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The Donald hires Bill as 'The Apprentice'

By Kelly Gyenes

Kwame Jackson, left, and Bill Rancic were the final two candidates to become Trump's apprentice. Rancic was hired.

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Donald Trump
Mark Burnett

(CNN) -- "You're hired!"

To a live audience, Trump said the magic words that may change the life of his new apprentice: Bill Rancic.

The 13-week job interview of grueling tasks on the streets of New York -- and sleepless nights in the luxurious pressure-cooker of Trump Tower -- concluded with a two-hour episode Thursday night.

The two finalists -- Kwame Jackson, a Harvard MBA and Goldman Sachs investment manager, and entrepreneur Rancic, founder of -- had their leadership abilities tested in a final task that brought back some former cast members as their employees.

Jackson was in charge of running a concert by Jessica Simpson in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino, while Rancic was assigned to run the Chrysler Trump Golf Tournament at Trump National Golf Club.

Both faced different obstacles.

When they reached the boardroom, Jackson was criticized by Trump adviser and senior counsel George Ross for not micromanaging the situation as much as he should have. Rancic was criticized for appearing stressed and flustered.

Trump adviser Carolyn Kepcher, who runs Trump's golf courses, described Jackson as being "textbook" in the final boardroom deliberation but said she felt Rancic was a better long-term fit for the Trump organization.

Earlier in the episode Kepcher said of Rancic's performance, "Overall, I think Bill did a great job. There's a lot of things that go into this whole production. Were there quite a few hiccups along the way? Absolutely. Is that par for the course? Absolutely it is."

As he has in past episodes, Trump commented in the boardroom that he had a very tough choice and complimented both candidates. But he said, "Only one of you is going to be running one of my companies."

Trump told both candidates he loved them and said he believed Jackson had a great future, but he hired Rancic.

A match made in reality

The pairing of billionaire real estate tycoon Trump with reality TV mogul Mark Burnett is proving to be a formula for riches.

And if timing is everything, NBC is sitting pretty. With hit series "Friends" and "Frasier" coming to an end, and the network in need of a new hit, it's found gold worthy of Trump's safe-deposit box in "The Apprentice." The hit show has climbed in the ratings each week, finishing second in overall viewers the week of April 5. (Full story)

Much like Trump's advisers, the bottom line resonates with Burnett, who had an immediate and succinct reply when asked what part of this show experience he's enjoyed the most: "The ratings."

Not only has this powerful pair created the newest reality hit, but Burnett told CNN Trump is now a close friend.

"Donald Trump is a guy who can commit to things and wants to do a great job -- I mean, that's what makes Trump, Trump," Burnett said. "People like that don't do things half-heartedly."

Trump has capitalized on the attention, releasing a new book, "Trump: How to Get Rich," which includes "Your Personal Apprenticeship (Career Advice from The Donald)." He has hosted "Saturday Night Live," appeared in Verizon and Miss USA pageant commercials, and is trying to trademark his signature phrase from the show: "You're Fired!"

Not bad for a guy who took a heavy hit in the real estate slump of the early '90s and was regularly mocked in the New York tabloids.

Donald Trump, left, and Mark Burnett have proved to be a winning combination.

"He is like a pig in slop in this thing -- this is clearly what he was born to do," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "When I first heard about 'The Apprentice' I thought it was a great idea for a show -- and I thought Donald Trump was going to stink the whole thing up. I was 100 percent wrong."

Burnett was sure "The Apprentice" would work.

"What I trust is my intuition," he said. "Whether it's surviving on an island or whether it's looking for a job with Donald Trump -- it's just people stories. And what my kind of television is, is unscripted, situational drama with good stories about real people."

Those real people created a diverse cast that set the stage for romance between applicants Amy Henry and Nick Warnock; camaraderie between Jackson and Troy McClain; and catfighting between political consultant Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth and account executive Heidi Bressler. (Gallery: 'The Apprentice' candidates)

"That show was just brilliantly cast," Thompson said. "Omarosa is one of the best TV characters to come around in a long time. That didn't happen by coincidence."

Companies cash in

Business schools are realizing they can compel students by inviting the primetime television show into their classrooms. (Full story)

And Joining Trump, Burnett and NBC in "The Apprentice" winner's circle are the companies featured in the reality series.

"It really put us on ... the mass consumer map," said Ken Austin, executive vice president of Marquis Jet Partners, Inc.

The high-class jet rental company was featured in two episodes that challenged contestants to come up with an ad campaign for the firm. Though Marquis Jet didn't use the ads, Austin was pleased with the reaction: Following the show, "We received hundreds of ad campaigns."

"This really created an overnight sensation for Deutsch," added Linda Sawyer, managing partner and chief operating officer of Deutsch Inc., an ad agency featured in the second episode. "We've also had a tremendous reaction on our Web site, both from clients as well as candidates. ... Literally, the next day, we had like 500 resumes." Even one of the fired "Apprentices" applied, she said.

Producer Burnett can't contain his glee. "Now, major, major, giant corporations, you know the backbone of the country, are asking to be included," he said.

Thompson has no doubt why. "I think in the end, the companies will end up benefiting a lot more than the contestants will," he said.

'Go after what you want'

Even some of the dissed and dismissed candidates who realized Trump was looking their direction as he predictably uttered, "You're fired," are prospering from the reality TV experience.

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, left, and Heidi Bressler battled in the boardroom over what it means to have class.

Bressler, fired in week 10's episode, said the experience made her bolder. Bressler was told during the run of the show that her mother had cancer. "I realized that life is too short," she said. "You just really have to go after what you want." (Gallery: Looking back)

Bressler has teamed up with fellow fired cast member Jessie Conners, 22, to create a clothing line. Conners has been trying to trademark names for the line and has even submitted an application to register "You're Fired." (Full story)

Sam Solovey decided to propose marriage to his girlfriend on NBC's "Today Show."

"When I got fired I said I'm going to do something extra special ... Everyone got to share in it ... I like to have everyone share in a great moment," he said.

The great moments for Rancic are just starting.

His one-year, $250,000 salary is just the beginning. Trump offered him a choice of two jobs within his organization: overseeing a 90-story building project in Chicago or renovating and developing a new Trump golf club in Los Angeles.

The Chicago native decided to return to his hometown to work for his famous new boss.

Meanwhile, applications and casting calls are already in progress for the second season of "The Apprentice." And Burnett has some advice for the next crop of contestants: "Be energetic, be driven, be focused."

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