In what is likely a reality television first, the current season of NBC’s “The Apprentice” — the program on which contestants vie for a job working for real estate mogul Donald Trump — will be featuring not one but two contestants who have an Orthodox Jewish background. And, sources say, the issue of religious observance is sure to figure into how the show will unfold.
“They can edit around it,” “Apprentice” contestant Daniel Brody told the Forward, “but I can’t imagine how. The issue definitely comes into play.”
Brody, a graduate of Yeshiva University, will be sharing the spotlight with Long Island native Lee Bienstock, who attended the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, and Cornell University.
In the lead-up to the program’s fifth-season premiere, which aired Monday, February 27, the Jewish blogosphere was rife with speculation over just how the network was going to handle the issue of religiosity. Will the two wear yarmulkes? Will we see them davening? Will they sit out tasks if they conflict with Saturdays or holidays?
The premiere was largely mum on such questions. Though Bienstock did wear a yarmulke in his audition video for the show (an excerpt of which can be seen on the “Apprentice” Web site, www.nbc.com/The_Apprentice_5), neither he nor Brody wore one on the program itself.
For Brody, at least, this was not a compromise. He told the Forward that though he does wear a yarmulke sometimes, he usually does not in business settings. (The Forward was unable to contact Bienstock.)
“Going into the show, I was very straightforward about not changing any of the ways I live my life from a Jewish perspective,” Brody said.
But according to David Gould, a contestant on the program’s first season, combining the demands of Orthodox Judaism and reality TV will be an awfully tall order.
“An observant Jew would have no chance to observe Shabbat in any way, shape or form, nor could he keep kosher,” Gould told the Forward. “A few minutes with a prayer book at night is probably the best case — and with a camera staring at you. Maybe in the toilet stall?”
While those connected with the show are under strict orders not to give away anything, some details — perhaps reliable, perhaps not — have trickled out. The fan site Orthodox Apprentice (http://orthodoxapprentice.blogspot.com/) reported that the Trump Tower suite in which contestants lived also housed a kosher George Foreman Grill. The site also reported that, at one point, an “Apprentice” camera crew followed a contestant into a synagogue.
It seems unlikely, however, that the upcoming season is going to revolve too extensively around Jewish customs. According to one source close to the production, there is really only one episode that focuses on religious questions.
And what of the relationship between the two Orthodox contestants? Did a friendship evolve?
“When traveling in France,” Brody said elliptically, “it’s the other Americans that you’re drawn to at the Louvre — even if they’re from Alabama.”