clothes were all over the place.” Nick Warnock takes credit for a lot of the cleaning – as should any leader trying to inspire others and cop top prize for himself. “Even washing the dishes, who took out the garbage,” he says, “that all played into the decision-making.”

No one, no thing caused as many meltdowns as Omarosa. Between her apparent disdain for her teammates and her penchant for milking her moments in the spotlight (who else could turn a tiny head injury into a multiepisode medical drama?), “she didn’t really contribute – just negative energy,” says Heidi. Even though doctors inspected Omarosa’s head injury – the result of getting hit with a bit of either concrete or ceiling plaster during an apartment renovation – Heidi and the others never believed her “migraines” were all that serious. “The plaster was so teeny,” says Heidi. “The size of my pinkie.” Even good-natured Troy can’t say much nice: “I like her,” he begins, “but you couldn’t melt butter in her mouth. And her tongue is like a razor blade.”

Not surprisingly, Omarosa doesn’t see it that way. “Even though I was walking around with a concussion and taking strong pain medication, I was still functioning 100 percent better than my colleagues.” She thinks racist stereotypes influenced the way she’s depicted: “In 10 years of reality shows, close to every African American woman is portrayed as hostile, aggressive, defensive.” Worse, she claims that contestant Ereka Vetrini, 27, called her a racial epithet during a heated exchange in which, as far as viewers could tell, Ereka used the phrase “This is like calling the kettle black.” No, says Omarosa: “That was creative editing. She actually called me the N word. I know what ‘pot calling the kettle black’ is, and I wouldn’t have responded that way to somebody calling me that!”

Ereka, fired by Trump on Week 8 for letting her emotions dictate her business decisions, denies she used the word (and producers say it wasn’t heard in a full review of the tapes). “Omarosa, my darling, this show is not a conspiracy against you,” says Ereka. “Please get some professional help.”

Some relationships ran more smoothly – especially the one between Amy and Nick. “As is usually the case in life, romance develops in the strangest way,” says Trump, twice divorced (Ivana and Marla) and now with model Melania Knauss, 33. “They had a tryst,” says Kwame. More accurately, says Amy, “we had what I like to call our ‘showmance.'” And it’s over. “We had the sort of innocent flirtation that . . . everyone does.”

This is an online excerpt of PEOPLE magazine’s cover package.


You May Like