Sunday night marked the conclusion to the second season of NBC’s hit reality show Celebrity Apprentice. Falling to comedy icon Joan Rivers in the finale was none other than Annie Duke, a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner and one of the top names in the industry. She sat down with Poker News Daily to discuss the result.
Duke raised over $730,000 for Refugees International, her chosen charity, including $460,000 that was generated during the final episode alone. She told Poker News Daily that she was taken aback by the outpouring of support: “I am really happy that I was able to raise so much awareness for Refugees International. They are an extremely small charity and do amazing work. The money that my friends helped raise allowed Refugees International to reach its goal for 2008. In the end, I feel like that made them a winner.” Duke’s Ante Up for Africa, a charity that she founded along with Norman Epstein and actor Don Cheadle, works hand in hand with Refugees International to bring awareness and funding to help the victims of the crisis in Darfur and elsewhere.
The Ultimate Bet pro has gone one step further and is now spearheading an effort to raise an additional $250,000 for Refugees International, the amount she would have earned for winning Celebrity Apprentice. Duke explained, “Everyone who feels like Refugees International should have gotten the $250,000 and poker players who deserve not to be called members of the Mafia should donate anything they can, even if it’s just $1.” Rivers’ charity, God’s Love We Deliver, earned over $500,000 from the Celebrity Apprentice; Refugees International took in $730,000.
The reality series’ finale was promoted as an epic showdown between hated archrivals. Duke and Rivers had battled it out over the course of the 11 week season, with the poker pro holding an edge in total victories (7-6), record as a Project Manager (2-0 to 1-1), money raised, and even defeated Rivers heads-up in a fundraising challenge. This time around, out of five criteria judged during the final task, Rivers won three, propelling her to the win. Duke talked about her mood on Sunday night after show host Donald Trump announced his decision: “Obviously, I was disappointed, but I can’t say the result was unexpected. Whichever way the result went, I played the game well and represented poker players well. I can walk away with my head held high. I was really proud of the way I played the game. I went into Celebrity Apprentice saying that I didn’t want to trash talk anyone, didn’t want to lie to anyone, and didn’t want to be underhanded.”
Celebrity Apprentice Season 1 winner Piers Morgan and runner up Trace Adkins both recommended that Trump hire Rivers. In the end, the cast commended Rivers’ energy at the age of 75. Duke explained, “Trump decided who should be the Celebrity Apprentice on different criteria and I guess I misunderstood what the task was being judged on. It was his decision and he’s the one who gets to decide.”
Several in the poker industry, including Team PokerStars Pro staple Daniel Negreanu, questioned why Duke selected Playboy Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick to be on her team with her first pick, rather than wait in a similar strategy to Rivers. Duke explained, “If Melissa was on my team, she probably wouldn’t work. I’d get criticized if I lost because she didn’t work out. I felt like I only had five people to choose from and knew that Brande could bring in $90,000.” At the end of the day, Team Duke raised $460,000 from the silent auction, whereas Team Rivers mustered just $150,000.
Duke claims that she was not told about the process of picking teammates before it occurred, although Melissa Rivers explained to NBC cameras that she had discussed strategy with her mom beforehand. Consequently, the elder Rivers did not select her daughter until her last pick, knowing that Duke would not draft her. The WSOP bracelet winner observed, “It was very interesting that they were bragging about discussing it in advance. We weren’t told, but they were and got to discuss strategy. The fact that they had discussed strategy beforehand shows you why Melissa shouldn’t have been among the people able to be picked. I was disappointed that ‘Team Rivers’ carried over into the finals.” The heated environment led to Duke and Rivers occupying separate rooms to watch the finale.
Others have questioned Duke for supporting a charity that focuses on those in need outside of the United States. Refugees International works with not only those in Africa, but also around the world. In fact, during a short vignette that aired during the Celebrity Apprentice finale, a beneficiary from Iraq was interviewed. Duke responded to critics: “I wish that people would understand that political borders are artificial. It’s upsetting to say that political boundaries are somehow important to the human condition. Americans have no idea what it’s like to have your government try to kill you. We take for granted the protection of our government.”
With Celebrity Apprentice Season 3 slated to air in the beginning of 2010, speculation has already begun as to who will comprise its cast. When asked if Duke would consider a return to next season’s edition, she responded, “I would say that I’m past that.” However, Negreanu expressed interest in a recent Full Contact Poker blog in joining the show, while Phil Hellmuth told Poker News Daily that he would also consider being on it. Duke remarked, “I think it would be great if another poker player went on there. The poker community is so incredibly generous.”
Finally, last Friday night, Duke had dinner with the group of men she became friendly with during the Loews Hotel challenge this season. Appropriately, the group dined at a restaurant called Room Service, which is located on East 21st Street in New York City. Duke recalled, “My boyfriend Joe said to me, ‘That’s really funny. They picked a restaurant called Room Service.’ I didn’t understand, so Joe had to point out to me that it was funny.” Duke excelled in providing room service during the episode, leading to a lifelong friendship.
Rivers, meanwhile, told Poker News Daily that winning the Celebrity Apprentice was “like picking up your poker hand and finding out you’ve got a royal flush — but in my case, its a hot flush.”
A special thank you from all of us here at Poker News Daily to Annie Duke for taking time out of her week during Celebrity Apprentice to break down each episode. We look forward to reporting on her at the 2009 WSOP.