Friday, May 17, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Heading into Sunday night’s final showdown on “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice,” how rich is the rivalry between Penn Jillette and Trace Adkins?
Jillette is baby-sitting Adkins’ kids the night before the season finale airs on NBC.
“Trace is going to do a show in Atlantic City, and we’ll be baby-sitting his children. They’ll be staying with us in New York (as Penn & Teller are off this weekend), “ Jillette says. “That’s the level of animosity we have.”
A stand-up sort of guy, Adkins is offering payback.
“Emily (Jillette’s wife) and the children are going to stay at his place in Nashville during the summer,” Jillette says. “They’re going to spend a whole week there. We’re just sort of pooling resources.
“So, that’s the kind of hatred we have for each other.”
Jillette and Adkins are the final men standing — ominously, as both are 6-foot-6 — in Donald Trump's contest show airing its live finale at 9 p.m. Sunday. The final challenge for these two has been to develop (with the help of deposed celebrities in the all-star version of the show) a new flavor of ice cream in the Walgreens Delish Super Premium line.
Penn’s flavor is Vanilla & Chocolate Magic Swirtle (which is at once chewy and creamy rich); Adkins’ is Maple Macadamia Mash-Up (fairly heavy, but is made more palatable if you dump three tablespoons of coffee into a half-eaten pint).
Whomever sells the most wins the show. These stylistically dissimilar but similarly driven entertainers are competing for high stakes — a $350,000 cash prize, $100,000 of which goes to the celeb’s chosen charity. The breakdown: $250,000 is awarded by show creator and host Trump and NBC; $100,000 for the winner’s charity is donated by Walgreens.
Jillette has agreed to donate all of his winnings to the Las Vegas-based charity Opportunity Village. Adkins is toiling for the American Red Cross.
“I hope the best man doesn’t win,” Jillette says, adeptly setting up the punch line, “because I want it to be me.”
Jillette also compares the underdog Opportunity Village operation to the universally recognized Red Cross, saying, “You know, I said to Trace, ‘I hate that you have such a great charity. I was hoping you picked the American Nazi Party.' ”
As is customary, Jillette is fast and free with his statements. He’s a celebrity finalist facing long odds, an Atheist who is one-half of a Vegas comedy-magic act competing against a God-fearing country music superstar supporting an organization known around the world.
“I keep thinking, ‘We are up against the American Red Cross,’ ” Jillette says. “We are up against Trace Adkins, who plays this game better than anyone ever has.”
During this interview, Jillette is far out of context and costume, dressed for a "swirtle" launch event at the Walgreens next to Planet Hollywood on the Strip. Gone is the silver suit he wears onstage in the Penn & Teller show at The Rio. Instead, he’s in a white shirt and slacks with a black bow tie, looking every bit the kindly ice cream man. His sneakers are designed in patriotic stars and stripes, and he has pedaled to this appearance on an old-fashioned bicycle outfitted with an ice cream cooler and a bell on the handlebars. The bike was ordered from a vintage-bicycle company in Portland, Ore., and shipped in specifically for the event.
Anything for charity, right?
And this is far from Jillette’s only charitable effort. Teller and he have long served as spokesmen for Aid For AIDS of Nevada (hosting the Las Vegas AIDS Walk each year) and promoting the annual 13 Bloody Days of Christmas blood drive at United Blood Services.
But in tying his “Celebrity Apprentice” appearance to Opportunity Village, Jillette is selling more than a Vegas charity.
“The reason I chose Opportunity Village is because it’s an idea that isn’t everywhere,” he says. “People are pretty aware of AIDS. People are pretty aware that we do blood donations, and there is always a need to give blood. But how do we care for people with intellectual disabilities? I believe Opportunity Village is about the best in the country at addressing those needs, and I’ve wanted people to learn about that.”
Opportunity Village’s rich Las Vegas history plays well into the show, too. Wayne Newton has been a supporter of the Village for decades; his friend and longtime pianist Glenn Smith is the ex-husband of Linda Smith, O.V.’s chief development officer. And this also is the charity of Elvis, as Jillette reminded during Sunday’s semifinal episode and again Monday morning.
“The people of the Village would make those scarves, kiss them and put them in a box, “ Jillette says. “Elvis would take it put it around his neck, kiss it and throw it out to the audience. If that ain’t a miracle, you can go (kiss) yourself.”
All that’s left now for the great pitchman is to move some ice cream — and take care of those kids.