Sharks & the City

03/18/2004 AT 12:08 PM EST

Omarosa Manigault Stallworth is a Washington political consultant with a confident stride, a flawless coif and a resume that includes a stint in the personnel office of the Clinton White House. So her tone remains absolutely cool and measured when she's asked about her tumultuous time on The Apprentice, the NBC reality show in which the dangled carrot is a $250,000-a-year job in Donald Trump's empire. "I was crucified because I was mature and professional," says the 30-year-old Omarosa, whom Trump fired in the show's ninth week. "There were people backstabbing, lying, sleeping with . . ." She cuts herself off. "And I became the villain. It's quite puzzling."

But oh so watchable. Produced by both Trump and Mark Burnett, the crafty creator of Survivor, The Apprentice is primo reality television, full of unexpected relationships – even an office fling, so to speak – and juicy emotional standoffs that still haven't been resolved more than four months after taping wrapped. Glancing at Omarosa during a recent photo shoot, Amy Henry, 30, a former dot-com entrepreneur from Austin, Texas, rolls her eyes. "The word," she whispers, "is diva."

But for 20 million viewers it's Donald Trump, real estate billionaire, best-selling author and gleeful self-promoter, who's the boss. To the 16 initial contestants flown in to the Big Apple from across the country, he was practically a god. "I was happier than a pup with two peters," says Troy McClain, 33, a Boise, Idaho, real estate investor who never went to college. "My high school yearbook quote in 1989 said, 'Donald Trump, I'm coming!' And I mailed that yearbook to the man.'" But The Apprentice (which ends with a live finale April 15) is really Survivor with type A sharks in suits. "We became enemies or friends very quickly," says Katrina Campins, 24, a real estate agent from Coral Gables, Fla.

The contestants – who also include Nick Warnock, 27, a copier salesman from L.A., former Wall Street investment manager Kwame Jackson, 29, and online cigar-club founder Bill Rancic, 32, of Chicago – have hit the streets of Manhattan hustling whatever oddball business tasks Trump assigned them, starting with setting up a lemonade stand. Recently "I ran into two drug dealers at a pizza stand at 3 a.m.," says Kwame, "and one of them said to me, 'This is what I would have done differently on the lemonade stand. . . .' "

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