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December 16, 2005

The means must justify the end

Reports that downtown Toronto Liberal incumbent and candidate for re-election, Tony Ianno tried to barge into Flea Towers yesterday* on a vote-sucking errand offer a valuable lesson to reality television contestants everywhere. Refusing entry to peddlars and snake-oil salesmen is our habit here and this Lilliputian of federal affairs should have thought twice before putting himself in the same category. Aside from lacking Olivia Chow's alarming competence and courtesy I doubt Tony could pull off the knee-high Xena-style strappy sandals I spotted Olivia wearing down Kensington Market way the last time we went through this popularity contest a year and a half ago. Those were great sandals. But it is to digress.

My point is that Tony was trying to reach out to Annexians with a (first ever) visit and instead succeeded in losing three votes (count them, three votes, ha ha ha!). Sure, his bullying lawyer friend may have known the rules of the game but in following them managed to alienate the very people his candidate was trying to impress, i.e. the denizens of Flea Towers. Which brings me to reality television and the perils of mistaking Richard Hatch for a genius.

Hatch is a clever fellow and one would hesitate to best him at destructive gossip. His central insight into Survivor, one of the shows that got the reality ball rolling, was that while its premise and setting suggest jungle survival its core is office politics. That is to say, a context where lying, screwing people over and betraying your friends is often a path to success. Sure, people may dislike you and you will not have many friends but screw them because they will be doing your work for you while you lounge in your corner office or, better yet, gear down as you drive by the office on the way to the golf-course or your hair appointment. By the time new victims figure out what you are up to you will have the million and it will be too late for them to do anything about it.

Small group interaction does not only reward scoundrels, blowhards and the amoral but it does so often enough to be depressing to the rest of us. Perhaps this is the appeal of reality television: there is the little justice of knowing that the one keeping the car is going to be voted off the island. And I suppose the villainy of a Richard Hatch was entertaining provided his island-office was comfortably far off even as, horror-movie like, his bad behaviour expressed a truth about many people we have met.

When screwing people over in an office setting the screwed most often lack the power to do anything about their plight. The jerk's actions are often carried out with no witnesses, no paper trail and a twisted exactitude about the rules. Bad behaviour, however, is not everywhere and for everyone rewarded. It should be obvious that what works in an office, or what worked in Survivor season one, is not going to work with tens of millions of prime-time witnesses who now know what to look out for. Sure, Jim's Nietzschean ramblings might have accounted for his early success in The Apprentice: Martha Stewart but he should have anticipated these same ramblings made it impossible for Martha to hire him. And while Donald Trump hired Randal, the latest Apprentice's ungracious refusal to endorse the Donald's thoughts about also hiring Rebecca threw away the three months of good will the candidate had earned in front of an international television audience. Last night's selfish performance almost certainly cost him a fortune in future book sales alone. Saying there was only one Apprentice and not several "Apprenti" showed something unpleasant and ungenerous in his nature. Frankly, knowing this about the man I would not piss on him if he was on fire.

That goes double for federal candidates who want to earn my vote by bullying my neighbours.

*Correction: these were two Ianno minions... the man himself remains elusive.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at December 16, 2005 08:57 AM

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Flea, you have hit the nail on the head with your comments on Randal. I thought it showed poor sport on his part, and I'm pretty sure Donald made note. Afterall, if you were Donald, and this guy just cost you the chance to score some major talent for your organization, how impressed would you be. To the point that would you regret your decision to hire the guy in the first place? Randall, you only have a year-long contract with Trump - and your first action as an employee was to show incredibly bad judgement, and on national television at that...

Posted by: Scoop [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2005 06:31 PM

You smite where I would stutter and hedge were the same placed before me. I now know I must dedicate myself to fasting and prayer for your elevation to scribe for coinage.

When will they email the Flea with offers? Oh when, dear Lord, when?

Posted by: Alan McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2005 07:43 PM

I agree with most of your statements with regard to the small group dynamic: the classic Prisoner's Dilemma comes to mind, but with some time to think about this I have to disagree with your assessment on Randall.

I think this was more Trump's fault than Randall's.

Randall wins the competition outright (the "You're hired" proves Trump thought Randall was the better candidate...) He's the Apprentice...He's celebrating with those that support him. With his family in audience and millions watching Trump pulls a fasty and blindsides Randall with a nicey-nicey let's all share the Apprenti title with someone whom he'd just beaten -- what is this? High School Council elections?

And then Trump engineers a false dilemma where he can either SHARE what he has rightfully won and get ripped off, or Rebecca gets nothing and Randall looks like a goat...and with a live audience watching Randall senses the nebulous "trap" - it might still be possible to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - and goes for self-preservation.

Trump looks like a thoughtful guy...and Randall looks like a goat on international TV.

The perfect response would be for Randall to say something along the lines of "there can only be one Apprentice, but it would be a tragic waste if Rebecca left the boardroom without a position. Hire her." But 13 weeks of cutthroat competition may have driven the thought from his mind.

Depending on what kind of power an Apprentice winner can wield, the perfect answer should have been "No Mr. Trump, you shouldn't hire her because I want to." It would've been the perfect ending.

The script-writers should've thought about that one.

Hopefully, Randall doesn't have a Constanza-esque "Jerk Store" reply haunting him from this day forward.

The real jerk is Trump. I'm pretty sure that if he values Rebecca like he says he does he can do the hiring himself if he wants to.

Posted by: Raging Kraut [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2005 11:10 PM

I think Trump gave Randal an opportunity to demonstrate grace and generosity and Randal failed the test. In so doing, Trump is the one who looks looks like an ass because he has been proved to have made the wrong choice mere seconds after having made it.

Sadly, I lay awake at night running through a Game Theory model of my argument (not a Prisoner's Dilemma, btw!) and am only now realizing I am not quite sad enough to reproduce it here.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2005 09:37 AM