'The Apprentice': Richmond resident looks to impress Donald Trump on reality series
By Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/15/2010 01:00:00 AM PDT
Updated: 09/15/2010 03:08:51 PM PDT
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Pictured: Poppy Carlig -- Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC ( Virginia Sherwood )
Donald Trump returns this week with a recession-themed edition of "The Apprentice" and, as usual, the show is chock full of heated exchanges, finger-pointing, name-calling and the kind of brutal belligerence generally associated with political campaigns.
Striving to keep her cool through it all is Poppy Carlig, a Richmond resident, who at, 24, is the youngest of 16 "Apprentice" contestants. Carlig doesn't nab much camera time in Thursday's two-hour opener, and that's by design. When the players were divided by sex, the Stanford grad and former world-class swimmer adopted a lay-low strategy.
"I tried to take more of a nonconfrontational approach," Carlig says. "I had the advantage of having been on a lot of
all-female athletic teams over the years, so I know how catty things can get. And I knew that, if you stick your neck out, you can get scratched."
Carlig is required by NBC to keep mum about any specific details on "The Apprentice," which was shot in New York over the summer. But rest assured, she didn't behave like a wallflower as the series unfolded.
No need to play nice
"I consider myself to be a very sweet-natured person. But on this show, it doesn't always pay to be sweet and nice," she says. "I found that I needed to stand up for myself and take credit for the things I accomplished. That's a challenge, especially when you're doing it in front of Mr. Trump, with all the lights beaming down on you. I tend to blush a lot anyway, so I'm sure that I'm beet-red in a lot of scenes."
After being seduced by celebrity editions of "The Apprentice" in recent years, Trump and executive producer Mark Burnett are getting back to basics with a civilian version of the show. For its 10th season, they're tapping into the nation's angst with a cast that has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Many of the players have been laid off and forced to drastically downsize their lives. Others, like Carlig, are recent college grads who face tough employment prospects.
Once again, the game's grand prize is a job within the Trump organization with a six-figure salary.
"You could definitely feel a sense of desperation (among the contestants)," recalls Carlig, who, when she signed up for the show, was unemployed and serving as a part-time caretaker for her grandmother. "There were a lot of sad stories that had my heart strings going. You also knew that, because these people had nothing to lose, the competition was going to be even tougher."
Rising to a challenge
Not that she has ever backed away from a tough challenge. The only child of Auna Longpre and Joe Carlig, she was plagued by an attention-deficit disorder in grade school that made her "mind bounce all over the place." But with help and determination, she learned to work around the problem, and by the time she was in the fifth grade, she made a bold declaration to her mother.
"I sat her down and told her, 'I'm going to Stanford,'" she recalls. "I just decided that I was going to reach for the highest star in the sky."
Carlig, who attended Campolindo High School in Moraga, got to Stanford on the strength of not only her academic excellence, but her swimming skills, for which she earned a scholarship. In fact, she was so good in the pool that she qualified for the U.S. World Championship synchronized swimming team and had a good shot at the 2008 Summer Olympics. But a rotator-cuff shoulder injury derailed her dream.
"It was really heartbreaking. It took me a while to realize that life was so much bigger than my Olympic aspirations," she recalls. "I returned to school in a major funk and spent a lot of nights crying."
But Carlig eventually regained her drive in the classroom. She left Stanford last June with a bachelor's degree in human biology and a master's in sociology. Since shooting "The Apprentice," she has taken a temporary job at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, where she conducts muscle stem-cell research.
Love to win
On the advice of a friend, she applied for "The Apprentice" and then wowed the show's casting directors. Once shooting began, though, Carlig became nervous when she realized she was "the baby of the group" -- someone who had no professional experience and had never even been through a real job interview. But she relied on a competitive edge that has served her well since childhood.
"I love winning. I love a challenge," she says. "And the harder it is, the more I want to accomplish it."
As for her post-"Apprentice" future, Carlig is leaving the door wide open. Maybe she'll work for Trump. Or maybe she'll enter dental school. Then again, she's also intrigued by the idea of being a television sports commentator.
"I have a lot of passions and one of them is sports," she says. "With 'The Apprentice,' I learned that I like being in front of the camera. Maybe I can be the next Erin Andrews."
Read Chuck Barney's TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv and follow him at http://twitter.com/chuckbarney.
WHAT: "The Apprentice"
WHEN: 9 p.m. Thursday (Will air at 10 beginning next week).
WHERE: Channels 3 and 11 (NBC)