Trump introduces the premise of the new season: offering a new opportunity to talented professionals hurt by the recession. Alex is an electrical engineer-turned tow truck driver; Brandy is a former hotshot corporate lawyer now selling cupcakes from a food truck. Wade, a former top realtor, is struggling; Anand used to make six-figures at private equity real estate and now has no income and is living with roommates. Gene, a former financial advisor, is going into The Apprentice with no plan B.
Which of the 16 candidates will be the next Apprentice? It's time to get down to business.
The candidates wait in Trump's lobby sizing up the competition. The call comes and they head into the boardroom. Trump asks them to introduce themselves. David went from success in telecom with a wife and five children, to unemployment and divorce. Poppy, after graduating at 22 with both a bachelors and a masters, expected an instant job and found nothing. Stephanie, a former commercial banker, finds herself jobless. Nicole, a former Miss California, is gunning for more inspiring employment. Gene is a former financial advisor and Air Force vet who's lived the last three years on his savings.
Reminding them that they're competitors, not friends, Trump breaks the candidates into teams - men vs. women - and sends them off to pick a team name and a project manager.
The men's team debates their name. Something dynamic, that looks to the future, to rebuilding. James suggests Phoenix. Alex immediately counters with Icarus, rising from the ashes. Everyone points out that that's actually Phoenix. Steuart questions Alex's intelligence; did he miss out on "fifth grade mythology"? Dave suggests Octane ("Octane!!!") . All the men love it except James, who isn't crazy about things that are too "awesome!" Still, Octane wins.
Wade - strategically avoiding being leader - suggests Gene as leader for the first task, citing Gene's former military service. Gene - a little leery about being first team leader - accepts. James notes his surprise that none of the men volunteered, but laughs and excuses himself on the grounds of being a lawyer, "advising from a distance."
Just like the men, the womens' first thought for a name is Phoenix, risen from the ashes. Then Inspire, Vigorous, Stamina (Tyana suggests that's the name for the boy's team, and they all laugh), and finally Fortitude. Kelly talks about how Fortitude - meaning strength of mind and guts - resonated when it came up, and they all quickly agree on it.
Nicole volunteers to be project manager, and Tyana says that Nicole as project manager was her first thought, too. Mahsa agrees it was a very ballsy move for Nicole to volunteer right off the bat.
Trump meets the teams in front the Trump building on Wall Street. He explains that the building was built in 1929, and sees it as a symbol of the season's theme of recovered fortune. The teams introduce their names and their leaders. Trump asks the men why they chose Gene as leader. Clint says, "We like his style and we think he'll lead us to victory." Nicole explains that they chose Fortitude as a name because it means "strength of mind and having guts."
Ivanka introduces the first task: designing and building an ultra-modern workspace. They'll be judged on execution, functionality and originality, with Trump as final judge. The winning team leader will get a special surprise, while for the loser, it's never great to be the first fired. He wishes them luck.
The women are introduced to their space: wide-open loft space with a lot of windows. Nicole gets them started before their designer arrives. Kelly suggests they go "opulent." Tyana, having worked as a designer with loft spaces, starts making suggestions; for example a round table around the pipes, and a black-with-gray-accent color scheme. Nicole dismisses her ideas as tacky.
Meanwhile the men are struggling a bit. Gene admits that going from unemployed to suddenly working was disorienting the first day. He pushes for a "green theme" for their office, but as James suggests, "it turns out he doesn't know what that means" and while the team was in need of a big picture, Gene was "picking out the drapes."
Team Fortitude agree on the concept of "modern executive," a little traditional but with a modern edge. Mahsa agrees to start getting supplies and in the process gets heated with Nicole, asking Nicole what exactly she wants her to buy. Nicole tells Mahsa she trusts her instincts. Mahsa - a very blunt and abrasive New Yorker - considers this lack of specificity a sign of a lack of substance. Tyana, annoyed with Nicole for dismissing her ideas, leaves as well to buy paint.
Meanwhile James and Anand - citing Gene's dithering and lack of focus - take over with the architectural renderer. Clint voices his frustration that James and Anand dismiss his input, since he was, after all, a real estate developer. But in any case, a design for Team Octane has started to take shape.
Nicole brings Stephanie to get the office supplies. Stephanie admits she's no decorator and suggests bringing Tyana. Nicole says she doesn't like Tyana's ideas, which Stephanie thinks is nuts. Back at the workspace, Mahsa, scraping and cleaning the windows, lays into Brandy, imagining that Brandy has accused her of not doing productive work. Brandy apologizes, but she and Poppy are mostly just amused at Mahsa's over-the-top aggressiveness.
Back at Team Octane, Dave, feeling as though his whole life depends on avoiding the boardroom, gets frustrated with what he considers Gene's dithering. Then he goes ballistic on Clint over a minor incident. Clint doesn't know what to make of Dave's over-emotional mood swings, but adds that the mens' main problem is not Dave but Gene's lack of direction.
While Gene is out gathering supplies, Ivanka drops by on the men, who are painting. They explain the "green" concept, which she's unimpressed with. James admits that he - acting as spokesman in Gene's absence - is completely intimidated by her. Ivanka points out that the task, involving real estate, her father's field of expertise, is not something you want to sit across from Donald Trump having screwed up.
Back with the women's Team, Nicole's opinion of Tyana shifts when she brings Tyana and Poppy along to pick office furniture, and Tyana knows exactly what to get.
Gene, worried about delays, insists that the men start doing exactly as he says. An increasingly blustery and combative Dave starts arguing with him and refuses to agree to Gene's call for silence. Gene, realizing that getting Dave to stop is futile, walks away and instructs the other men on what to do.
Out shopping, Mahsa again gets aggressive with Nicole, suggesting that Nicole isn't giving them direction. Nicole insists that she is just trying to figure out what the ladies consider their respective strengths. Tyana picks a painting of "an old white guy" for office decor, kind of as a joke, thinking they can hang it and call him "Uncle Forty" (for "Fortitude"). Nicole hates it, but thinking she can later blame it on Tyana, allows it to be bought.
The next morning, Gene makes it clear to the men that while he's open to discussion, when he says to do something, it's time to do it. They all - even a dismissive but silent Dave - agree. In interview, Gene talks about his need to keep everyone - especially Dave - under control for the day. He divvies out the tasks. Among other things, James and Steuart will be in charge of decor.
Dave leaves to make "an important call," which turns out to be his weekly call to get his unemployment check from the state of Michigan. He talks about how much it makes him feel like a loser, and as a result he feels like he wants to win more than the other candidates.
Finally, with four hours to go, Octane seems to be coming together. Gene is happy with Dave's ownership of the A/V portion, James is handling wall design, and he takes Steuart and Wade to get office supplies.
With three hours to go, Fortitude receives their office furniture. Donald Trump, Jr. walks in on them in the middle of the chaos and is clearly concerned with what he sees as a lack of progress. He asks Nicole who her biggest help and biggest detriment was. She says Tyana was the biggest help, but adds that the day before, she would have said Tyana was her biggest detriment. Tyana only chooses to hear the second part, and when Donald Jr. asks Tyana what she thinks of Nicole, she accuses Nicole of a lack of leadership.
Trump arrives for Fortitude's presentation and Tyana, acting as receptionist, buzzes Nicole to let her know he's there. Nicole greets him and shows him the floor plan, then gives him a tour. Trump is tight-lipped, but it's clear he's not crazy about certain elements, including the painting of "Uncle Forty".
After the presentation, Trump thanks her and leaves. Nicole feels good about how it went, but says that if they lose and it's because of the design, a lot of the responsibility falls on Tyana.
Trump comes for Octane's presentation. Gene admits that he hadn't really thought through a presentation, but is confident the space speaks for itself. Trump is curious about the wall design, and asks James if he has an art background. James, laughing, says no. Trump criticizes the conference table, saying it doesn't look like much of one, but James defends it as matching the overall color scheme. Two of the film crew slide on the rugs and hit the ground. Anand takes responsibility and explains they didn't have time to tape down the rugs. Steuart says he knows the rug incident will come up in the boardroom.
Trump asks them if it was hard work, and when they say yes, he says "good", thanks them, and leaves. Gene, unclear about Trump's reaction to their work, realizes a lot is at stake.
The teams join Trump in the boardroom. He explains that it was a difficult decision, since he didn't like either space very much. He starts with the men and immediately brings up the rugs. Anand takes responsibility. Then he asks Dave what he thought of Gene as a leader. Dave says at first they were eight personalities clashing, but by the end he was proud of how Gene pulled them together.
Trump asks Gene who his weakest link was. Goaded by Donald Jr., a hesitant Gene finally mentions James and Dave. James expresses his shock, saying he felt as though he'd made a big contribution. Ivanka also mentions that when she visited and Gene wasn't there, James had taken a leadership role.
Trump asks Gene about the conflict between Dave and Clint. Dave blames the conflict on Gene, saying he gave them conflicting duties, and the dispute arose when Clint took over what Dave considered his task. Trump asks Clint if he dislikes Dave. Clint says he feels compassion for Dave because of his situation. Dave reacts negatively to that, taking "compassion" as a code word for "pity," and says he hates having that stigma. Trump tells him he can lose the stigma by becoming successful!
Then Donald Jr. and Trump gang up on Clint about his lack of a tie. Trump thinks, in this business environment, full dress is appropriate. Clint says if a tie is what it takes, he'll put on a tie.
Trump asks Nicole about her team. She says she thinks they did an incredible job. Trump begs to differ, saying that since he doesn't like what they did, they obviously didn't do a great job. The women immediately turn on Nicole. Tyana, Liza and Mahsa all talk about her lack of leadership and her reliance on others' opinions, but Nicole defends this as delegation.
Brandy also says Nicole needs to learn to subdelegate. She adds that all of the women worked hard, and were all pretty tired and sweaty by the end of the day. Trump mishears this as "tired and slutty," cracking everyone up and breaking the tension in the room. Then Mahsa tears into Nicole, citing her dismissal of Tyana and her lack of leadership, concluding, "Mr. Trump, she was awful!"
It's time to look at the offices. First the mens' space. The women criticize it as being too colorful, but Gene points out that it's Soho, and Trump agrees. He doesn't like the conference room table at all, calling it "so small and… weak." James defends it as an open conference room, but Donald Jr. says there's only room for six people at the table, which is not very open.
Then it's the women's turn. Donald goes after the painting of "Uncle Forty," asking Tyana what she was thinking. Donald Jr. says it makes the executive office feel like an old law firm, not a modern executive space. Trump is happier with the reception area, comparing it positively against the mens' reception space, but finds their boardroom boring. Ultimately, he isn't crazy about either team's space.
Ivanka says she prefers the mens' space, citing the fact that the open layout was much more in keeping with the theme of a modern space. Donald Jr. agrees, saying that if you were looking for a 100-year-old law firm then the ladies' space was the way to go, but for an open loft space in Soho, the men's space was the winner.
Trump says that while he isn't crazy about either space, he agrees with Ivanka and Donald Jr. He's giving this victory to the men. He likes the open space, and he likes James original art. This season, he adds, winning project managers will get the chance to meet with top CEOs. This time around Gene will get to meet with one of the best: Donald Trump. Then he sends the jubilant men out of the room.
The women remain in the boardroom. Trump asks Tyana why they lost, and she says "lack of leadership." All of the women turn on Nicole, who remains oddly silent under the assault. Mahsa is especially brutal. Ivanka mentions her shock when Mahsa attacked Nicole so harshly even before they'd known that they'd lost, and questions Mahsa's loyalty toward leadership. Mahsa, in attack dog mode, refuses to let up, and Ivanka and Trump are clearly offended by her behavior.
The men watching through closed circuit are amazed at how ruthlessly the women are throwing Nicole under the bus. Trump asks Nicole whom she'd bring back into the boardroom. Not surprisingly, she says Mahsa and Tyana.
Before going back in, Tyana, wanting Nicole fired, tells Mahsa that she needs to control her temper. In the boardroom, the Trumps agree Nicole is the obvious choice, despite Ivanka's serious misgivings about Mahsa.
The women return. Nicole tries to defend herself against Mahsa, but it's too late. Ivanka, still offended by Mahsa's uncontrolled aggression, nevertheless asks Nicole why her entire team - not just Mahsa - called out her lack of leadership. Donald Jr. asks Nicole why she was calling for Tyana to be fired when she had previously called Tyana her MVP. Ivanka adds that if Nicole had such a problem with "Uncle Forty" for example, as team leader she should have insisted on it not being a part of the final design, instead of bringing it up now as a mark against Tyana.
The time for a decision has come. Trump tells Nicole, "You were project manager. You lost. I didn't like what you did. You're fired." Then he dismisses all of them, telling them to go. Nicole thanks him for the opportunity.
After she leaves, Trump tells Donald Jr. and Ivanka that he still thinks Nicole is a good person and - despite everyone's opinion to the contrary - a leader, and that he's going to set her up for a position at the Miss Universe Pageant. On the sidewalk, a taxicab is waiting to take Nicole away.
Trump introduces the return of the original Apprentice, focusing this season on offering a second chance to talented candidates who found themselves struggling when the recession hit.