How do you assemble a reality-show cast that isn't dominated by ex-cheerleaders, underwear models, and aspiring actors? Get Donald Trump involved. ''You start seeing the same faces applying show after show because they want to be on television,'' says Mark Burnett, executive producer of ''Survivor.'' In his latest enterprise, NBC's ''The Apprentice'' (Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; premiering Thursday, Jan. 8, at 8:30 p.m.), 16 contestants vie for a six-figure-salary job with the Donald by showing they can outwit, outplay, and outlast competitors in the cutthroat New York City business world. ''The beautiful thing about this show is hardly anybody who applied [for ''The Apprentice''] had applied for a previous show because they thought this one would actually be hard,'' says Burnett.
Trump intends to make it so: ''New York City is the toughest jungle of them all,'' he says, adding that he wants ''Apprentice'' to ''show people how mean it is.'' Potential challenges include starting a hot dog stand and managing a corner store in a sketchy neighborhood. The requisite humiliation, meanwhile, will come in the form of weekly ''firings'' in Trump's boardroom.
With all the type A personalities involved (including M.B.A.s, a Ph.D., and an M.D.), the 15-episode run of ''Apprentice'' will no doubt offer plenty of highly articulate shouting matches for our viewing pleasure. Burnett gave EW an exclusive first look at the cast:
Heidi Bressler, 30, senior account executive at Qwest Communications, Philadelphia
Katrina Campins, 24, real estate agent, Miami
Jessie Conners, 21, chiropractic-clinic owner, Minneapolis
Kristi Frank, 33, real estate investor and restaurant owner, Los Angeles
David Gould, 31, venture capitalist and M.D., New York City
Amelia Henry, 30, software-company account manager, Austin
Troy McClain, 32, insurance-business owner, Boise, Idaho
Bill Rancic, 32, founder of cigarsaroundtheworld.com, Chicago
Sam Solovey, 27, Internet company cofounder, Chevy Chase, Md.
Ereka Vetrini, 27, global promotional marketing manager, New York City
Nick Warnock, 27, Xerox sales account manager, Los Angeles
And here are EW's picks for ''Apprentice'''s top 5 business barracudas to watch:
Bowie Hogg, 25 Fantastic name aside, you've gotta love this good ol' boy's optimism: ''I could be in the worst situation ever, and I'll just have a s---eatin' grin on my face,'' drawls the Texan. And, gosh darn it, we believe him. Now a FedEx account exec, he's got a singular dream: ''I wanna be Man of the Year; I don't care if it's nationwide or community-wide.'' He invents his own award, then makes that his ultimate goal. That's self-motivation, people.
Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, 29 Not only does she have the cast's second-best name, she also has a Ph.D. She's worked for CNN and Bill Cosby, and now teaches communication skills to government types in D.C. ''I didn't come here for vacation,'' she says. ''I'm here to take this prize.'' She picked up that competitive streak on the pageant circuit, and that's why we love her -- we'd get confused watching a reality show with no beauty queens.
Tammy Lee, 36 Here's a new concept in reality TV: a woman hell-bent on getting rich, not by landing a millionaire but by becoming one herself. ''I travel to Paris and see the châteaus, and I go, 'I want to have one of those someday,''' says the Seattle stockbroker. ''This is a dream for me, to be working for someone who borders on obsessive-compulsive, who washes his hands a lot,'' she says of Trump. ''I can relate to that.'' Okay, then.
Jason Curis, 24 Curis worked three jobs right out of Michigan State University to buy a house in Detroit. Then he bought another, and another, and now he owns an apartment building, too. ''I've been touching stuff since I got here, and I hope Mr. Trump doesn't mind,'' says the young real estate developer during an interview in the penthouse of Manhattan's Trump Place. ''My ultimate goal is to have a couple of buildings like this in five years.''
Kwame Jackson, 29 Jackson wants to be the Apprentice so bad that he sacrificed his current job for the Donald. The Harvard M.B.A. asked for a leave of absence from his Wall Street investment-banking gig, but his bosses said his TV career would ''pose a reputational risk to the firm.'' We also like that he admits to watching ''The Bachelor'' and ''The Real World,'' from which he gleaned this wisdom: ''Basically, don't be an a--hole.''