'The Apprentice' Goes Hollywood

It's a hot, blazing, bright Friday in early June in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, and tycoon Donald Trump -- suited up despite the heat -- is eager to show off all the new elements for the sixth cycle of his NBC reality show "The Apprentice," which debuts on its new night on Sunday, Jan. 7.

The show has come to the West Coast for the first time, leaving behind its usual New York setting for L.A.'s sand, sun and stars.

It's day one of filming, and the 18 contestants vying to win a job with the Trump Organization have just departed for their first challenge at two local carwashes (and yes, they wore suits, ties, skirts and heels for the first day, which gets interesting when the car washing kicks into gear).

While the show's initially astronomical ratings have suffered along with the declining fortunes of its network, it's still successful, which Trump points out.

"We're very proud of it," he says. "It's worked out amazingly well. We continue to be a great success. Actually, we're the No. 1 show in the upper-income brackets. We have unbelievable ads, and we sell out before the show begins."

Trump briskly ascends the steep drive to the neighboring hilltop houses that serve, respectively, as his headquarters and the home of his contestants. As usual, he's feeling expansive and optimistic.

"It's been a lot of fun," he says. "That's why I keep doing it."

Trump leads a tour of the main mansion, a house with a Spanish-medieval feel, and the boardroom set built into it. The set has elements of previous boardrooms, along with gold leaf on the edges of the parquet table (fans know how Trump loves the gilding), double entrance doors for Trump and shelves loaded with lawbooks.

"Good-looking boardroom," Trump says.

He then heads off to tend to his other TV and business duties. The tour moves on to the modern-style house a bit down the hill, where the contestants live. That is, except for the losing team, which will have to camp in the yard. It's modern, except for the antique 1840s wagon in the entranceway.

The rest of the day is spent at the carwashes, watching frantic apprentices sweat through their business clothes scrubbing and drying the prized possessions of Angelenos, many of whom catch on to what's happening and get on their cell phones.

It's a dead giveaway, of course, when the statuesque Ivanka Trump arrives to observe the contestants. Along with her brother, Donald Jr., the 25-year-old takes her place at her father's side as his boardroom adviser this cycle, which means she takes time off from working on Trump construction projects from Dubai to Shanghai.

"I've had a lot of advantage," she says, "tremendous in that I have a level of responsibility that, if I weren't working for my father, I probably wouldn't be able to do the things I'm doing right now. It's scary, with less experience. I'm learning by doing."

Her fashion sense remains intact. "It's like the great dichotomy, the hard hat and the high heels. No problem."

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