We know about Donald Trump’s on-camera persona as the star of The Apprentice: his tyrannical management style, his gruff demeanor, his terse catchphrase. But what was Trump like between takes, when the cameras were off but the crew was watching?
Slate reached out to find people who’d worked on The Apprentice during Trump’s tenure. Most people we contacted declined to talk, citing nondisclosure agreements they’d signed as a condition of their employment on the show. But three were willing to speak—as long as we didn’t use their names. And one spoke to us on the record.
What do they recall about Trump’s on-set behavior? It’s a lot like his campaign behavior.
Yep, He’s a Misogynist
“He was always very open about describing women by their breast size. Any time I see people in the Trump organization say how nice he is, I want to throw up. He’s been a nasty person to women for a long time,” says one crew member. “My girlfriend at the time was a production assistant on the show and he made a comment about her, knowing that he was mic’d and that we’d all hear it. He said, ‘Who’s that hot little girl running around?’ For a second I was like, Cool, Donald Trump thinks my girlfriend is hot. But then I was like, Wait, an old man said something about my 28-year-old girlfriend. Take it easy, homeboy.”
“He would talk about the female contestants’ bodies a lot from the control room,” recalls one midlevel producer. “We shot in Trump Tower, the control room was on the seventh floor, and he walked in one day and was talking about a contestant, saying, ‘Her breasts were so much bigger at the casting. Maybe she had her period then.’ He knows he’s mic’d and that 30 people are hearing this, but he didn’t care. That’s kind of him. During the campaign, when he was talking about Megyn Kelly, I thought: He’s obsessed with menstruation.”
As Rumored, He’s Also a Germophobe
“He’s not good with people touching him, he’s very germophobic,” said one crew member. “We were instructed never to touch him—he wouldn’t shake hands,” said another.
He Takes Credit for Donations Without Actually Opening up His Own Wallet
“At a wrap party at the end of one season,” recalls a crew member, “he gave a speech to all the crew. And at the end of it, he rolled out a couple dozen bottles of Dom Pérignon for us to drink. We all applauded. It seemed really generous. I’d never had Dom before. But later we found out from the people on the production side that he’d forced them to pay for that, so his gesture really came out of the show’s budget.”
He Likes to Keep “a Fat Guy” Around
“There was a fat contestant who was a buffoon and a fuckup,” recalls the midlevel producer. “And he would fuck up week after week, and the producers would figure that he’d screwed up so badly that Trump would have to fire him. But Trump kept deciding to fire someone else. The producers had to scramble because of course Trump can never be seen to make a bad call on the show, so we had to re-engineer the footage to make a different contestant look bad. Later, I heard a producer talk to him, and Trump said, ‘Everybody loves a fat guy. People will watch if you have a funny fat guy around. Trust me, it’s good for ratings.’ I look at Chris Christie now and I swear that’s what’s happening.”
He Knows How to Manipulate an Audience
“He was always a narcissist, you can see that,” says Bill Pruitt, producer on Seasons 1 and 2 of The Apprentice, and later a producer on the reality shows The Amazing Race and Deadliest Catch. “But on the TV show, what you didn’t see, what we saw, was the evolution of a storyteller. You could see how keenly aware Trump became of the story he was telling as it was shaped by the producers around him—of Omarosa’s decline, or Bill Rancic’s rise to glory. Reality TV is the public pillory now, the grand coliseum where we give the big thumbs up or thumbs down. And it shaped him.”
“I’ve been struggling with the whole experience of watching Trump go from punch line to GOP nominee,” Pruitt says, “because of how it reflects on reality TV, which is the work I’ve been dedicating my life to for the last 10 years. The associations are glaring. Those in our business who hadn’t already taken stock of what we wrought, we’re doing it now. I might have signed an NDA back in the day that would allow someone to come after me, but I feel almost a patriotic duty to talk about this.
“Those of us involved in the show are proud of our work. But we might have given the guy a platform and created this candidate. It’s guys like him, narcissists with dark Machiavellian traits, who dominate in our culture, on TV, and in the political realm. It can be dangerous when we confuse stories we’re told with reality. We need to wake up—and that’s from someone who helped tell these stories.”
Are you a former Apprentice crew member or contestant with stories to tell? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.