Marlee Matlin and John Rich face off on The Celebrity Apprentice finale on Sunday. Before the showdown, the duo shared their thoughts about what they really think of each other and the shenanigans that went on this season and how they survived the long, arduous competition .
What makes your opponent such a tough competitor?
John Rich: Marlee is wickedly smart. She’s also very funny, has a great sense of humor, and is very charming. But I think there’s other elements to Marlee that make her a very powerful person. She’s a great mom… She’s a dynamic personality. And, of course, she’s overcome her deafness. She has overcome a huge challenge and has gone on to accomplish great, great things and has not let that slow her down at all. She is really one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I would consider her like a super hero. She needs an “M” on her chest.
Marlee Matlin: There was an instant and an immediate sense of respect, [when I met John]. It was just about eye contact. I’m good at reading people’s faces, and the moment I looked at his eyes I knew that he was a formidable competitor. What I was most impressed with was that he was there for the same reason I was there. It wasn’t about the drama; it was about the charity. His passion for Saint Jude’s is so incredible. I knew he was there for a good reason. I saw that every moment of the day that he worked. He was mature… He got me, and I got him. And I didn’t at any time with him feel as if, just because I’m deaf, I’m somehow different. I really have the utmost respect for John Rich; not only as a country singer, but also as a gentleman and person who has good intentions for people.
John, what did you learn from managing a guy like Gary Busey that helped get you into the finals?
John Rich: “Managing Gary Busey” is probably the right way to say it. Gary, as everybody saw, has these moments of complete clarity and genius and then the rest of the time he’s kind of like a tornado… It was all about giving him a job that you knew he could do well and excel with. It was a big lesson being around him, because it was a constant challenge to your focus. Gary’s really loud and going [in] all directions all at the same time. You can’t let that throw you off your game. You can’t let that get your mind off of why you’re there, which is to win the task or to raise money.
Marlee, was there a lesson to be learned from Star Jones and NeNe Leakes’s relationship and how it impacted the women’s team?
Marlee Matlin: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a lesson learned, but I knew that the hoopla that surrounded the relationship they had and whatever drama came [with it] was not something that … I didn’t choose to involve it in terms of the way I played the game… It’s not the kind of person that I am. I don’t find it entertaining to get involved in people’s arguments like that… Both of them have different opinions. Both of them come from two different minds, and that’s to be respected. They both have different backgrounds. Clearly, they have different careers. But whatever clash that occurred… for me it got too old too quick, and I just decided to focus on the task. My aim for being there was to raise [money for] charity. So I never let it get in the way.
John, you and Lil Jon had a wonderful rapport throughout the competition. Any chance the two of you collaborate on a musical project together in the future?
John Rich: It did feel like a very important relationship, not only because Lil Jon and I are really great friends, but as an example to our two audiences that cowboys and rappers basically can get alon and work hard for charities and break down some of those stereotypes. Lil John and I actually did record something together. There’s actually a record coming out right now called Rich Rocks. Lil Jon appears on that record as a guest artist, and it’s a really cool thing. I’ve had a huge response from all the country fans that are really liking Lil Jon, too. And from his side, he tells me a lot of his fans are starting to look at my music. It’s just a great relationship all the way around.
What was the biggest surprise you discovered being on the show?
Marlee Matlin: I’d had no idea that some of these people had the personalities that they brought to the table. I knew about them in terms of their careers, but to know these people on a personal lever… Like for example, Dionne Warwick. I knew clearly that she was a music legend, but was not really familiar with her music. I was surprised, I would have to say, at her; at the way she chose to play the team members and how she wasn’t familiar with people like myself, who happen to be deaf. Yet, I took it in stride. I think it was just a matter of how each person reacted in high stress situations, after working 18 hours a day.
John Rich: I expected crazy personalities. I expected the unexpected as far as the contestants. But the thing that really hit me was how tired you get doing this show. Fans of The Celebrity Apprentice watching the show think, Oh. They’re doing one task a week. No big deal. The reality is you’re there for 40-something days total, and you’re [working] 17, 18, 19 hours a day. It was like mental Survivor… They put you in a pressure cooker. They never let you breath. I say they; the producers and the directors of the show. They keep you exhausted and they keep you in that level of fatigue on purpose. I didn’t like it, but I understood it and accepted it. I said, “You know what, you’re going to be tired. If you want to try to win this thing, you’ve got to power through it.” That separated a lot of contestants from other contestants — the exhaustion factor. But at the end of the day you just keep concentrating on the fact that if you win this thing, it’s another quarter-of-a-million dollars. And there’s all these opportunities that come into play for your charity.
Marlee Matlin: It’s all about that charity and Red Bull. I was drinking Red Bulls… John was right. I mean, it was really tough. But, you know, you stick it out for the charity.
The Celebrity Apprentice finale airs Sunday, May 22 at 9 p.m. on NBC.