When Donald Trump promises a twist, he usually comes through. Such was the case on last Thursday's Season 4 finale of NBC's The Apprentice, when, after crowning 34-year-old Randal Pinkett as the show's first-ever African-American champ, Trump invited his brand-new protégé to recommend runner-up Rebecca Jarvis for a job, as well. Randal, however, held tight to his big night by obviously waylaying Trump's plan for a double-hire. TVGuide.com spoke with Randal the following day to discuss what has become a topic for hot debate amongst Apprentice diehards.
TVGuide.com: First of all, congratulations on being named the Apprentice.
Randal Pinkett: Thank you very much. Thank you.
TVGuide.com: You can probably guess what my first question will be.
Randal: You might as well go ahead and ask it....
TVGuide.com: Why not give Rebecca the nod?
Randal: Well, my response is consistent with what I said last night: The premise of the show is that Mr. Trump seeks to identify who will be his apprentice. At the beginning of every episode, he says, "One of you will be chosen." Those are the rules as he states them.
TVGuide.com: But you had been chosen. You had already won.
Randal: Absolutely, absolutely. But there have been strong candidates in the past [finales] — [Season 1's] Kwame Jackson was an extremely strong candidate, but Bill Rancic was not offered the opportunity to hire Kwame. And the fact of the matter is that ultimately, this was not my decision, this was Mr. Trump's decision. All he did was solicit my opinion.
TVGuide.com: But you could tell he was hoping you'd say yes.
Randal: But again, ultimately it is his decision. If Mr. Trump wanted to hire Rebecca yesterday or if he wanted to hire her today, he has more than the means to do so. The analogy that I draw is that if you were given the gold medal and then invited by the International Olympic Committee to share it with the silver medalist, you wouldn't even consider it.
TVGuide.com: The less-cynical fans have noted that your exact response to Trump was that he should not hire Rebecca "tonight." Was that your way of saying, "Hey, I believe in her. Let's just not give her a job at this particular moment, OK?"
Randal: I absolutely believe in Rebecca. The premise of the show that evening was to hire the Apprentice. I encourage Mr. Trump to bring Rebecca into the Trump organization — I think she would be a great addition — but competition is competition. I hate to see my favorite sports team lose, but I don't expect them to share the title. Again, I have tremendous respect for Rebecca; I just think it was a situation where you had two very strong candidates. Mr. Trump could have easily made the decision himself if he wanted to hire both of us last night.
TVGuide.com: Prior to the live finale, had you heard the buzz that he might hire you both?
Randal: Absolutely, yes I had.
TVGuide.com: Was it a calculated decision of yours not to play the "I suffered a death in the family during taping" card during the final boardrooms? Rebecca mentioned her broken ankle and when they cut to your reaction, you seemed to be thinking, "Hey, I'm not going for the sympathy vote. Why is she?"
Randal: Yeah, I found it curious that in the final boardroom at Trump Tower and then in the final boardroom at Lincoln Center, Mr. Trump and Rebecca played up the ankle....
TVGuide.com: When it had pretty much gone without mention until then.
Randal: When obviously we had both dealt with adversity as part of the interview process. It was certainly deliberate for me not to play up [my grandmother's death] — I only really made a comment on it at the time that it happened, and never made reference to it again until just before the final task, when he asked us to sum up our experience. I was never looking to leverage my grandmother's passing as a way to gain greater standing. That's unnecessary.
TVGuide.com: So you chose the Atlantic City gig.
Randal: It's a really high-profile opportunity, and Atlantic City is one of the capitals of the country, next to Vegas, in terms of the scene there, so I figured it'd be an exciting opportunity. I'm looking forward to it.
TVGuide.com: What's your game at the casinos? Blackjack? Roulette?
Randal: [Laughs] I'm actually not a gambler, believe it or not.
TVGuide.com: Oh, I think you soon will be. Hey, how excited were you to be reunited with your wife, Zahara, as part of the final reward?
Randal: Oh, that was a blessing and an honor to have her join me on the show. And I really did miss her, as you probably could tell from my reaction! It was such a grueling process, so to see a familiar, living face warmed my heart. It was a priceless moment.
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about your much-discussed five degrees. I imagine they must cover a whole wall in your house.
Randal: A wall in my office. [Laughs] Yeah, I've got a pretty extensive academic background. But I also have an extensive business background. I've been involved in starting five enterprises, and I run a multimillion-dollar consulting firm. I believe my business experience rivals my academic credentials.
TVGuide.com: Was it an extra-special victory to be named the first African-American apprentice?
Randal: Absolutely. I've had a lot of support from the African-American community throughout the process, and I'm greatly appreciative of all their e-mails and calls and expressions of support. I do take pride in being the first African-American to win.
TVGuide.com: Lastly — and to come full circle here — if you had last night to do all over again, having seen the backlash you got for your decision, would you give Trump the same answer regarding Rebecca? Have you asked yourself that question?
Randal: I stand comfortable in the decision that I made. I might have taken the opportunity to say truthfully how impressed I was with Rebecca and what an incredible competitor and colleague she was throughout the interview process, but I still firmly stand by the fact that the premise was to hire the Apprentice, not "the apprenti."