Mark Harris
October 01, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Lesson No. 1 of the new TV season: Don’t mess with the Magic 8 Ball. Especially if you’re black.

”Reality” TV and the reality of race in America have, it seems, collided again, this time on season 2 of NBC’s toady talent show The Apprentice, which features 18 wannabe lackeys fighting to curry the favor of everyone’s favorite comb-over zillionaire. On Sept. 23, in the show’s climactic boardroom segment, Stacie Jones Upchurch, a.k.a. Stacie J. — the sole African-American female contestant — was not only fired by Donald Trump but vilified by her white and Asian female teammates. ”Borderline schizophrenic,” diagnosed one. Another suggested Stacie might have ”a second personality.” A third, with a breathtaking combination of singsong ”concern” and utter viciousness that one imagines will take her far, said, ”I feel sad for this? Because I’m not sure if this is something clinical, and I’m sensitive to that? But it was one of the most scary moments of my life!”

Upchurch’s purported schizophrenia had appeared when she tried to rev up her team by jokily playing with, yes, a Magic 8 Ball. No, there isn’t much more to it, despite producers’ attempts to create a scary moment with ominous music and shocked reaction shots. ”It’s a black girl scaring all the white girls,” Upchurch tells EW. ”It’s something I go through as an African American every day. It has elements of racism in it — I can’t lie about it.”

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