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updated: 3/15/2010 8:17 AM

Blagojevich serves up humiliation in 'Celebrity Apprentice' debut

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  • Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tries on his "public service" role.

      Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tries on his "public service" role.
    Courtesy NBC


Condemned for his crimes against the gods, Sisyphus of Greek mythology was sentenced to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity. Impeached and humiliated, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich seems destined to drag his mountain of shame from TV show to TV show.

The man who once dreamed of ascending from the governorship to the White House, now shuffles along his downward spiral as a walking punch line. From having his much-mocked hair mussed on "The View" to being humbled by David Letterman, Blago always plays along as if he is a part of the gag instead of the butt of the joke. He debuted Sunday night in his latest role as the prime-time mope for the amusement of Donald Trump on NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice." Wearing a suit and tie as if it were a disgraced politician costume, Blago plumbed new depths by being the target of barbs delivered by singer Cyndi Lauper, professional wrestler Bill Goldberg, Victoria's Secret model Selita Ebanks and whatever Joan Rivers has become.

The host Trump talked about how the 14 celebrity contestants had to "put their careers on hold" to appear on his show. But, until he starts his gig this summer as a criminal defendant in a corruption trial, being a joke on reality TV is Blago's career. His name, once thought difficult to pronounce, now produces chuckles wherever it is heard.

Competing with male celebrities such as former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson, retired baseball slugger Darryl Strawberry and rocker Bret Michaels of Poison, Blago clearly is the weakest member on the Rock Solid team. The only reason he survives to the second episode is because the women's team loses the challenge, forcing Trump to fire comedienne Carol Leifer. When Trump, a pompous, boorish man for whom no ego-driven insult is too piggish, loudly tells Blago he has "guts" for appearing on the show, Blago smiles and voices his appreciation. At least any money won by contestants goes to charity. Accused of trying to strong-arm a Chicago hospital into donating to his campaign, Blagojevich is playing for the Children's Cancer Center of Tampa, Florida.

Infamous for his profanity-laced phone call in which prosecutors charge he was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, Blago was subdued in prime time. By the time our former governor made a crude sex reference, NBC censors already had bleeped more than a half-dozen words from Trump and Sharon Osbourne.

When Sinbad razzed Blagojevich for not using a pay phone or hanging up to keep prosecutors from taping his conversations, the former governor guffawed along with the comedian.

"I was thinking how nice it was to be able to be part of this sort of healthy camaraderie between a bunch of guys who are now on the same team," Blagojevich said. "Coming out of politics and government, it's a whole new experience."

Well, not entirely new. Given the task of being a waiter for the team's celebrity diner, Blagojevich called it "public service," then was fingered by Rivers for letting the food get cold as he spent all his time trying to benefit himself by telling customers that he never did any of the crimes prosecutors charged him with.

"Joan told me the food was cold and that it was the governor's fault," Trump said, asking Blagojevich if he let the food get cold because he was more interested in proclaiming his innocence to customers than doing his public service.

"I, aah, I, um," Blagojevich stammered, his eyes glazing over as his brain struggled to get a rambling answer to his mouth. "Possibly, I don't really specifically recall."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald must be licking his chops at the prospect of Blagojevich testifying in a criminal trial.

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