As project manager of Team Matchstick on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, creative director Jeff Rudell seemed like he should have the first challenge — writing a children's book that impresses real-life kids — in the bag. Unfortunately his domineering ways rubbed some people, including wild-card Jim and "I need total silence to work" Dawn, the wrong way. It's never fun to be the first person to be booted off a reality show, but the 42-year-old seemed positively chipper when he called TVGuide.com for his interview.
Jeff Rudell: Hi! I hear you have some questions for me.
TVGuide.com: I do.
Jeff: Fire away.
TVGuide.com: Do you really want to hear the word fire?
Jeff: [Laughs] "Fire" doesn't bother me. I am fearless when it comes to words like that.
TVGuide.com: What about, "You just don't fit in"?
Jeff: Even that. It is not the first time someone has said that to me.
TVGuide.com: What did you think of Martha's catchphrase?
Jeff: I was expecting something much harsher. Initially, I didn't even know I was fired; I thought she was just making a comment, like, "You are a little oddball." I was even about to say "Thank you," when I realized that was the [catch]phrase. It is the gentlest way I have ever been fired from a job.
TVGuide.com: You came off a little aggressive.
Jeff: I did, on the show. It looked that way.
TVGuide.com: Is that the real you?
Jeff: That is for the viewers to decide. The show is what it is and I don't think, if you were to meet me, you'd recognize me as that. The team that I led was very pleased with the product — they were all engaged in it; they all participated. The interviews that we see on TV with Marcela saying she wasn't really happy... all that happens after you lose and people have to jockey for position. I am a very forceful leader. The team was filled with creatives, and creative people — of which I am one — are wild, crazy horses. There is no way to tame them, but we did get them all moving in the same direction. We met our deadlines and produced a really beautiful book. I'm sorry that you didn't get a chance to see it.
TVGuide.com: Did you get to read the opposing team's book, and if so, what did you think?
Jeff: Yes, I did get to read it, and I thought it was inspired and brilliant and funny. They tested their book with children, which we didn't do. We had adults with children on our team and thought, "We can do this." My mistake was taking that route. They had the opportunity to make adjustments, which gave them an advantage. Their book is good, but Howie [who read the book to the test kids] was brilliant. He sold the book.
TVGuide.com: You stopped Dawn from reading yours. Do you think she could have sold it?
Jeff: No. She couldn't have sold it at all, I promise you. Shawn, who is a newscaster by trade, did an admirable job, but going up against Howie... I don't think anyone else in the room had a chance.
TVGuide.com: When you found out that your team was all creatives, did that make you feel like you had to step up and take charge?
Jeff: No. I didn't ask to be project manager. I was voted [into that position] by the group. I had some hesitation... . Everyone knows statistically what happens to project managers on these shows; it's not pretty. I wasn't really there to play, I was there to do, to learn stuff. It is a dangerous position to step into, but it is only dangerous if you are afraid of it. We certainly didn't lose by miles, but losing is losing. When that happens and you are the leader, you have to take responsibility. I think that rests with me and with a couple of troublesome characters who...
TVGuide.com: ... you brought into the boardroom [Jim and Dawn].
Jeff: That is true. Thankfully, I had my time with them and made my recommendation. Now they are Martha's, and she can come to her own conclusions. I tend to think she'll see the wisdom of my decision, but who knows? We can only hope.
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of The Apprentice, or of Martha's?
Jeff: I was a fan of both. I've watched The Apprentice since the first season, and I've been reading Martha Stewart's magazine since the first issue came out — I feel like I've been her apprentice for many years now. I thought the first episode was pretty good TV, [aside] from the fact that I was in the middle of it. If I hadn't been there, I would have been screaming and yelling and egging everybody on [from home].
TVGuide.com: Will you continue watching the rest of the season, or are you done with it?
Jeff: Oh, I am so continuing to watch. There are all those things that other people say about me that I don't get to [see or hear during taping]. I've got to get the full picture still.
TVGuide.com: Did you think Bethenny had an unfair advantage by knowing Martha's advisor, Charles?
Jeff: No, not considering how many years ago that was. She actually told the producers when she found out that Charles was there — full disclosure. Besides, Bethenny doesn't need advantages. She's a sharp pin, smart and clever, and she has some good strategies. She was my roommate, and I got a chance to see her up close. I think she's wonderful.
TVGuide.com: As a fan, were you excited to meet Martha face-to-face?
Jeff: Oh, absolutely. It was like having Moby-Dick be your favorite book and then meeting Ishmael. Like, "Oh, my god... you are real."
TVGuide.com: Martha wrote a farewell letter to you. Did you do something special with it?
Jeff: I have it framed on my wall at home. I'm a big fan of falling down and making mistakes. When you make a mistake it means you are trying something new. [So the letter] is a good reminder to have by my desk. I made a mistake, but dammit, I was there in a chair in the conference room instead of on the couch in my living room.