‘I think I’ll shove you,’ Hatch tells David Cassidy

Despite last season’s poor ratings for episodes that featured everyday people instead of marginally famous contestants, Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” premiered Sunday night, once again minus the celebrities.

What? Those were celebrities? Okay.

Trump met the new 16-member cast at Radio City Music Hall. He was accompanied by a quartet of rockets that flew him at hypersonic speeds into midtown Manhattan from his offices in Trump Plaza.

What? He was accompanied by four Rockettes? Those world-famous high-kicking dancers? Wasn’t he afraid their high heels might get tangled up in his notoriously uncooperative mane?

It’s all very confusing. This reality TV business will mess you up if you’re not careful.

Anyway, to no one’s surprise, Trump split the quasi-celebs in two competing squads: the women and what could loosely be described as the “men.” Both teams were charged with running a pizza restaurant, with the winners to be determined by who could earn the most profit in the making and selling of their pies.

The women’s team chose TV host Star Jones as their project manager, while the men opted for “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch. The men debated briefly which part of the human anatomy they would choose for their team name and, in a remarkable show of restraint, called themselves “Team Backbone” instead of “A Bunch of Dicks”. The women, of course, had to get all cutesy and clever, devising the tag “ASAP” for themselves. The acronym stood for something, we were assured, though spokesperson Latoya Jackson couldn’t quite put her bleached finger on it.

Both teams arrived at their restaurant ready and eager to cooperate for about five minutes before descending into a cesspool of bickering and back-biting. Project manager Jones had her hands full, trying to whip the ladies into some semblance of a business operation.

Singer Dionne Warwick showed that the way to San Jose isn’t the only thing she’s not familiar with, as she pawed in bewilderment at the cash register. Actress and deaf person Marlee Matlin conveniently forgot a lifetime of lip-reading so she could have a sign-language interpreter serve as a go-between in case anyone was tempted to yell at her. Supermodel Niki Taylor tossed pizza dough into the air, actually catching it on the way down a few times.

The rest of the women’s team generally slipped into the background to await their star turn in a future episode. These included actress and lip-implant victim Lisa Rinna, real housewife and giantess NeNe Leakes, and Playmate Hope Dworaczyk, who would definitely be the hottest contestant if her last name didn’t begin with two consecutive vowels and then end with four more, including the never-sexy “cz” pairing.

Meanwhile, the men rallied around their leader in an attempt to get close enough to hit him. Singer John Rich serenaded passers-by with his guitar while singer Mark McGrath wondered if methamphetamines could be used as a pizza topping and singer Meat Loaf hugged a customer that somehow recognized him. Baseball player Jose Canseco was predictably steroid-addled, actor/lunatic Gary Busey was predictably crazy and rapper Lil Jon was predictably black. Former teen idol David Cassidy was positively elfin, never quite figuring out how to work a performance of his only hit song “I Think I Love You” into the manufacture of Italian fast food.

At the end of the day, all 16 contestants were called before The Donald to learn how much money they had made for their favorite charities, and who would be the one sent home. Once the ASAP team was named the winner of the challenge, the ladies adjourned to celebrate with champagne while the men faced their fate like — well, certainly not like men.

Trump quickly sized up the business acumen before him. One was going to avoid the ax by being not-bad-for-Gary-Busey. Singers Rich, McGrath and Loaf hummed quietly to themselves, setting up a sonic wall that Trump’s critique couldn’t penetrate. Rapper Lil Jon stepped forward only once, to show that David Cassidy wasn’t the only Lilliputian in attendance.

In the end, it came down to Hatch, Cassidy and Canseco. After consulting with his spawn, Trump selected David Cassidy to be eliminated. The former star of “The Partridge Family” took the decision gracefully, despite his near-total humiliation by beings twice his size. He made the ritual lonely ride down the elevator before hopping into a limousine for the short drive to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he was admitted for treatment of his shoving injuries.


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