Task sponsor GNC may promote good health, but nothing could keep The Apprentice's Arrow team from growing sick and tired of perpetual project manager Surya Yalamanchili's leadership style. So when their halftime show hawking the vitamin store came up anemic, it was the 24-year-old Ohioan who was shown the door. TVGuide.com invited Surya to set the record straight on the circumstances of his exit, as well as weigh in on, yes, that nickname. (NBC's The Apprentice airs Sundays at 10 pm/ET.)
TVGuide.com: Close one last night, man. I thought for a minute there that James might find enough rope to hang himself.
Surya Yalamanchili: Yeah, yeah.... That boardroom probably lasted two to three hours. It went on forever. Trump did something I was told he'd never done before: He sent us out twice, because he didn't know what to do.
TVGuide.com: Oh, I think someone lied to you. I've been covering the show for six seasons, and he's done that at least once before. But it is rare.
Surya: Oh, OK! [Laughs] But he was just boxed into a corner because I wouldn't blame everybody. Usually boardrooms are a bloody mess because the project manager is willing to cast blame on anybody to save himself, but I was defending Stefani and Frank and Kim and Nicole.... I said they did everything I asked of them. They didn't always do it in a manner I thought was respectful, but... that was another matter.
TVGuide.com: Did you guys bat around any halftime show ideas other than the boxing thing?
Surya: What's so funny, and they actually left it in there, is that at the beginning of the episode, Tim comes up with that idea, and I'm like, "No, I want everybody to spend 10 minutes [brainstorming further]." But these guys came up with nothing, they came up with idiocy.
TVGuide.com: I hate brainstorming sessions where someone comes up with a bad, bad idea, but people latch onto it.
Surya: That's why I told them to keep thinking. When I ask myself what I could have done differently, other than come up with an idea of my own, all I could have done was make them brainstorm further, but they didn't want to.
TVGuide.com: You saw Kinetic's show, and it was more fun and animated....
Surya: You know what? People who were at the show and posted about it the next day said ours was bad, but Kinetic's was awful. That's why I thought we won. They did a rating where they said [to the spectators], "If you like Team Arrow use [the] yellow [side of a card], if you like team Kinetic use green," or something. Half the people wouldn't vote because both shows were so bad, but those who did vote voted for us. That's why I was like, "There's no way we're losing this."
TVGuide.com: Your pre-boardroom chat with Kinetic through the bushes, was that a calculated ploy to get Kristine, who would be in the boardroom, on your side?
Surya: Oh, yeah. A lot has been made of that, and I was shocked to see that people find that so fascinating or unethical or whatever. To me, if anybody knows somebody on the other side who can vouch for them, why wouldn't they say, "Hey, look, these guys are going to come after me. Vouch for what you know." Plus, and this is the important part to me: I'm surrounded [on Arrow] by a bunch of people who were being condescending and rude and aggressive to me — the cameras didn't show all of the crap I had to deal with — so why wouldn't I talk to people who actually like me? [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: I had to wonder, though, if, as big a fan of yours as she might be, Kristine might be inclined to get you gone.
Surya: Totally. And she did. I appealed to her: "Kristine, you've seen me over three tasks. What do you think of my leadership?" And she goes, "Well, Surya, I... I can't.... "
TVGuide.com: She pulled back.
Surya: Totally. Totally. What I had always thought was if anyone on that team's not going to help me, it's Kristine. [Laughs] It's not because she's a bad person, but that's just her personality. Some people are no-nonsense — "I'm not here to make friends, but to win" — and that was her.
TVGuide.com: Did it feel good, at least, to have Trump say you're destined for an "outstanding career"?
Surya: Yeah, that was definitely good. He saw that I was very serious and I tried to be focused, thinking that impressing him would do the trick. There's a lot of editing over the last few weeks that made me look, well, "less than stellar." They have to make you a character and they've got to make it justified when you get fired, right? But I had worked my ass off, I tore myself to shreds, and he recognized that. That's why he struggled with the decision.
TVGuide.com: We're several weeks into this and I just noticed that the official NBC.com site gives each of you nicknames, and you're "The Hair."
Surya: I would like to say right here in this interview that I think that's BS. There's only one "The Hair," and it's Donald Trump, right? [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: There's no arguing that Frank is "The Mouth," though I question calling Heidi "The Hottie," if only because I think there are at least two or three candidates for that title.
Surya: I think Heidi in person was probably the most stunning, but there were a lot of pretty young ladies. But that's apparently what the people on the crew called her — "The Hottie."
TVGuide.com: What was the best part of the mansion, and the worst part of the tents?
Surya: Honestly, neither were that good or bad. The mansion was OK, and the tents weren't that bad. You know what was bad about the tents? Having to live with Arrow! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: In your bio, you name Apprentice winner Randal Pinkett as an inspiration. Back when he was "hired," if you were in his shoes, would you have OK'd the hiring of runner-up Rebecca Jarvis as well?
Surya: I think Randal could have just worded it differently: "I'm the winner of the show, but if you want to hire Rebecca for your organization, absolutely. But I'm the winner." That's what he should have said, and then he would have avoided all of [the controversy]. The most ironic part to me — and the irony is so rich — is that Randal had gotten by the editors for so long without them making him look bad, and then once it's live and unfiltered? Such a bad deal for him.
Surya Yalamanchili's website can be found at SuryaSays.com.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.