In the slick Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, famous from The Apprentice, Donald Trump works on a high floor, overlooking Central Park.
Golden shovels, framed magazine covers (featuring Trump through the ages), football helmets and plaques share space. Trump, in a white French cuff shirt and red silk tie, stays behind his huge desk. It’s a rare desk these days — no computer, just neat piles of paper.
On a recent frigid day, Trump, 68, discusses the seventh cycle of The Celebrity Apprentice, returning to NBC with a two-hour premiere Sunday, Jan. 4, at 9pm ET/PT, then airs Mondays beginning Jan. 5.
He reels off the latest participants before divulging behind-the-scenes news. For the record, the latest crop of celebrities are: Vivica A. Fox, Shawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Lorenzo Lamas, Kenya Moore, Leeza Gibbons, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Geraldo Rivera, Johnny Damon, Gilbert Gottfried, Brandi Glanville, Kate Gosselin, Ian Ziering, Jamie Anderson, Sig Hansen and Kevin Jonas. So we begin …
What makes this season different?
Donald Trump: Of all of the ones we’ve done — this is the 14th The Apprentice — this is the one where they have hated each other the most.
Even more than Omarosa?
I loved Omarosa. She was naturally a nasty person. People used to say, “She’s acting.” No, she’s worse.
Who hates each other this season?
It’s a level of hatred I’ve never seen. Kenya Moore, Vivica Fox and Brandi Glanville. Those three. The women are more vicious.
How bad are we talking?
There was almost a fistfight with Vivica Fox and Kenya Moore.
Who else is challenging this season?
Kate Gosselin. Geraldo Rivera is very challenging. And Gilbert Gottfried because everything is a joke.
How do you keep the show fresh?
We don’t want to change too much. The formula changes with different people on the show. We have raised $14 million for charity already.
Who have you wanted on the show but couldn’t get?
Pete Rose. He didn’t want to be fired. He’s a friend of mine.
What sort of person wins?
Athletes are not as tough as Joan Rivers. We have her on two of the shows [this season], and we say in memoriam. She was a judge.
You’re dealing with celebrities, which means egos and publicists. What sorts of wild demands have been made?
A lot of people make demands. Joan Rivers insisted on having Melissa. The Melissa firing was one of the worst of all time. I love Gene Simmons but he was tough, very demanding. He could have lasted longer but he was telling the sponsor how to sell.
When celebrities do stupid things, do they try to get those cut?
We have had cases where they said wrong things or bad things. People beg us to leave that out. Listen, I am not looking to kill anyone.
Are you involved with devising challenges, and what are some for this year?
Yes. In Season 1, we were selling lemonade. Who knew it would be so successful? The challenges this season are all sponsor-oriented. The sponsors have to announce them.
How do you pick contestants?
We have four [possibles] for every one we pick. It is good for their brand. Even people who have done poorly, it is good for their brand. Someone comes in and sits where you are [a red velvet chair opposite him]. We pick stars based on their life. I don’t see everybody. I wouldn’t have the time because I run a big business.
Does your business sense tell you if a candidate is a good fit for the show?
Deals are about people, not about deals. A lot of times you think someone will be a star and they turn out to be a dud.
What makes someone fail?
A lack of enthusiasm, a lack of wanting to win. It’s hard and they lose enthusiasm and can’t handle it. It’s a mental thing, not physical, which is why Joan Rivers won.
What have you learned from The Apprentice?
You can never, ever quit or give up. The people who don’t, who have that stick-to-itiveness, do the best.
Photo: © 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC. Credit: Art Streiber/NBC