The First Reality TV President

More than 20 years ago, America TV changed — and the change went on to ripple throughout the nation.

On March 31, 2000, CBS Television broadcast the premiere of a program called “Survivor.” It was presented as a reality show — but as you might expect, nothing about it was real.

“Survivor” was an unscripted experiment (based on a Swedish series) that stranded 16 Americans on the remote island of Pulau Tiga near Borneo in the South China Sea. After splitting into two tribes, the players would spend the next 39 days voting one another off in a makeshift jungle courtroom known as Tribal Council.

The program’s competition was vicious, with alliances that formed and then were torn apart. Imagine yourself on an island with 15 other people and no food, no water, no shelter. If that sounds vaguely prophetic, that’s just the beginning.



In the end, the vicious competition turns the island into a TV series based on “Lord of the Flies,” as one by one they pick each other off until, in a catchphrase deeply steeped in irony: “The tribe has spoken.”

So, after sharpening the skills of combat and injustice with "Survivor," the second longest-running reality show on TV was a boardroom show with similar ruthless human behavior. It was called “The Apprentice.”

The drama. The loyalty. Who stays and who goes.

Both “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” are the work of a T-shirt salesman turned TV producer named Mark Burnett. Burnett is a first-generation American immigrant, a self-made man who was the only child of two British automotive workers.

In the pilot episode of "The Apprentice," Trump is filmed in the back of a black limousine. "My name's Donald Trump," he intones, "and I'm the largest real estate developer in New York.” Was that true then? Certainly not. But it’s not a news program, so those statements went unchallenged.

 "But it wasn't always so easy,” he goes on. “About 13 years ago, I was seriously in trouble.” He had four bankruptcies in Atlantic City and New York in 1991 and 1992, but the show promoted him as a wealthy winner.

In fact, the Atlantic City casino where some episodes were shot would go bankrupt later that year. The helicopter he flew in was about to be repossessed by the bank, according to producers on the show.

Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump, says: “Mark Burnett’s show was the single biggest factor in putting Trump in the national spotlight.”

Burnett described Trump as his “soul mate.” One supervising editor of “Apprentice” told The New Yorker that “we knew Trump was a fake,” but was instructed by Burnett “to make him out to be the most important person in the world, making the court jester the king.”

“You’re fired": You can hear the phrase get stronger, and the outcomes more vicious, as the show’s 14 seasons go on, in this eerie clip.

Unlike the 44 people who’ve had the job before him, Donald Trump didn’t rise to the White House from the hardscrabble world of the grassroots political machine. He didn’t climb the rungs from either a governorship or Congress.

Donald Trump was born on TV. To be specific, the character that now occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was “produced” and trained on reality TV. His current focus on ratings is often mistaken for ego, and there could be some of that, but it’s also the measurement of how his audience ranks him. Think of it like a real-time approval rating. High ratings mean approval.

Today, as COVID-19 takes America down a road of unparalleled layoffs and spiraling bankruptcies, you can’t help but think that for Donald Trump, none of this is unusual. He’s been through bankruptcy five times, and fired thousands of employees, both through his failed businesses and on his fictitious but vicious reality show career.

As the phrases “the tribe has spoken” and “you’re fired” echo through the smoking remains of the American economy, it’s worth wondering if Burnett has any regrets. Almost like Dr. Frankenstein, has there been a moment when he realized that the skills he trained Trump to execute, the tribal competitions and the gleeful firing, have gone from harmless TV entertainment into what now seems at times no less than a murderous rage?

It seems not. Instead, Burnett is planning for Trump’s post-White House TV comeback.

“There have been several discussions between Burnett and Trump about 'The Apprentice: White House,'” a person with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast. “It is something Burnett thinks could be a money-spinner and Trump is very keen on doing.”

After the COVID-19 briefings where a reality show Trump tested his chops, he may find his future on TV, as well as his future leading the country, are very much in doubt. With 50 episodes of daily briefing now in the rearview mirror, the ad-libbed suggestion that people inject bleach may have proven a bridge too far. Faking with people's fake jobs on fake reality TV is one thing, but standing by as Americans die will be a hard season to rebound from.

In November, Trump may find himself on the receiving end of a catchphrase that he so enjoyed delivering. America to The Donald: “You’re fired!”

8 comments about "The First Reality TV President".
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  1. Ken Kurtz from creative license, May 18, 2020 at 2:40 p.m.

    And the Rosenbaum BS keeps flying.

    First, Rosenbaum writes...

    He had four bankruptcies in Atlantic City and New York in 1991 and 1992, but the show promoted him as a wealthy winner.

    Many "wealthy winners" utilize our bankruptcy laws to REMAIN wealthy winners. Happens all the time. That's why the laws were passed. Rosenbaum paints the two as if they are mutually exclusive to make an ideological point (that Trump is a loser). Far from it. All four of those bankruptcies resulted from the American Recession that started in 1990, and caused severe economic contraction, and increasing unemployment through 1992). Ironically, Rosey goes on to write...

    Today, as COVID-19 takes America down a road of unparalleled layoffs and spiraling bankruptcies, you can’t help but think that for Donald Trump, none of this is unusual.

    ... as if he wants to personally OK bankruptcies by people, and companies other than "Trump" and "green light" economic bail-outs as long as their genesis lay in economic calamity resulting from a virus. That utilization of our country's bankruptcy laws are in Trump's personal wheelhouse (your "for Donald Trump, none of this is unusual") actually makes him the better man for the job through 2024 to pull us out of this morass. Let's face it, Biden hasn't understood what geographical location he's been in for years, and is currently unaware that he's sequestered in his own basement (he sure can lie like a rug from down there though).

    As for...

    In November, Trump may find himself on the receiving end of a catchphrase that he so enjoyed delivering. America to The Donald: “You’re fired!”

    Perhaps. But facing a lesser candidate than he faced in 2016 (Biden, as opposed to Hillary) and with so many moderates and Independents fed up with the endless horrific, and oftentimes false attacks from the left designed to keep Trump from moving forward with things that the majority of the country desires (including infrastructure), well, I don't see much evidence that "America will fire him" at all. 

  2. steven rosenbaum from replied, May 18, 2020 at 2:56 p.m.

    Ken - honestly if you're going to use MAGA logic in comments, please at least consult the MAGA playbook. 

    CHAPTER 32: "Don't respond to posts reminding people of Trump's bankruptcy, as doing so will require you to make claims about his wealth, which is the basis of a number of supreme court cases trying to get access to his now deeply hidden tax returns. Simply put, his relative winning is entirely hidden. Also, it tends to bring up all the vendors and contractors who have been unpaid by him.

    So, your argument is he's the man for the job because he's overseen lots of economic calam
    cities? Ok, but then who's the target of this massive grift? Maybe he can blame the Governors? Or China? Or maybe there are some local sheriffs he can blaim. Because taking responsibility just isn't his game. 

    Is this you: Kenneth Kurtz (born February 15, 1947) is a Republican politician from Michigan who was a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 2009 until 2014.[1]

    Kurtz owned and operated three funeral homes in the Coldwater area, and was pastor of United Brethren Church in that town. He has served on several community boards and is a member of several local organizations.[2]

    Nice hometown, btw:

    Shame you got out of the Funeral Home business, seems like you would haven done well to wait for the Trump Plague to swing on through your hometown. 

  3. Ken Kurtz from creative license, May 18, 2020 at 3:56 p.m.

    You really are a turd. I don't know many more wrong than you. An incorrect turd.

    Not a MAGA guy. Not a FOX news guy. The last Republican I voted for was Reagan in '84 when I lived in Los Angeles. Born in 1959, in Mt. Kisco Hospital. Westchester County, NY.

    I'm an Independent horrified by both the right, and the left. But mainly, lately, the left. Primarily because, in all its incorrect turdiness, it is elevating the right, which is currently semi-represented by the orange haired buffoon, and making him look decent because it is willing to stoop so low. Lower, and stankier than Trump himself.

  4. Ken Kurtz from creative license, May 18, 2020 at 4:02 p.m.

    Closest I come to Michigan is sending my daughter to school in Ann Arbor, and going to football games up at The Big House while she was a student there from 2016 through 2019. But she plumb gadgeated last year, and we haven't been back since.

  5. Ken Kurtz from creative license, May 19, 2020 at 11:20 a.m.

    By the way, Rosey, feel free to pretend that I'm an ex-funeral home owner, ex-pastor, and ex-Republican politician if it temporarily suits your always nefarious purposes (temporarily, because making stuff up will always blow back on you, and diminish you. Only you). Being truthful, and presenting non-fake information has never been high on your priority list (or the left's)... as long as what you're making up can temporarily disparage somebody on the other side of the aisle, huh? You think this fabricated stuff is sticking, and it is, but only on you. 

    You even disparaged the fake town that you so embarassingly, and erroneously attributed to me. And added a dozen years to my actual age, but what the heck, 72 is the new 60, huh Rosey?

    Most ironically, and quite frankly, disturbing, is that you are railing against the fakeness of Trump...

    "Faking with people's fake jobs on fake reality TV is one thing, but standing by as Americans die will be a hard season to rebound from."

    ... while pulling your own "fake-out" in the same paragraph:

     Trump's ad-libbed suggestion that people inject bleach...

    Trump did not suggest that anybody inject bleach. But you'll say that, thinking it helps you when it catually hurts you. So much paradox, so much ignorance, not enough time.

    In real life, where I am not an ex-pastor, ex-funeral home owner, or ex-Republican politician from Michigan... Trump NEVER SUGGESTED THAT PEOPLE INJECT BLEACH.

    Again, while getting people to believe he did serves your nefarious, and despicable purposes, using FAKENESS to charge somebody with fakeness is, well, I just cannot imagine anything sillier.

    Trump was reiterating what Homeland Security Director Under Secretary for Science and Technology Bill Bryan had just shared about current testing being done on light, and disinfectant in his PowerPoint. Both have been in testing for years with reputable labs, associated with high-profile hospitals, and scientists. 

    In context, all Trump did, and remember, our top scientists and doctors have multiple disagreements over COVID-19 because so little is unequivocally KNOWN about the virus at present, was tell Bill Bryan that those possible aids, should their testing prove out, sound interesting.

    In the real world, that's fairly benign, but the left will never waste an opportunity to sling more crap against the wall, so you guys turned it into "Trump is a lunatic recommending that people inject bleach in their systems." So clearly wasn't anything like that, but you, and your ilk don't care.

  6. Ken Kurtz from creative license, May 19, 2020 at 11:22 a.m.

    I get it, Rosey. Your guy Biden doesn't know where he is right now, is slobbering on himself, and having a rough time stringing a sentence together. You think that intimating that Trump's in the same boat will somehow, uh, work (how, I don't know when the video of what he said, and transcript of what he said, with context, is so easily accessible).

    But keep it. Lies will get us four more years of Trump, but the left appears incapable of not lying.

  7. steven rosenbaum from, May 20, 2020 at 9:06 a.m.

    Lots of words. Let me ask a simple question - did you vote for Trump or Hillary - or did you stay home?

  8. Ken Kurtz from creative license replied, May 20, 2020 at 9:38 a.m.

    I wouldn't think of staying home. Unless there is a pandemic.

    By the grace of God, we were pandemic free in November 2016, and I cast my vote for Gary Johnson. It wasn't the first time this Independent voted Libertarian, as I lean left on many social issues, right on fiscal issues, and firmly believe that reliance on ineffectual and inefficient government is about as short-sighted, and ignorant as it gets. So, I like the Libertarian stance on a bloated federal government, as well as NOT sticking our nose where it doesn't belong (Dubya's Iraq fiasco).

    Speaking of nose, I believe that I could put a clothespin on mine long enough to step into my polling place, and pull the lever for Trump this year. Have never liked the smell of the guy at all, but the left's deceitful behavior is starting to smell way worse. 

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