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Published: Friday, 4/16/2004

Chicago Internet entrepreneur is Trump's 'Apprentice'


NEW YORK - Kwame was fired. Bill is hired.

The Apprentice came to its much-anticipated climax yesterday when Donald Trump chose Bill Rancic, the street-smart 32-year-old Internet entrepreneur from Chicago, to be his apprentice for the next year.

"Kwame, I think you have an amazing future," Mr. Trump said. "You're a brilliant guy, great education, and I have no doubt you're going to be a big success. But right now, Bill, you're hired."

Mr. Rancic edged out fellow finalist Kwame Jackson, the laid-back 29-year-old New Yorker and Harvard MBA, for the Trump-described "dream job of a lifetime" and its $250,000 salary.

Mr. Rancic will get to return home to Chicago to manage the construction of a hotel and residential tower.

"Don't worry, you're going to have plenty of supervision of that building, I don't care if you're president or not," Mr. Trump told him. "I'll be the one supervising."

The decision closed out a two-hour showdown for the hit NBC reality competition. Billionaire developer Trump, the host, put 16 would-be apprentices through numerous business tasks - then, in the boardroom, "fired" someone at the end of each episode.

For his final assignment, Bill was put in charge of a Trump golf tournament, while Kwame handled an appearance by pop star Jessica Simpson at one of Trump's Atlantic City casino hotels.

Each "boss" was teamed with three "employees": previously fired Apprentice candidates who sometimes seemed as much a hindrance as a help.

Thanks to Bill's team, a vital sponsor's sign went missing.

Thanks to a member of Kwame's team, Jessica Simpson went missing, twice, while Mr. Trump tapped his foot.

The boardroom summits with Mr. Trump, where he pronounced "you're fired" amid even more exchanged glances than you'd find in the squad room of NYPD Blue, helped make The Apprentice a sensation since its January premiere.

Created by Mark Burnett, who brought Survivor to the airwaves, The Apprentice trades on a similar survival-of-the-fittest strategy.

Viewers have flocked for the bravura display of competitive greed and backstabbing. Another draw, perhaps: the eight female contestants were attractive and tended to wear short skirts.

The Apprentice has launched Mr. Trump into stratospheric new heights of renown. Not only has he dined out on the catch phrase "you're fired," he scored deals for a Trump-brand credit card and as a celebrity spokesman for a telecommunications company.

Two weeks ago he was guest host on Saturday Night Live and has agreed to come back for a new edition of The Apprentice next season, reportedly at a substantial pay raise.

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