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Summer 2005 | Volume 28, Number 2 | Features

Outside the Boardroom

What's Next For Apprentice Candidate Alex Thomason

It was a high-stakes moment in Trump Tower. Alex Thomason ’00 sat across the boardroom table from real estate mogul Donald Trump. Cameras zoomed in for close-ups of Thomason — one of the final four contestants on NBC’s hit reality show “The Apprentice” — when Trump began his interrogation. “Has losing gotten so commonplace to you?” the notorious businessman and TV personality asked, scowling.

Last year, Alex Thomason moved to New York City to be part of the third season of television’s “The Apprentice.” Thomason, photographed at a Duvall, Washington, farm owned by his family, says he’s a country boy at heart.

True, Thomason’s team had lost two challenges under his leadership, but he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. “When you purchased the New Jersey Generals, Herschel Walker was on that team, and they had four wins and 14 losses,” he argued. “It didn’t mean Walker wasn’t destined to be an MVP for the NFL.”

Thomason had a point. But Trump wasn’t sold. “Alex, you’re fired,” he finally said.

Those words may have sealed Thomason’s fate on the third season of “The Apprentice,” but when the 29-year-old attorney hailed a taxi from Trump Tower that night, he seemed relieved, even excited. The would-be apprentice says he was ready to get on with his life.

Premiering in January 2004, “The Apprentice” has become one of the highest rated reality shows in the nation — second only to “American Idol.” This past season brought 18 contestants to New York City, where they battled during 16 grueling weeks for the chance to run one of Donald Trump’s businesses and enjoy a six-figure salary. Contestants used their skills, street-smarts, and education to outwit each other.

If you tuned in, there’s a lot more to Alex Thomason than his on-screen suit-and-tie persona. For starters, the Seattle Pacific University alumnus is into metal sculpting; crazy about surfing; keeps a regular lunch date with a group of fun-loving 90-year-olds; and says that if he could afford it, he would quit his job and play with kids all day.

For much of his life, the only Big Apple on Thomason’s horizon was his family’s apple farm in Eastern Washington. “It’s one of the few places I know where conversations among friends and strangers begin with the same phrase, ‘What can I do for you?’” he says. It was on long walks in the orchard that Thomason’s father taught him a formative lesson: “If you’re going to dream, dream big or don’t bother.”

Now a deputy assistant attorney for the King County (Washington) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Thomason recently imparted his own advice to a group of SPU seniors. “Many of you are graduating, and you are probably incredibly qualified,” he said. “But let me tell you what’s going to happen when you graduate. You’re going to get a job, and to begin with, you’ll have to open mail and get coffee for people. That’s the reality. And the only way it will be an impediment to you is if you’re too prideful.”

With his trademark open-book style, Thomason told the students about his post-SPU adventures. “I lived in a barn in Duvall for a while, built a horse fence, and cleared land before I took a job with a lobbying organization in Washington, D.C. Once there, I spent the first few months answering phones, opening mail, and getting coffee. At first I was really mad. I was like, ‘I have two degrees, and I have a $60 haircut. Why should I be doing this kind of work?’ I realized I had a pride issue.”

Thomason says he made some changes. “I started going around the office and asking everyone, ‘Do you need anything done?’ ‘Do you want coffee?’ ‘Do you need copies made?’ It humbled me.”

By the following year, Thomason was home in Seattle pursuing his next big challenge: law school. He graduated and passed the Washington State Bar Exam last spring, and as any new attorney can attest, competition for a good job was stiff. When he heard about an open casting call for “The Apprentice,” he thought, Why not?

“More than a thousand people showed up that day, and officials pulled us into a room in groups of 15 while the director evaluated us,” he says. Afterward, an NBC staffer gave Thomason the news: He had made the cut.

In the top-secret world of reality TV, Thomason couldn’t tell a soul about his new opportunity. But how do you disappear for three months of taping without family and friends catching on? Luckily, Thomason’s history of varied career pursuits made his alibi plausible. “I had applied to be a special agent with the FBI, and was waiting for the final panel interview to be scheduled,” he says. “I felt bad about lying, but I just told people that the FBI needed me to go to language/spy school down in California.”

Now that “The Apprentice” is over, everyone, it seems, has a question for Thomason. Was the editing fair? Not really, he says, noting an episode that portrayed him napping while his teammate, Kendra, stayed up all night working on a team project: “I really only slept for about a half hour, and stayed up the rest of the night. But the episode was edited to make Kendra look like she was working harder than anyone else.”

Was it difficult living with cameras in your face every moment of the day? “Not for me,” says Thomason. “I just ignored them.” And what were the other contestants really like? “Every person on the show was tough as nails,” he says. “They could eat you alive.”

Thomason was up for the challenge, however. After all, he isn’t exactly a “yes-sir” kind of guy. In a senior-level class at Seattle Pacific, he found himself in passionate disagreement with a professor. So he staged his own kind of protest. “I turned my desk around to face the window,” he remembers. And Trump? “I think I was the only person who didn’t come to the show worshipping him,” states Thomason.

He wasn’t worried about what people would think of him on “The Apprentice.” “I knew that people might love me or hate my guts,” he says. “There was nothing I could do about it.”

There was something, however, that did concern him — a lot. “I was worried about morally failing on the show,” he confides. “I was going to be living with a bunch of partying guys and beautiful women. I was fearful of that, and afraid I’d be infected by the virus of greed.”

So Thomason turned to prayer. “I prayed that I would be a stone pillar anchored on the shore of the ocean,” he says. “And then when this huge wave came in, it didn’t knock me off my feet.”

He credits his Seattle Pacific education in part for the boldness to act on his convictions — and the discipline to pray. “At SPU, I knew all of this stuff about Christianity, but I didn’t know how to pray,” the former theology major recalls. So he turned to Professor of History Alberto Ferreiro. They met three times a week for the next year, praying and talking about Christian discipleship.

Thomason was open about his faith with contestants on “The Apprentice,” too. He held morning Bible studies with Chris, a 21-year-old who struggled to control his temper on the show. Thomason also discussed the book of Revelation with Kendra, now Trump’s new apprentice.

“Alex has always been somebody who is willing to stand up for his beliefs,” says Jonathon Sharpe ’00, who met Thomason as a student at Seattle Pacific. “He puts himself out there in the ring. And if he has a setback, it’s only going to refine him and make him stronger.”

What’s next for Thomason? For now, he’s running at a mile-a-minute pace: marketing a new product (hint: it was on the show) and serving as the national spokesperson for Degree deodorant. “I know that God has plans for me,” he says, noting an interest in politics and a heart for rural America.

“There’s this insensitivity in cities,” says Thomason, a native of Brewster, Washington. “When I was in law school, a professor was giving an example in class. ‘Say you had a really stupid person,’ he said, ‘like a farmer from Eastern Washington.’ That really made me angry.”

Thomason brought that same view of humanity to the boardroom when he said this to a somewhat shocked Trump: “I’m just as intimidated by you as I am by the guys my dad hired to work the tractors on our farm. I learned to respect everyone equally. Nobody’s greater, nobody’s less, we’re all the same.”

Fired, yes. But Thomason says he’s not deterred. He compares his time on “The Apprentice” to growing up on his family’s farm, where he occasionally forgot to put oil in tractor engines, once blew up a main waterline, and burned himself with fertilizer. “My multiple failures taught me that adversity reveals the measure of a man.”

He may not be the new hot-shot apprentice on Fifth Avenue, but one thing is certain: Alex Thomason’s journey didn’t end at Trump Tower.


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