Blago on "Apprentice"

I've heard the one about God opening a window when he closes a door. I've heard the one about an angel getting her wings every time a bell rings. But I'm not familiar with the saying about a reality-television career beginning when a political career ends. And yet, here we are, watching disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich rocket toward C-list celebrity status among the cast of the new season of The Celebrity Apprentice.

It's a shrewd public-relations move on Blagojevich's part: each week he'll compete in elbow-grease tasks to help guide his team to victory, and for his troubles, money will be donated to the Children's Cancer Center. Audiences get to see Blagojevich's kind, generous side, but most important, they get to see him. When politicians leave office under clouds of suspicion, they typically stay shrouded and hope to salvage some kind of career in the private sector and go back to their lives as ordinary citizens. But not Blagojevich. It's tough to figure how what his endgame is, as much now as when he was refusing to resign from his post as corruption charges against him were continuing to mount, but he's got the right idea for rehabilitating his public image.

In the season premiere, the two celebrity teams are charged with running diners to bring in charity money. Blagojevich's task within the challenge was to wait tables, and he displayed a politician's knack for warm and fuzzy yet content-free language: "I used to be the governor of the fifth-largest state in America, and now I'm serving tables. And it's a great chance to get reconnected with men and women who every single day work across our country in restaurants, they work real hard, and sometimes we take them for granted. In some ways, this is just another form of public service." Sure it's ridiculous, but it goes down smooth. Where The Celebrity Apprentice is, for most of its contestants, an admission that their career has seen better days, it's a genuine opportunity for Blagojevich to do what he does best at the best possible time for him to be doing it.

The only flaw in Blagojevich's appearance on the show is the degree to which the producers will rely on his reputation to mold his arc for the season. Despite his continued insistence that he's innocent of the charges leveled against him, the conversations around and about him are built on the premise that he's guilty of the charges. In fact, Blagojevich's very selection to participate on the show seems to trade on his image as a shyster. When the women's team is deciding who from the men's team should be designated their project manager, Blagojevich's name comes up. When it's mentioned that his ability to run a state could make him a great leader, swimsuit model Selita Ebanks counters "but he did get caught." She doesn't even seem entirely sure what he got caught doing (and many viewers have probably forgotten the details by now) but she's sure he did something shady and got caught, and the editors seem content to keep framing Blagojevich as the season's villain. His participation in the show could wind up being a boon to his image and his future career, but the degree of its effectiveness is out of his hands. Blagojevich doesn't have the final say, nor does Donald Trump, for that matter. In this case, it's the show's editors who get the deciding vote.