I reluctantly tuned in to the new season of the Apprentice last night. The Donald's recent desperate attempts to drum up publicity for the show have been nothing short of embarrassing. First the hullabaloo over the "shocking" antics of Miss USA. And then the ugly, ridiculous battle with Rosie. I guess it's just further proof that you can't buy class.

That said, I must confess that the Donald's sheer tackiness is part of the show's appeal. And tackiness is in no short supply this season. First of all, Trump seems to have died his hair bleach blond to blend in to sunny L.A. Then there was that opening scene that featured the Donald zipping up to his L.A. mansion to greet Melania and Baron. Gag! The contestants are no less artificial, which NBC seems to embrace by giving them one-dimensional labels. There's Heidi the Hottie, for example, and Surya the Hair. So are they basically admitting that the best thing Surya has going for him is his Gotti-esque hairdo? Not surprisingly, the women's labels are demeaning. Besides Heidi the Hottie, there's Jenn the Blonde and Nicole the Dreamer. But I guess Aimee the Thinker balances it all out. The fact that there's only one Thinker in the bunch doesn't bode well for the caliber of this season's candidates!

I will admit that I like the change of venue and it is pretty fun to watch the losing team camp out behind the winners' mansion. Not like the mansion is that great anyway. Are you telling me there's only one bedroom in that whole place? The bunkroom style sleep quarters are pretty bad. Still, it must be awful to watch the other players' relax in the pool while you sweat it out on a tree stump and brush your teeth over sinks of stagnant water. Despite those new twists, what's really going to make or break this season are the tasks. One reason why the New York show started to slump is that it seemed to be repeating the same lame challenges season after season, most of which were blatant promotions for advertisers. I'm hoping that the show will break out of that mode now that it's in L.A.

Last night's carwash challenge wasn't exactly thrilling, but at least it didn't involve a big box retailer or a car company. And it was pretty telling. Martin the Philosopher is clearly too timid to be a good salesperson and Frank totally blew it by spending an hour at the copy shop printing up those tiny black and white signs. That was a huge blunder. Sure, the other team looked like hitchhikers and hobos with their cardboard signs, but they did attract plenty of customers--too many, in fact. I would have been pretty annoyed if I had to wait an hour for a car wash. But Heidi and everyone else really rolled up their sleeves and got the job done. I was pretty impressed, especially when Heidi was kneeling on her bare knees on the pavement scrubbing hubcaps.

In the end, Heidi's high volume strategy trumped Frank's up selling approach. The latter strategy seemed particularly risky considering that Frank had no way of knowing whether his team members were good salespeople. Also, the $10 price point did seem pretty low. I like Frank's go getter attitude, but it would have been smart to hold a 10 or 15 minute strategy session at the start of the task. Frank's other problem is that he doesn't listen. He talks over everyone and can't take any second-guessing or criticism. I wouldn't want him on my team.

I seriously needed an aspirin during the boardroom scene. Frank and Martin were both irritating in their own special ways. I think Ivanka got it right when she said that Martin would never fit in at the Trump Organization. He's too full of himself, and we all know there's room for only one person like that at Trump Inc. Heidi was almost as smug and annoying as Martin. Considering her team won by a slim margin and hit some pretty serious rough patches, a bit more humbleness was in order. Though I agree with the Donald's decision to can Martin, I'm not a fan of Heidi or Frank.

So far, my favorite contestant is Angela the Olympian, just because she's the only one who actually seems to have any substance. Plus, she looks like a hockey player (which she is), not a Barbie doll. I'm looking forward to watching her in action. At this point, it's hard to form an opinion on many of the characters, but I will say that a couple of them, including James the Webhead, seem to have some potential to shine and entertain. That said, I have serious doubts that natty Ivanka will be a sufficient replacement for icy Caroline and wise old George. I guess we'll find out.