OK, we caved to popular demand. Invoking the Survivor Rule–that no second season of a reality TV series is as good as the original–The Other Charlotte and I had planned to skip watching and commenting on NBC’s The Apprentice this fall. Then our readers demanded that we jump back in. So, two episodes late, here goes:

Loved Carolyn Kepcher’s new hairstyle.

There’s more to it than that? Yes, yes. As everyone knows, the idea of “The Apprentice” is that 18 (16 last year) photogenic and well turned-out young biz-folks scramble to prove themselves worthy of a high-end job with real-estate-mogul-turned-ubiquitous-television-personality Donald Trump. As was the case last year, the group is divided by sex into two teams, this year named Apex (gals) and Mosaic (guys). Last year the gals, relying on much giggling and wiggling of bustlines and behinds, mopped the guys’ floor during the early “Apprentice” episodes in which The Donald had assigned the teams relatively simple tasks, such as running a lemonade stand or peddling doodads at a flea market. Everyone knows that sex sells, and the lovelies of “Apprentice 1” didn’t start losing until (I regret to say this as one of their sex) the season wore on and the tasks started to call for complex business strategies and sounding non-balloon-headed when speaking.

In an obvious effort to fix this problem, the makers of  “Apprentice 2” put a token opposite-sexer on each team–although I’m told that the gals’ token male, Bradford (unlike the case last year, we don’t learn candidates’ last names), was quickly turfed out last week.  And the early tasks are far more sophisticated than their counterparts in “Apprentice 1.” Also, alas, heavier on the free advertising for various products.

Last night Apex and Mosaic competed to create the most “buzz” on a $50,000 budget for the newest flavor of Crest toothpaste, Vanilla Mint. The very idea of combining those two flavors and then pushing them into my mouth made me think: This product doesn’t need buzz. It needs a buzz-saw, applied to the neck of whoever thought it up. As ever, the guys (Mosaic) thought big, way too big, with their idea of holding a lottery with a $1 million payout that they could buy cheap insurance to cover because the odds of anyone actually winning that lottery were nearly nonexistent. Their big problem: At sometime during the wee hours of buzz-day morning, the insurance lawyers nixed the project–although the Mosaic guys staged a pretty good comeback by hiring circus performers to tout the toothpaste in Manhattan’s populous Washington Square.

The gals at Apex had the better idea: hiring Mets player Mike Piazza to brush his teeth in public  with Vanilla Mint, while the gals handed out fliers for the paste. Their problem was that they had the worse team. When Trump at the end told hysterical team-leader Elizabeth that she “stank,” and that flier-negotiator/expert cat-fighter Maria had “screwed up” by putting the team a fatal $5,000 over budget when she failed to get a secure price for the printing job, I couldn’t agree more.

But clever Elizabeth! And clever Maria! Using–dare I say it?–pure women’s intution, they banded together along with the entire rest of the team, all without a single verbal prompt, to persuade Trump to fire someone else: Stacie G., the Apex team’s black member, who had been grooming herself from the How to Sulk manual as the new Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. We all remember Omarosa from last season: so hateful that we just loved her. The Apex gals told Trump that Stacie seemed to be suffering from multiple personality disorder, a “Three Faces of Eve” ailment which was popular during the 1970s but which most psychologists nowadays don’t think exists. Nonetheless, it was enough for Trump, who is probably not up on the latest fads in mental illness, to shoo the hapless if annoying Stacie out the door.

Stacie, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I knew Omarosa, and you’re no Omarosa. You just don’t have the pizazz to go along with your spite. And that’s the problem with this year’s “Apprentice” crop: They lack the vivid personalities, the eccentricities just underneath their high-gloss surfaces, that made watching last year’s bunch such a riveting experience. So far “Apprentice 2” is a warmed-over “Apprentice 1.” A consolation prize: Omarosa is back. She’s doing commentary for the show on the Apprentice website. No, it’s not very good commentary, but who cares?